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Svitov may mean success

GM Rick Dudley believes Lightning top pick, 3 more Europeans will translate into good things.

photo
[AP photo]
With its first pick (third overall), the Lightning selected Russian Alexander Svitov.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


SUNRISE -- The busiest person during Saturday's first day of the NHL draft might have been Yuri Yanchenkov.

The Lightning's part-time Russian scout pulled some extra duty as an interpreter at the National Car Rental Center as Tampa Bay took three Russians with its four picks, none of whom spoke much English, including center Alexander Svitov.

Tampa Bay took the gritty center, the No. 2 European prospect, with the third overall selection.

"It's a pleasure for me to help Tampa Bay's fans know their players better," said Yanchenkov, who is based in Moscow. "I'm not Russian or American today. I am liking Tampa Bay ." The Lightning liked the first three rounds of the draft. The final six begin at 9 a.m. today.

Tampa Bay started the day with just two Saturday picks that turned into Svitov and Russian forward Alexander Polushin (second round, 47th overall).

But general manager Rick Dudley wheeled and dealed and gained two more picks he parlayed into Swedish defenseman Andreas Holmqvist (second round, 61st overall) and Russian right wing Evgeni Artukhin (third round, 94th overall).

The Lightning listed each among its top 26 prospects.

"It was beyond my wildest dreams," head scout Jake Goertzen said. "I know everybody says that. I had hoped if we could get Svitov and Holmqvist, I would be the happiest man around."

"We are ecstatic with what we were able to do," Dudley said.

Tampa Bay's biggest prize was Svitov, who has been compared to New Jersey's Bobby Holik, and is expected to play with the Lightning next season on the third or fourth line.

Dudley said it was an easy choice.

As expected, Russian wing Ilja Kovalchuk, the consensus No. 1 pick, was selected first by the Thrashers. Jason Spezza, the No. 1 North American prospect, was taken by the Senators, who got the pick when they traded Alexei Yashin to the Islanders.

Had Spezza fallen to third, Tampa Bay would have had a tough decision.

"We had Svitov and Spezza side by side," Dudley said. "I'm not saying Svitov will be an impact player, but he's big, he can skate and he's strong. He may not score 100 points, but his 60 will be awfully good."

"I don't want to foresee what will happen," Svitov said through Yanchenkov. "My first goal is to make the team."

Svitov, who attended the event with his father, Nikolai, and girlfriend, Julia, said he did not know where he would be picked.

"I can't translate the feeling," he said of hearing his name called. "I was so excited."

The Lightning's picks could fit into a neat mold. Each is big, skates well and is from Europe, a continent Tampa Bay scouts extensively and Dudley has said holds the world's most-skilled players.

Oh, and did we mention they are big?

Svitov and Polushin are 6 feet 3, 198 pounds. Holmqvist is 6-3, 187 pounds and Artukhin is 6-4, 213.

While picking Svitov was a slam dunk, the day was not without intrigue.

Tampa Bay asked for extra time to make its second pick while Dudley and his scouts debated whether to take Polushin or 6-4, 205-pound Russian Victor Uchevatov.

Goertzen said if Uchevatov was a forward, choosing Polushin would have been easy. But because Uchevatov is a defenseman, and Tampa Bay had picked a forward, the debate raged.

After a vote around the table, Polushin was chosen, largely because the Lightning ranked him ahead of Uchevatov, who was taken by the Devils in the second round with the 60th pick.

"We decided to go with our charts," Goertzen said.

The intrigue got thicker with Holmqvist as the 61st pick. To get it, Tampa Bay traded to the Capitals the second-round pick of next year's draft acquired in Friday's trade with the Islanders.

It hit a crescendo with the selection of Artukhin, who seemed to be an unknown, as NHL Central Scouting did not include a report in the draft media guide. But the Lightning raved about his skills, skating and ability to hit.

Tampa Bay got the pick, the 94th overall, by trading its 99th and 218th picks to the Senators.

"We could have waited," Dudley said.

"But we said, "We have to make this pick now.' If he was gone, we would have been crushed.

"It's a product of coverage," Dudley said of the Lightning's draft strategy.

"We blanket Russia. We do it because they have so many good players."

And in Yanchenkov, one good interpreter.

* * *

SATURDAY'S LIGHTNING PICKS: Alexander Svitov, C, third overall; Alexander Polushin, F, 47th; Andreas Holmqvist, D, 61st; Evgeni Artukhin, RW, 94th.

DUDLEY IN HOT SEAT: If Lightning is not playing meaningful games in March, GM Rick Dudley's job could be in jeopardy, 5C.

TODAY: 9 a.m., completion of NHL draft with Rounds 4-9.

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