It was 6 years ago and how it all turned out... Ovechkin is even better than everyone had expected... (H/t to beergirl-1 "Pens wanted Ovechkin, badly")
By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer, June 29, 2003:
Big a deal as it was for the Penguins to land Marc- Andre Fleury in the NHL Entry Draft eight days ago, it might be even bigger if they end up with the top pick again in 2004.
Just ask Fleury.
"Oh, man, he's really good," Fleury said, shaking his head. "He does everything. He shoots, passes, hits, backchecks ... just everything."
The player of whom he speaks is Russian right winger Alexander Ovechkin, and Fleury is far from the only one to use offer such a superlative description.
"Everything that you've heard about him ... he's all that and probably more," said Mark Kelley, the Penguins' European scout. "He is special, just special."
Kelley wants no part of any comparisons between Ovechkin and any prospect drafted in the two decades before the time Ovechkin will be taken. Not even Eric Lindros of 1991.
"No way," Kelley said. "Lindros was as good a prospect as you could want in terms of size and talent, but he never had the passion for the game that Ovechkin has. Not even close."
So, who was the last player to impress Kelley this much?
"You have to go back to 1984."
"One of the funny things about Ovechkin is that it's often hard to gauge how good he is because he has played way above his age group for the past three years," Kelley said. "Well, at the Under-18 tournament, he was with his own, and he just dominated."
The consensus at the draft in Nashville last weekend was that Ovechkin would have been chosen first had he been eligible. And that almost was the case. He was born Sept. 17, 1985, two days after the cutoff date to be part of the 2003 draft class.
An indication of the eagerness with which Ovechkin alreayd is coveted was the Panthers' strange ploy last weekend to try to take advantage of this close-call birthday.
Florida General Manager Rick Dudley attempted in four different rounds to draft Ovechkin, arguing that, if leap-year dates were taken out of the equation, Ovechkin actually would turn 18 four days before his recognized birthday and thus have been eligible for 2003. The NHL rejected the Panthers all four times, but the league did comply with Florida's request to make the final one in writing. This way, if it is ruled that the Panthers were in the right, they could justify a claim on Ovechkin.
Dudley said team management hatched the idea a month ago, and he acknowledged its limited chance at success.
"It's a long shot," he said. "But, if it's a viable long shot, we would be a very happy crew because he's a special player."
The Penguins would figure to have as good a crack as any team at Ovechkin next year, given that they will employ perhaps the youngest and cheapest lineup in the NHL. But not even the worst record in the league will guarantee them the first pick. Each of the past four years, the worst team has failed to get the pick because another team won the draft lottery and moved up.
This much is certain: The team with the No. 1 pick next year will not be trading it away.
Post-Gazette scan by Google