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Lightning slips, but Dudley optimistic

GM says falling to No. 3 in draft is no problem.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


Rick Dudley apparently knows something not many people around the NHL do.

The Lightning general manager said three prospects are available in the June draft who are head and shoulders above the rest. The conventional wisdom says there are two: center Jason Spezza and Russian wing Ilja Kovalchuk.

"But we don't share that," Dudley said, "and it's been that way for a long time."

Which is why Dudley, in Moscow on a scouting trip, said he is not disappointed the Lightning will pick third in the draft.

The Thrashers, originally slotted for the No. 3 pick based on regular-season points, got the No. 1 spot when they were picked in Tuesday's draft lottery. The Islanders, originally No. 1, fell to second. The Lightning, originally No. 2, fell to third.

"That's fine," Dudley said. "The one thing we were worried about was if we ended (the season) third and lost the lottery and fell to fourth. We'll be happy with what we expect to get at three. And actually, the guy who we think is third may be ahead of the other two in terms of immediate impact."

Who is this mystery player? Dudley wouldn't say. But let's put two and two together.

Dudley said the player fits his mold of a big, fast forward. And considering Dudley's passion for European, and especially Russian, players, the signs point to Russian center Alexander Svitov.

The 6-foot-3, 198-pound, 18-year-old is NHL Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked European prospect. His scouting report reads, "He excels in the physical aspects of the game and plays with a tough and aggressive style. ... A fine puck-handler and creative playmaker."

The other possibility is 6-2, 196-pound Finnish center Tuomo Ruutu. The 18-year-old is Central Scouting's No. 3-ranked European who "likes to play a physical style of game. ... An excellent two-way player who is aware of his defensive responsibilities. ... He has good instincts and is a very strong playmaker."

Despite Dudley's assertions, a trade is not out of the question. Tampa Bay needs immediate help up front from a scoring wing and a gritty faceoff man. So as attractive as the third pick may be, it may be hard for Dudley to resist a swap if the offer is a couple of established players.

Assistant general manager Jay Feaster said as much when asked about the team's options with the third pick.

"Does this mean he may be willing to listen? Yeah," Feaster said. "Rick's always open to finding ways to make the team better."

KHARITONOV TO WORLDS: Forward Alexander Kharitonov accepted an invitation to play for Russia in the World Championships from April 28-May 13 in Germany.

He joins teammates Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards, who will play for Canada; Pavel Kubina, who will play for the Czech Republic; and Fredrik Modin, who will play for Sweden.

Kharitonov played for Russia in last year's World Championships, tying Florida's Pavel Bure for the team lead with five points in six games.

FEASTER TO CHAT: Feaster will hold an online chat at 5:30 p.m. today at www.tampabaylightning.com.

* * *

Draft order

(First 14 selections in first round)

1. Atlanta

2. N.Y. Islanders

3. Tampa Bay

4. Florida

5. Anaheim

6. Minnesota

7. Montreal

8. Columbus

9. Chicago

10. N.Y. Rangers

11. Calgary

12. Nashville

13. x-Boston

14. Phoenix

x-Edmonton has the option to switch first-rounds picks with Boston in the 2001 or 2002 draft.

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