For the first time, Americans were taken with the top two picks in the NHL draft.
First, the Chicago Blackhawks, trying to rebuild a once-proud franchise after four consecutive losing seasons, selected Buffalo native Patrick Kane with the No. 1 pick last night at Columbus, Ohio. Then the Philadelphia Flyers picked left wing James Van Riemsdyk, a member of the US National Team Development Program, from Middletown, N.J.
"It's good to have the No. 1 and No. 2 picks," said Kane, a 5-foot-9-inch, 160-pound right wing who had 62 goals and 83 assists in 58 games last year for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. "It's unbelievable. It's good to see the Americans start coming into the league."
With the third pick, Phoenix took Kyle Turris, the highly touted center who has committed to play at the University of Wisconsin. The Los Angeles Kings selected defenseman Thomas Hickey with pick No. 4 -- surprising many experts -- and the Capitals grabbed the top-rated defenseman, Karl Alzner, at No. 5.
The packed Nationwide Arena was swathed in red, white, and blue because it is the colors of the host Blue Jackets. After the first two picks, the color scheme took on new significance.
"It's amazing. It's something I'll never forget," Van Riemsdyk said. "It just shows how American hockey has taken huge strides. Two Americans going with the first two picks -- it's an honor. I'm happy to be a part of it."
Americans had taken two of the top three spots in 1983 and 2005.
Rated the No. 2 skater in North America by the NHL Central Scouting Service, Kane is expected to give the Blackhawks a creative scorer and deft puckhandler.
The 6-3, 200-pound Van Riemsdyk had 33 goals and 30 assists in 42 games for the US Under-18 team a year ago.
Predraft speculation had teams shying away from Turris, the top-ranked North American skater from Burnaby, British Columbia, because of his commitment to college.
But after Coyotes president and coach Wayne Gretzky received a minute-long standing ovation, he stepped up to the podium and picked Turris.
"I'm speechless," said Turris, a 6-1, 170-pound center who piled up 121 points in 53 games for the Burnaby Express of the British Columbia Hockey League last season.
Hickey was ranked as the 26th best North American skater by the NHL's scouting service, but the Kings still took him at No. 4.
The Washington Capitals returned to form with the fifth pick, grabbing Alzner, who scouts compare with Anaheim All-Star Chris Pronger.
After Edmonton selected center Sam Gagner, a teammate of Kane's in London, the biggest roar of the night came when the Blue Jackets grabbed right wing Jakub Voracek. He comes from the same hometown (Kladno, Czech Republic) as Rangers star Jaromir Jagr.
The Bruins took center Zach Hamill, San Jose traded up with St. Louis to get center Logan Couture, and Florida picked defenseman Keaton Ellerby 10th overall.
The loudest boos of the night came when Detroit took Brendan Smith with the 27th pick. Folks from Columbus, home of Ohio State University, can't pass up an opportunity to boo any team from Michigan.
The Sharks first traded goalie Vesa Toskala and forward Mark Bell to Toronto for three picks in the first big deal of the day, resolving their goaltending logjam and dumping the underachieving Bell's exorbitant contract in one move.
San Jose then packaged two of those draft choices -- the 13th and 44th -- along with a third-rounder in 2008 to St. Louis for the ninth overall pick. The Sharks used it on Couture, a highly rated playmaker from the OHL's Ottawa 67's, Wilson's former junior team.
Wilson also finalized a four-year, $14 million contract for defenseman Craig Rivet, who will return to the club he joined in a late-season trade.
The Maple Leafs picked up a tested veteran goalie who will challenge incumbent Andrew Raycroft. Despite playing behind Evgeni Nabokov down the stretch, Toskala went 26-10-1 for San Jose last season with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage -- better numbers than Raycroft.
Bell flopped in his only season in San Jose, managing just 11 goals and 10 assists in 71 games after being projected as Joe Thornton's left wing when he joined the club in a trade with Chicago.
The Predators will receive the Panthers' first-round pick in 2008, a second-round pick in the 2007 draft, and a second-round pick they must use today or in 2008. Nashville will have at least nine draft picks in this draft.
Florida coach and general manager Jacques Martin said Vokoun, one of the NHL's top five goalies, helps address the Panthers' needs in goal with Ed Belfour, 42, set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The Predators signed Vokoun to a four-year, $22.8 million contract extension -- the richest they had ever given out -- in September. The deal was set to take effect this season.
But Nashville's future ownership is uncertain. Owner Craig Leipold has asked the NHL to hold off its consideration of a deal to sell the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie. Leipold wants a binding agreement on the sale with Balsillie, the co-CEO of Blackberry makers
Vokoun played in only 44 games last season because of a hand injury.