NHL Draft: Talents of Ovechkin, Malkin creating buzz
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Could be that a few winters from now, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will be nothing more than trivia question answers, a couple of fading footnotes in hockey history.
Guys whose games lost something when they went from Russia to North America, whose dazzling potential never translated into productivity.
But it doesn't seem likely.
Not to the many scouts who appear to be more excited about the one-two combination of Ovechkin and Malkin than any pair in recent years. Even the ones -- such as Jay Bouwmeester and Rick Nash in 2002, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in 1997 and Eric Lindros and Pat Falloon in 1991 -- who created a serious buzz when it was time for them to turn pro.
Jarmo Kekalainen, director of amateur scouting for St. Louis, agreed that Ovechkin and Malkin are "probably" the most celebrated one-two pairing in recent memory, even though "there have been some excellent one-two [combinations]" along the way.
"These guys are juniors, and there's a huge step to be made to be good in the NHL," he said. "Some of the previous one-and-twos already have made it and these guys still have to make it. But I don't have too many doubts that they will."
That Washington, which owns the first choice in the draft, and the Penguins, who will pick second, would be enthused about Ovechkin and Malkin is predictable. What's so unusual is the excitement those two players have generated among personnel from teams with no realistic hope of securing their rights.
Frank Bonello, director of Central Scouting for the NHL, suggested recently that Ovechkin and Malkin might be most fascinating group of top players since 1990, when no fewer than five players -- Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, Mike Ricci and Jaromir Jagr -- were projected as high-impact players.
Greg Malone, the Penguins' head scout believes Ovechkin and Malkin are an exceptional tandem -- "You could pick any year, and both of these kids would be at the top [of the rankings]," he said -- but offers another theory on why they intrigue so many scouts.
"They may be more enthused about the whole thing because maybe it falls off a little bit after these two," he said. "They get more excited because [Ovechkin and Malkin] have separated themselves [from the field]."
Of course, to most teams, Ovechkin has separated himself from Malkin, too, even though many believe Malkin narrowed that gap as the 2003-04 season wound down. Nonetheless, Ovechkin will be the undisputed headliner when the draft begins at noon Saturday at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.
"He's no secret," Toronto general manager John Ferguson Jr. said. "He's been playing for their top teams [in the Russian Super League] for [three] years now. He's been well-established on the radar screen for some time."
If precedent holds, Ovechkin's profile likely will remain higher than Malkin's as their careers progress. The most striking exception in recent years came in 1993, when Hartford claimed Chris Pronger after Ottawa took Alexandre Daigle. Most of the time, the No. 1 pick fares better than the guy taken next.
Witness 1998, when Vincent Lecavalier went first and David Legwand second. And 1996, when Chris Phillips was taken immediately before Andrei Zyuzin. And 1994, when Anaheim got Oleg Tverdovsky after Ed Jovanovski was grabbed by Florida.
With Malkin presumably sitting in the No. 2 spot, the Penguins are assured of landing an elite prospect. One they can reasonably hope will have more of an impact on the franchise than their previous three No. 2 draft choices -- Steve Rexe (1967), Blair Chapman (1976) and Craig Simpson (1985).
Of those, Simpson had the most productive career, although much of it was spent elsewhere. He played 169 games with the Penguins before going to Edmonton in the trade that made Paul Coffey a Penguin, and later joined Buffalo before back problems forced him to retire after 10 seasons.
Chapman played 227 regular-season games for the Penguins before being traded to St. Louis, where he appeared in 175 more. Rexe never played a game for the Penguins. Or any other NHL club, for that matter.
The three players selected ahead of Rexe, Chapman and Simpson were Rick Pagnutti, Rick Green and Wendel Clark, so the Penguins didn't have much reason to curse their tough luck at not having the No. 1 choice in those years.
And while it's safe to assume they would prefer to pick first Saturday, Malkin should be a pretty nice consolation prize if, as expected, Ovechkin goes first. Not that the Penguins will be focusing on who's gone when it's their turn to select. They'll be more concerned about getting the finest prospect from the group that's left.
"You want to make sure you get the best player, down the road," Malone said. "No matter what [draft] position you have."
NOTES -- Malkin and his family members were able to pick up their visitor's visas yesterday, as scheduled, and caught a flight from Moscow to New York. That was followed by a connection to Raleigh, where the Penguins, among other teams, are scheduled to interview Malkin today. ... Dallas GM Doug Armstrong, on Malkin: "He looks like he has a great future. By all the information I'm [getting], it looks like he has a chance to be a special player." ... Although general manager Craig Patrick hasn't ruled out trading the Penguins' first-rounder, the chances of that happening seem remote. "We'll listen to whatever there is out there," he said. "If something makes sense ... if it doesn't, we're quite happy where we are."
Vincent Lecavalier...C...Tampa Bay
Patrick Marleau.....C...San Jose
Andrei Zyuzin...D.....San Jose
Ed Jovanovski .....D.....Florida
(Source: Total NHL)
First Published June 23, 2004 12:00 am