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First round is a case for the defense

by John McGourty

The 2008 NHL Entry Draft lived up to its billing as the "year of the defenseman" as a dozen blueliners were selected in the first round, including Drew Doughty, who the Los Angeles Kings selected with the second overall pick. talks with Drew Doughty
OTTAWA -- The 2008 NHL Entry Draft was billed as "the year of the defenseman" and that's exactly what Friday night at Scotiabank Place proved to be during the first round.

After Steven Stamkos was taken at No. 1, the next four players selected were all defenseman. By the time the first round was done, a full dozen defensemen were selected.

The emphasis on blue-line talent shouldn't be surprising considering that five of the top six ranked North American skaters were defensemen, as were 11 of the top 20. In fact 15 of the top 30 ranked North American players were defenseman.

The European skaters weren't quite so heavily tilted in favor of defensemen, but seven of the top-ranked 15 were defensemen. However, only Sweden's Erik Karlsson was taken in the first round.

While it was clear that the Tampa Bay Lightning would draft Stamkos with the No. 1 overall pick, there was speculation about who would draft the next five ranked players, all defensemen, and in what order.

Peterborough Petes defenseman Zach Bogosian was the No. 2 ranked North American skater, having passed Guelph Storm blueliner Drew Doughty, who was ranked No. 2 at midseason. Also highly regarded were the No. 4 and No. 5 ranked skaters, Kelowna Rockets teammates Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn. Niagara IceDogs defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was ranked sixth.

Those five players would stand tall in any year, based simply on their ability to play the position. What makes them especially attractive is the fact that they are all right-handed shots. Less than a third of NHL defenseman are right-handed shots, so all of those players filled a need.

The Los Angeles Kings had the second pick and the draft floor was abuzz when Kings GM Dean Lombardi and Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter held a lengthy conversation in front of the stage.

But Lombardi pulled a surprise when he drafted Doughty before announcing a three-way trade involving the Flames and the Anaheim Ducks that delivered the Kings the No. 12 pick. Los Angeles then traded that pick to Buffalo to drop one spot and gain a third-round pick in this year's draft.

At 13, the Kings selected defenseman Colten Teubert to give the club book-end defenders on a day for defensemen.

The Kings don't have to worry about Doughty's loyalty to the organization. Doughty wore No. 99 as a kid in honor of Wayne Gretzky and his bedroom was a shrine to the Kings and “The Great One.”

"I've been dreaming of this since I was a kid," Doughty said. "Right before, I had a gut feeling I was going to Calgary because I saw Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter shake hands. I was like, 'Oh no, I didn't think I was going to go (to Calgary.)' No offense, I would have been glad to go anywhere but just because I loved L.A. so much when I was a little kid. It's just unbelievable to be here." 

Doughty was one of four 2008 Draft-eligible players to help Team Canada win a fourth straight gold medal at the 2008 World Junior Championships. He was named the tournament's top defenseman after recording four assists in seven games. He became the first Canadian defender to win the award before being drafted into the NHL.

In 2007-08, Doughty finished ninth in scoring among Ontario Hockey League defensemen with 50 points, and his nine power-play goals ranked third for the Storm.

Doughty said he took it as a compliment that he was the first defenseman taken in a year rich with defensemen.

"To be in this group with Bogosian, Pietrangelo, Myers and Schenn and to go first is a great feeling," said Doughty, who added that he is undergoing rigorous conditioning in the hopes of playing for the Kings this year. "Since the start of this season, I've been hoping I'd be drafted by the L.A. Kings and right now, I am so very happy."

The Atlanta Thrashers then took Bogosian. With 11 goals and 61 points, Bogosian was the only OHL defenseman to lead his team in scoring. Yet, the player takes pains to stress his defensive ability.

Bogosian hails from a Massena, N.Y., family that has produced notable athletes. He's been given incredible opportunities and has taken advantage of them.

He's big, tough, talented and skilled. Bogosian believes his family's background in athletics has given him a head start on rivals. His father, Ike, was co-captain of the 1981 Syracuse University football team along with former New York Giants running back Joe Morris, and his uncle was an All-American football captain at West Point.

The Thrashers won the Southeast Division two years ago but slumped last season and missed the postseason. Bogosian said he hopes he can play an important role in Atlanta's march back to
the top of the division.

"Obviously, Atlanta didn't have the season they wanted last year," Bogosian said. "Hopefully, we can get better. We'll be making strides under the new coach. Hopefully, I can just go down there and do my thing and help the team."

John Anderson, the former coach of the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves, was named Atlanta's new coach earlier Friday.

With the fourth pick, the St. Louis Blues selected Pietrangelo and he seemed very happy with his new address.

"I'm getting to be part of a great organization," he said. "This is kind of where I wanted to go. The Blues have a lot of young guys who are making an impact in the NHL, guys like Brad Boyes and Erik Johnson."

Pietrangelo noted that the Blues traded Thursday to acquire goalie Chris Mason from the Nashville Predators. Mason will likely split duties with Manny Legace.

"They want to start at the back end with a goalie and a defenseman and move forward. They wanted a defenseman and they picked me," Pietrangelo said. "They have some good defensemen already. We have some work to do. I think I can make an impact as soon as possible."

Pietrangelo is renowned for his on-ice vision, passing skills and ability to control the pace of games. He had 53 points in 60 games this past season, placing him seventh among Ontario Hockey League defensemen. Plus, his junior coach says the bigger the game, the bigger he plays.

Pietrangelo led Niagara into the OHL playoffs this season, where they swept the Ottawa 67's. He wasn't feeling well, but played two more games against the Oshawa Generals before learning that he had mononucleosis, which enlarged his spleen and caused internal bleeding.

He said he will be fully healed and well conditioned by the time training camp starts in September.

The New York Islanders had the No. 5 pick but announced they traded it to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the No. 7 plus two other picks. The Islanders then traded the No. 7 pick to the Nashville Predators.

The Maple Leafs used the No. 5 pick to select Schenn.

"Toronto is pretty much Canada's team," said a beaming Schenn. "I'm going to go in there and compete and try to make the team this year."

"I believe he'll be a big part of our future," said Maple Leafs interim general manager Cliff Fletcher, who was then asked why he traded three picks for one player.

"There is no substitute for quality. When you can get one of the best, you go after it."

Myers then sat and watched as six forwards were selected. Commissioner Gary Bettman then announced that the Kings traded the No. 12 pick to Buffalo for the No. 13 pick. The Sabres then selected Myers and the Kings followed with Teubert.

Erik Karlsson became the first European defender selected when the host Ottawa Senators used No. 15 to take the Swedish defender. Karlsson led the Frolunda junior team to the league title in 2007-08, totaling 37 points (13-24-37) in 2007-08. He was also named best defenseman at the World Under-18 Tournament.

Anaheim used the pick at No. 17 to take Minnesota high-school defenseman Jake Gardiner while the Philadelphia Flyers took Swiss defenseman Luca Sbisa at No. 19.

Drafting next, the New York Rangers selected Michael Del Zotto of the Oshawa Generals.

Ottawa 67s defenseman Tyler Cuma was taken at No. 23 by the Minnesota Wild. John Carlson was taken at No. 27 by the Washington Capitals.

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