Summer Ramblings
Entry Draft Recap

By: Hockey Alliance Publishers
June 27th, 2003

The publishers that comprise the Hockey Alliance have teamed up this Summer to provide news notes from around the league. This week's column focuses on the free agent market and what teams are faced with this off-season. Take a spin with the latest installment of the Summer Ramblings...


Well despite many rumors the Sabres did the unthinkable on draft weekend; they stayed pat and made no trades at all. Instead the Sabres kept the #5 pick overall and selected Thomas Vanek, a prospect that has some Sabres' fans quite excited. Vanek has two attributes lacking on Buffalo's roster: he's big and he can score. With the rest of their selections on day one Buffalo picked up two more forwards: Branislav Fabry and Clarke MacArthur. On the second day the Sabres picked up five left shooting defensemen: Jan Hejda (who most likely can step into Rochester immediately), Denis Ezhov (whom the Sabres think was a real steal), Thomas Morrow, Pavel Voroshnin and Nathan Paetsch. At first glance not a great group but Ezhov, Morrow and especially Paetsch could have a good return for the club. It's worth noting the Sabres do a good job finding talent in the later rounds, last year's exceptional rookie Ales Kotalik was a 5th round selection and many in Buffalo are still wondering why he didn't, at the very least, get nominated for the Calder (Kotalik was 5th in rookie scoring and 2nd in rookie goal scoring with 21 goals).

The lack of moves seems contrary to bold statments made by new team owner Tom Golisano and managing partner Larry Quinn. GM Darcy Regier has stated that there will likely be a lot of restricted free agents (RFA's) on the market this summer as a number of teams will not make qualifying offers to a number of RFA's. Regier stated the days around July 1st will likely be the peak of offseason trading, although he was typically tight lipped about the Sabres' desires and possible moves. Regier did state the Sabres had two deals in the works over the draft weekend but both deals broke down and neither involved the #5 overall pick. The Sabres are known to be seeking younger, cheaper talent that could be with the team after the probable 2004 lockout. On the free agent front the only player the Sabres have been linked to through rumor is local boy Todd Marchant. The Sabres would likely have to greatly overpay for Marchant's services which is a losing prospect. But from a PR and hockey point of view, Marchant would be a great fit for his hometown Sabres.


Darryl Sutter completed his first entry draft as a National Hockey League general manager by over seeing the selection of nine players through Saturday and Sunday. The Alberta native was clearly over joyed that first round pick Dion Phaneuf fell down to the Flames at pick #9, wrapping the young defenceman up in a traditional bear hug as he took the stage. The second round featured another defenceman in Tim Ramholt, a Swiss professional that the Flames have had their eyes on.

Calgary fans were somewhat dismayed when he moved the club's second second round pick to the San Jose Sharks for three additional picks that sprinkled into the third, fourth and fifth rounds. With many draft prognosticators suggesting one of the deepest selection pools in recent history, the movement of a second round pick was somewhat surprising. The Flames are clearly hoping that quantity will win the day over quality when the dust settles in three to five years.

Two additional noteworthy picks were made in later rounds when the Flames drafted the QMJHL's top ranked fighter, Thomas Bellemare with their seventh round pick, and then grabbed Todd Harvey's younger brother Kevin with their ninth pick. Overall, the Flames were able to place a few check marks beside their pre-draft wish list that included defencemen, size, speed and plenty of Canadian content.

On the player movement side, much was made of rumours that Calgary was having trouble signing forward Chris Drury and that he was on the way to Boston for defenceman Nick Boynton. These rumours seemed to have an Eastern base with no creditable information to confirm from Sutter, Drury, or Drury's agent. Sutter himself shot down another rumour that had him shopping defenceman Bob Boughner to the Florida Panthers.


The big story coming out of the draft this past weekend, as far as the Chicago Blackhawks are concerned, occured via the trade route. On the surface, trading third line center Andrei Nikolishin to Colorado for a 2004 4th round choice doesn't seem like that big of a deal, notwithstanding the fact that the Blackhawks paid a high price to get him back in November. The fact that Blackhawks General Manager Mike Smith said publically that this trade opens up a spot for 2001 first round draft pick Tuomo Ruutu left people shaking their heads. The Blackhawks and Ruutu are about seven million dollars apart on an incentive based contract and this trade may have put more leverage on the site of Ruutu. Smith may have to develop a backup plan if he can't sign Ruutu.

As far as the draft goes, the Blackhawks seemed to draft by need instead of taking the best player available. The Blackhawks drafted five defensemen, two goals and three centers over the two day draft period. After deciding not to trade his 14th pick and move down a bit in the first round, the Blackhawks selected defenseman Brent Seabrook and left some offensive gifted players on the board. The player to watch in the future may be goalie Mike Brodeur (no relation to Marty) taken in the seventh round. Brodeur helped Camrose win them AJHL league championship and was named playoff MVP last season. Brodeur will attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall.


Blue Jacket fans were disappointed that Doug MacLean was unable to engineer any kind of a trade which would allow the CBJ to get Nathan Horton or Eric Staal in the draft. Zherdev was probably the best hockey player in the draft and a decent pick at 4, but he brings excess baggage. In particular, how do we get this guy out of his Red Army contract? Another Russian, Alexander Guskjov, drafted 200th will probably beat Zherdev to the CBJ roster.

Blue Jacket fans are expecting big "free agent" excitement in July. Rumor is that the biggest signing in Blue Jacket history will take place. It will need to be bigger than the rumored acquisition of Pierre Turgeon to be classified as "big".


Drop four-straight games against a southern California team, get yourself Dominik Hasek. That's what the case will be for the Detroit Red Wings for the 2nd time in three seasons if the enigmatic netminder, as expected, makes his decision to return to the NHL official this weekend.

The announcement would make an already full summer plate for the Red Wings even more hectic, since the team will be forced to deal Curtis Joseph and his $8 million salary. The potential suitors for Joseph remain minimal, with the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers being named as the top options. Both clubs are trying to dump the hefty salaries of John LeClair and Eric Lindros, respectively.

If Detroit is unable to re-sign Sergei Fedorov, expect the team to pursue Lindros in an attempt to fill the hole created at center. The Red Wings are also rumored to be heavily interested in signing defenseman Derian Hatcher whether or not the team signs Fedorov.


The Minnesota Wild came out of last weekend's draft satisfied that the players they took would help continue to build a strong foundation for the future. Darkhorse pick Brent Burns was a late bloomer who fell under a lot of people's radar, but Minnesota feels the growth he has shown on and off (he grew 6 inches in the past year) made him a quality pick at the #20 spot in Round 1. Then, to have Patrick O'Sullivan slide to them at the #56 spot, well that was like acquiring another first round pick for nothing. O'Sullivan's family problems weren't of his own doing, and Minnesota has the tools to help him put those issues in the past and succeed in the NHL.

Outside of the draft there has been some action too. Sources close to say that free agent center Cliff Ronning, who has been viewed as an unlikely candidate to return to the Wild, has sold his Twin Cities home and moved back to British Columbia. Obviously, Ronning doesn't feel like he'll be back either.

In the front office, COO and President Tod Leiweke will be leaving the team soon to join the front office of the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL. He will serve as CEO of the Seahawks, and president of the new Seahawks Stadium.

NY Islanders

Hear that folks? That's the sound of stunned silence on Long Island. For the first time in at least five years, GM Mike Milbury has done nothing on Draft Day. Yep, you heard me right. Nothing. Up until the draft it was rumored that everyone on the team could be traded for Pavol Demitra, including captain Mike Peca, but so far all plans have fallen through.

Despite the lack of deals, the Islanders still had a four picks in the first two rounds, two of which were picked up in the Osgood and Niinimaa deals. It looked like Milbury was drafting for next season as he took a scoring winger, a power play man and defensive depth, although I use the term 'depth' loosely.

At #15, the Islanders selected Swedish sensation Robert Nillson. The pick is a good one, despite whatever Pierre Macguire (who is on ESPN for a reason) said. Nillson is in pretty good company as he broke Markus Naslund's rookie scoring record this year (formerly held by none other than Peter Forsberg). In the second round the Islanders selected three players inclduing Dmitri Chernykh (ranked 4th in Europe by CSS) and Evegeny Tunik (ranked 8th), who looks like the Euro version of Todd Bertuzzi/Brad Isbister. The Isles also took Jermey Colliton, a winger from Prince Albert at #58 overall.

NY Rangers

It's been a busy week or two for Ranger fans, and the excitement promises to continue through the start of July...especially on the trade rumor front. Going into last weekend's draft, many were expecting a big name or two to be moved and the Blueshirts were thought to figure prominently in any deal making. As it turned out the Rangers made just one trade and that was an exchange of picks in the middle rounds.

While we're on the subject of the draft, New York got the guy they wanted when they drafted the 6'4" long-time Ranger fan in Hugh Jessiman. Reports following the draft had the organization ranking Jessiman as high as 4th amongst all prospects. As a whole New York once again focused on NCAA players, with a total of five of their ten picks either debuting or already playing for one of the US college teams. But unlike last year, this season's draft picks were less about size and more about potential, with four players under the six foot mark.

Jessiman and fellow draftee Ken Roche will be attending a brief prospect camp along with several other players in the Rangers system this week. The camp will be run under the supervision of Wolfpack coach Ryan McGill, who will return to the pack for his second season in the pros. As for the Rangers, it appears the list of prospective coaches continues to dwindle with reports coming out this week suggesting Larry Robinson will elect not to move across the Hudson.

Whatever the case, the approaching July 1st deadline promises to be a nervous time for many Rangers faithful. With the likes of Jagr and CuJo linked to the team (however tenuously) combined with the impending uncertainty about the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it appears New York is setting itself up for a long summer.


The floor of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft was eerily quiet, even though most would have predicted frenzied activity akin to that of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor on a bullish day.

For the Ottawa Senators, as well as for most of the hockey world, the draft was overshadowed by the news of assistant coach Roger Neilson's death following a long losing battle to cancer.

With their first pick at #29, Ottawa chose right winger Patrick Eaves from Boston College. Eaves, compared by some to Martin St. Louis and by others to Mike Peca, has hockey in his blood and plays bigger than his size. In round seven, the Senators made good use of their local scouting as they picked Ottawa 67's defenseman Will Colbert.

In all likelihood, Ottawa's 2003 draft class will remain in development in the organization for several years before attempting to enter the NHL. The Senators can afford that luxury seeing how deep the young team is, but more than anything the draft will be seen as a test for GM John Muckler and his new scouting staff.


A year removed off selecting size and speed, the Phoenix Coyotes went small in their first couple picks with Tyler Redenbach and Dimitri Pestunov. Along with those 3rd round picks, the Coyotes selected five other players of which only one defensemen and no goaltenders were taken. After going heavy with NCAA prospects the last couple years, the Coyotes went heavy into Europe with four of the eight draft picks.

The Coyotes also bolstered their blueline in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes trading defensemen Danny Markov for David Tanabe and Igor Knyazev. Tanabe will fill Markov void on the Coyotes blueline while Knyazev will start the season with the Coyotes AHL affiliate in Springfield.

San Jose

Entering the draft with the 6th and 21st overall picks and 13 others scattered throughout rounds 3 through nine, Sharks GM Doug Wilson got to show off his dealing skills. After the smoke had cleared, Wilson held on to his first pick and selected Czech prospect Milan Michalek and moved up to take Steve Bernier with the 16th overall pick. Wilson wasn't done there. He would walk away from the first day of the draft with four of the first 50 overall picks.

In Michalek the Sharks get a 19 year old right wing who could be ready for the NHL as soon as the 2004-05 season. Michalek spent the last two season playing the Czech ExtraLeague, developing his skills with players in their 30's. Bernier tore up the QMJHL last year, bagging 49 goals for Moncton.

Eight of San Jose's eleven picks were forwards, which is an about face from the clubs history of stockpiling defenseman under former GM Dean Lombardi. The Sharks seem set on the blueline and there's nobody better to recognize that than their current GM, who spent 18 years as a defenseman in the NHL.

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