Goalie goes first in NHL draft
The New York Islanders made history today in Calgary by choosing Boston University star goaltender Rick DiPietro first overall in the NHL draft.
DiPietro, 18, was the top-ranked North American goaltender by NHL scouts with a 17-3-5 record and a 2.50 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage this season.
The Winthrop, Mass., native also set an NCAA record with 77 saves in a single game.
"To finally have it happen is fantastic," an elated DiPietro said. "It feels unbelievable. It's a lot of pressure but it's something I want to jump into."
Islanders' general manager Mike Milbury said the team did not come to the decision easily.
"We're hanging a lot of reputation on this kid," said Milbury. "It's gutsy, and maybe crazy ... but we think he's a really special player."
DiPietro opted into the draft and voided his remaining years of college eligibility, hoping to avoid what is perceived to be a goalie-heavy draft next year.
The five-foot-11, 185-pound netminder was just the second American to be named the top goaltender at the world junior hockey championship this season.
The United States finished fourth, with DiPietro posting a 2-2-1 record with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .935 percentage save average.
New York made room on the roster for DiPietro by trading their top two goalies at the NHL level.
First they dealt 25-year-old goalie Kevin Weekes to the Tampa Bay Lightning along with prospect defenceman Kristian Kudra before the draft this morning.
The Islanders got Tampa's fifth overall pick in today's draft in return, where the team chose Raffi Torres, a five-foot-11 left-winger who had 43 goals and 48 assists this season with the OHL's Brampton Battalion.
"We think his ability to score goals is exceptional," Milbury said.
1. Rick DiPietro (NYI) Boston University. Goaltender
2. Dany Heatley (ATL) U. of WisconsinLeft Winger
3. Marian Gaborik (MINN) SVK/Trencin Left Winger
4. Rostislav Klesla (COLUMBUS) Brampton Battalion Defenceman
5. Raffi Torres (NYI) Brampton Battalion Left Winger
6. Scott Hartnell (NASH) Prince Albert Right Winger
7. Lars Jonsson (BOS) Leksand, Sweden Defenceman
8. Nikita Alexeev (TB) Erie Right Winger Inconsistent.
9. Brent Krahn (CGY) Calgary Hitmen. Goaltender
10. Mikhail Yakubov (CHI)Togliatti, Russia Centre
13. Ron Hainsey (MTL) University of Mass-Lowell Defenceman
16. Marcel Hossa (MTL) PortlandCentre
17. Alexei Mikhnov (EDM) Yaroslavl, Russia Forward
21. Anton Volchenkov (OTT)Russia Defenceman
23. Nathan Smith (VAN) Swift CurrentCentre
24. Brad Boyes (TOR)ErieCentre
Luongo was New York's first choice, fourth overall in 1997's draft. Until today it was the highest a goaltender had gone in NHL history.
"We're really shifting assets here," Milbury said of the trades. "We have a different type of goaltender in DiPietro. We're really wrenched over the loss of Luongo. He's a quality kid and a quality goaltender."
Steve Valiquette is the next goalie on the team's depth chart and will most likely share duties with DiPietro in the upcoming season.
The Atlanta Thrashers chose University of Wisconsen Badgers' left-winger Dany Heatley second in the draft.
The top-ranked North American forward was expected to go first in the draft before the surprise move by the Islanders.
Heatley, 19, had 27 goals and 23 assists in 34 games with the Badgers this season, and was one of Canada's top forwards at the world junior championship this year in Sweden.
"I'm thrilled to be a Thrasher," Heatley said. "I've got some work to do, in the weight room and things like that, but hopefully I can jump in and contribute."
The expansion Minnesota Wild chose left-winger Marian Gaborik from Slovakia as number three.
Gaborik was the fourth-ranked European from Central Scouting, and had 25 goals and 22 assists in 50 games with Trencin of Slovakia this season. Two years ago in Winnipeg he played in the world junior championships.
"We felt if anybody could come right in and play it was him," said Wild GM Doug Risebrough. "But we won't rush him."
The expansion Columbus Blue Jackets chose six-foot-two, 198-pound defender Rostislav Klesla as the fourth overall choice, much to the delight of general manager Doug MacLean.
"We really believe this kid can come in right now and make our hockey team," MacLean said. "We think he's the best defenceman in the draft."
Klesla, a Prague native, had 16 goals in 67 games with the Brampton Battalion this season.
The Calgary Flames got the hometown crowd going by picking local junior goaltender Brent Krahn, who posted a 2.38 GAA and a .912 save percentage with the Calgary Hitmen last season.
The Chicago Blackhawks used their 10th and 11th picks to acquire Russian centre Mikhail Yakubov and right-winger Pavel Vorobiev, who was a star for Russia at the world under-18 championships.
The Colorado Avalanche also dealt defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh and a second-round draft pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Carolina's first three picks in today's draft (14th, 47th, 63rd), plus defenceman Nolan Pratt.
The Montreal Canadiens picked 13th and 16th in the first round, acquiring American defenceman Ron Hainsley from Lowell-Mass in the U.S. college hockey and centre Marcel Hossa from the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks.
Marcel Hossa is the younger brother of the Ottawa Senators' Marian Hossa.
Milbury also stirred things up in the second round when he traded his 35th overall pick to Edmonton along with highly-touted defenceman Eric Brewer and left-winger Josh Green for veteran Oilers defender Roman Hamrlik.
With the Islanders shut out of the playoffs the last six years, Milbury said he's under the gun to make things happen in New York.
"We have not made the playoffs in far too long and we need to get there," he said. "Our owners, let's face it, didn't come into this business to wait another five years for us to make the playoffs.
"They'd rather make this happen sooner. That was the direction we had from them. This is a big day for the franchise. We've pushed ourselves ahead by a couple of years."
The Toronto Maple Leafs had the 24th pick, and chose centre Brad Boyes from the OHL's Erie Otters.