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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
VANCOUVER -- A record run of American players selected in the first round of the 2006 Entry Draft started with the first-overall pick, as the St. Louis Blues tabbed Erik Johnson, a hulking defenseman who was the consensus pick as the top prospect for this year's draft.

Johnson already boasts NHL size at 6-foot-4, 222 pounds and played 38 games with the United States National Under-18 Development team last season, scoring 11 goals and 22 assists while picking up 57 penalty minutes.

Johnson joins a Blues team that struggled last season, but already has put into place a core group of strong defensive prospects who should begin to turn things around in the near future. In addition to Johnson, the Blues have both Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch, two young defensemen acquired in last season's trade for Chris Pronger.

"You know, it's a really amazing feeling," Johnson said. "You know, I'm proud and everything, but it's been a lot of hard work. I've had a lot of support from my parents and everyone around me, so it wasn't just me."

Can Johnson break into the NHL next season? He seems to have the size and skill right away, but the Blues aren't likely to rush along this blue-chip prospect.

"You know it just depends on what St. Louis wants me to do," Johnson said."If they think it's in my best interests to try and turn pro, I'm definitely open to doing that. Right now, I'm committed to (University of) Minnesota and I still have pretty firm intentions on doing that. You know things could change, depending on what's best for me."

New ownership has just taken over for the Blues, with former Madison Square Garden executive leading the new ownership group. Johnson, who has lived in the city in the past, is excited that he will help the Blues resume their winning ways.

"They are going to do a tremendous job and just do the best they can to bring St. Louis to a Stanley Cup title," he said. "I lived in St. Louis and I thought it was a great city and I'm really happy to be a part of that organization and the team."

Rest assured, the feeling is mutual.

Johnson finished atop the NHL's Central Scouting Service's North American rankings for the 2006 Entry Draft.

He has just finished his second season at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based U.S. Developmental Program and retained his No. 1 ranking from CSS's mid-season ranking in January.

Johnson was a dominant player at the 2006 World Junior Championships (Under-20) in Vancouver.

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