VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Bruins had targeted centers throughout their research to find the best possible fit with their first-round selection (No. 5 overall) at yesterday's National Hockey League draft at GM Place. They elected to stay that course, selecting University of Minnesota pivot Phil Kessel.
It was later announced that goalie Andrew Raycroft, the 2003-04 Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, had been traded to the Maple Leafs for netminder Tuukka Rask, Toronto's top pick (21st overall) last year.
Interim general manager Jeff Gorton said the Bruins had coveted Rask, and feel a change of scenery will be beneficial to Raycroft. Gorton said he believes Raycroft playing little during the lockout, coupled with a contract holdout at the start of training camp, derailed his season, and injuries made it worse.
``I think it got to Andrew, to be quite honest," Gorton said. ``I think the situation got to him. I think the trade of Joe Thornton got to him. I think a lot of things got to him. I can't say they wouldn't have gotten to me, either. It's a move we had to make."
Gorton said the Bruins won't rush the 19-year-old Rask, who played this past season for Ilves Tampere in his native Finland. They were very impressed with Rask's performance in the world junior tournament this spring.
``It was a hard decision but it was an opportunity that came out that we just couldn't miss out on," Gorton said. ``We really liked [Rask] in the  draft. We had him as a top-five pick and Toronto took him right before we picked [at 22]."
Kessel was the fourth center taken in the first five picks, following Jordan Staal (No. 2 to Pittsburgh), Jonathan Toews (No. 3 to Chicago), and Nicklas Backstrom (No. 4 to Washington). In the second round, the Bruins picked smooth-skating defenseman Yuri Alexandrov (37th overall) and rugged left wing Milan Lucic (50th overall). Small (5 feet 9 inches, 183 pounds) but feisty center Brad Marchand was tabbed by Boston in Round 3, after Gorton sent fourth- and fifth-round pick to the Islanders to move up. In the fifth round (128th overall), Boston opted for defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, and the Bruins rounded out their selections with center Levi Nelson at No. 158.
Kessel's biggest assets are his speed, shot, and scoring ability. He has been compared to former NHL star Pat LaFontaine.
``It's unbelievable when you get compared to anyone who has played in the NHL and who has a reputation like he has," said Kessel. ``I'm not the player he is, so maybe I can try and prove it."
The 18-year-old native of Madison, Wis., was named Western Collegiate Hockey Association rookie of the year this past season and believes he could be a candidate to make the jump to the NHL as early as this fall.
``I'm so excited, I don't know what to say," said Kessel. ``It's a great organization, a top organization, high-class. They have a lot of great players there. I got a chance to play against some good players at the world championships like Hal Gill and Marty Reasoner. I played against Patrice Bergeron a couple of times, at the world championships, and he's a great player. He's unbelievable."
Gorton said he entertained trade offers right up until he made the Bruins' selection but decided that because Kessel was still available, that was the way to go. ``In the last 24 hours, I had a lot of people calling me, trying to get to No. 5," he said. ``My sense is the rest of the league felt there was a top five and then a drop-off. If he was off the board we would have changed it up and made a deal."
Kessel played 39 games for Minnesota this past season, scoring 18 goals with 33 assists. In 2004-05, Kessel, who was recruited heavily by Boston University, became the all-team leader in goals with 104 and points with 180 for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.
``We spent a lot of time with Phil," said Gorton. ``We've interviewed twice now and we grilled him pretty good. We've spent a lot of time talking to his coaches and the people around him and getting a sense of what's true and what's not true. We're really comfortable with him as a player, his ability, his upside, and we feel the people in our organization can help him develop into a real good hockey player. I think he's one of the guys who we felt could step into the league."
Kessel's stock dropped in recent months, with his rating among North American skaters by the Central Scouting Bureau going from No. 2 at midterm to No. 5.
``If anything, I've told a lot of people, he was rated preseason No. 1 for like two years for this draft and last year, if he was drafted, he probably would have went right after [Sidney] Crosby, but he's been on the scene, he's been at the tournaments, he's been at more tournaments than any of these kids," said Gorton.
``You start to beat these kids down and you try to look for the negative. I think that's the case of what happened with Phil. Not with us.
``We're really excited to get a guy like this. You watch the way his game is played and all you have to do is look at some of the highlight packages and it's pretty good. He went to the world championships at the end of the year and I had a conversation with Paul Holmgren, who was the general manager of the USA team and he said he was, if not their best, among their best forwards. That's NHL-caliber talent, so that says a lot to me."
Kessel, whose nickname is ``Thrill," has a reputation for hanging on to the puck too long, but Gorton said that comes more from the caliber of players around him.
``I think he plays at such a top speed that he sees the ice really well and at the higher level he plays at, it's not going to be an issue," he said.