Pittsburgh trades for top pick, selects Fleury No. 1

Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Pittsburgh Penguins can only hope they have half the success with their latest No. 1 pick as they did with their last.

The Penguins so wanted goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to rebuild their franchise around that they traded up two spots Saturday in the NHL Draft to make sure that they got him. That made Fleury the team's first top pick overall since 1984 when they took Mario Lemieux, now the team's owner.

''We decided that the best place to start building is in the goal,'' Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said.

''This was perfect timing for us. ... We're very fortunate to be in the third position because Florida wanted to make sure they got a good pick out of the draft. ... Worked out very well for both of us.''

The first three rounds of the draft were held on Saturday. Rounds 4-9 will be conducted Sunday.

Fleury, from Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is 6-foot-1 and 172 pounds. He is a strong skater with a hybrid style and a knack for making big saves at the right time. He led Canada to a silver medal at this year's World Junior Championships where he was named the tournament's best goalie.

He faced enough pressure just being the second goalie ever taken No. 1 following Rick DiPietro in 2000. Now he gets to follow Lemieux as the Penguins' latest top pick.

''I think that that's great to be the second one, but I don't know him personally,'' Fleury said of Lemieux. ''But I know he's a great guy and also a hockey player. I am really looking forward to meeting him.''

Lemieux said in a statement that Fleury has a chance to be a franchise goalie.

''This is another important piece in our rebuilding process,'' Lemieux said.

For the third time in five years, Florida GM Rick Dudley held the top pick overall in the draft only to trade out of that spot. He did it in 1999 while with Tampa Bay, and he did it last year with the Panthers.

Dudley dropped two spots for the second straight year and still claimed he got the player he wanted. In 2002, he drafted defenseman Jay Bouwmeester at No. 3. On Saturday, he took center Nathan Horton to boost the Panthers' offense. He also swapped selections in the second and third rounds with Pittsburgh, moving up to No. 55 in the second with Pittsburgh dropping to 73rd overall in the third.

Several teams had talked with Dudley about trading up, but they found the price too high to move more than a couple spots. Dudley didn't want to risk losing Horton.

''That's the guy we wanted. We'd like to have 23 players like him. He's a guy who skates very well, that can score and adds some bite to his game, so he's kind of a perfect complement for what you're looking for in an NHL player,'' Dudley said.

Florida also picked up 26-year-old right wing Mikael Samuelsson from Pittsburgh. The 6-foot-1 Samuelsson played 80 games last season with 10 goals and 14 assists, but he only had two goals in 22 games with Pittsburgh after being acquired from the New York Rangers in the Alexei Kovalev trade.

Dudley wasn't done there. He acquired forward Anthony Stewart from the Ontario Hockey League with the 25th pick overall, sending Tampa Bay two picks in the second round and one in the sixth.

Carolina made OHL forward Eric Staal the second pick overall and the first of 22 forwards taken in the first round. Staal had been the top-rated skater in North America.

The first round remained stable as teams moved quickly to fill needs. Columbus took forward Nikolai Zherdev of Russia fourth, then Buffalo drafted Austrian left winger Thomas Vanek, the MVP for the University of Minnesota as a rookie. He helped the Golden Gophers win the NCAA championship this past season.

San Jose went for offense with right wing Milan Michalek of the Czech Republic at No. 6. Nashville filled a need on defense by taking 6-1 Ryan Suter, nephew of former NHL players Gary and John Suter. His father, Bob, was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

Trading started up again as San Jose gave Boston three selections (Nos. 21, 66 and 107) in this draft to move up five spots for right wing Steve Bernier at No. 16. Then the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils gave Edmonton its 68th pick to go from No. 22 overall to 17th and drafted center Zach Parise, expected to be a top 10 pick before unexpectedly dropping.

The Devils took advantage and moved up to grab the 5-11 Parise who was the top offensive force emerging from college. Parise had 26 goals and 61 points in 39 games last season at North Dakota.

''We didn't even have a name tag for him because we didn't think he'd be there,'' New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello said of his new forward, the son of former NHL player J.P. Parise.

Anaheim also traded to add a second pick in the first round, sending Dallas its 36th and 54th picks in the second round to move up to 28th overall. The Mighty Ducks, who took center Ryan Getzlaf at No. 19, then took right wing Corey Perry of the OHL.

St. Louis concluded the first round in just under three hours by selecting defenseman Shawn Belle of the Western Hockey League.

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