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Lightning keeps options open

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 23, 2001


MIAMI -- The Lightning has two possible decisions to make. One is relatively easy, the other could be more contentious.

photo
[IHA/Icon SMI]
The Lightning seems likely to stick with its No. 3 pick today and select Russian center Alexander Svitov.

Today’s draft
The NHL Entry Draft begins at noon today and continues Sunday at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise. TV coverage on ESPN2.

If today's draft at National Car Rental Center in Sunrise goes according to the chalk -- with Ilja Kovalchuk, the consensus No. 1 pick, going to the Thrashers and Jason Spezza, the No. 1 North American prospect, going to the Islanders or their trading partner -- Tampa Bay will likely take Russian wing Alexander Svitov.

But if Spezza drops, as some have predicted, and assuming Svitov is still available, the decision gets trickier.

As of Friday night, general manager Rick Dudley said he and the scouting staff had not come to a decision.

"I want us to have some unanimity," Dudley said from the team's draft headquarters. "I don't want us to just blow our way through it. I want us to agree."

Then Dudley added to the equation.

"It's not just between (Spezza) and ... you're going to say Svitov," he said. "There's another player."

Assuming that's not a smoke screen, other players who have tickled the team's fancy are 6-foot-4, 240-pound defenseman Mike Komisarek, 5-9 wing Stanislav Chistov and center Mikko Koivu.

Of the three, Koivu makes the most sense. The Lightning traded Friday for a big defenseman, 6-6 Mathieu Biron, and Tampa Bay does not need another small player after trading 5-8 Alexander Kharitonov.

And of Koivu, Dudley said, "Five years from today, if someone said Mikko Koivu is the top player in this draft, it wouldn't surprise me."

Still, Svitov has the package Tampa Bay needs most. At 6-3, 198 pounds, he is big, strong, good on faceoffs, not afraid to use his body and is projected to score 60 to 70 points a season.

"We're in a can't-lose position," Dudley said.

IF THE PICK IS SPEZZA: Dudley said Spezza's skills are such that he must play on one of the top two offensive lines. That would likely move Brad Richards to right wing on Vinny Lecavalier's line.

TRADE TALK: It has diminished greatly. Apart from Friday's deal, Dudley said a trade of the No. 3 pick that seemed doable on Thursday was much less so on Friday. He declined to be specific.

AUCOIN SAYS FAREWELL: Defenseman Adrian Aucoin said he was "really surprised" he was traded to the Islanders: "I would have been happy to be with the Lightning for the rest of my career. The team is going in the right direction. But it's part of the business. If the GM has got a deal he thinks can help the team, he has to do it."

DRAFT PARTY: The Lightning will host a draft party from noon-2 p.m. today at Barnacles in Brandon at the corner of Causeway and Providence Road. Forward Ryan Johnson will sign autographs from noon-1 p.m.

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