No. 1 is his Owen man

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:16 PM ET

Surrounded by dozens of cameras, microphones and notepads, Russian wonderboy Alexander Ovechkin attempted to explain why the Maple Leafs' Owen Nolan is one of his favourite NHLers.

"He can play a physical game, he has a good shot. He's just a good all-around player," Ovechkin told the media horde.

Those are the same traits the Washington Capitals saw in Ovechkin when they made him the first overall pick yesterday, exactly 14 years after Nolan was the top player taken in the 1990 draft by the Quebec Nordiques.

With apologies to Nolan, the Caps expect even bigger and better things out of their future franchise player, who was greeted with a standing ovation by the throng of 15,672 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., for the 2004 NHL entry draft.

In a day that featured few surprises and even fewer trades, the Caps made Ovechkin just the second Russian player to be selected first overall. The dynamic Ilya Kovalchuk was the top pick of the 2001 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.

Asked about reports that he potentially could be the best Russian player ever, Ovechkin simply replied: "I'll try."

The Caps had plenty of spicy trade offers for Ovechkin but, in the end, called his name out yesterday because his upside was just too good.

"I've been in the league five years and this is the first time I've seen a consensus No. 1 pick," Caps owner Ted Leonsis said.

Because Moscow Dynamo claims it has Ovechkin under contract for another year, it is looking for whichever team that wants him to play in 2004-05 to fork over cash. Some reports suggest it is seeking between $1.5-$3 million US.

"We have to talk to his agent and his family," Leonsis said. "I'd like to get him signed but it doesn't have to be tomorrow because there are so many moving parts on the (labour front) right now."

Russians went 1-2 in the draft for the first time when forward Yevgeny Malkin was selected second by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman Cameron Barker went third, as expected, to the Chicago Blackhawks, the host Carolina Hurricanes sent the home crowd into a frenzy by trading up four spots with the Columbus Blue Jackets in order to select Calgary Hitman forward Andrew Ladd.

But the biggest shock of the draft came at No. 5 when Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes took 17-year-old high schooler Blake Wheeler over Michigan goalie Al Montoya.

"I almost fell out of my seat," Wheeler said. "I thought they might take me, but not until the second round."

Winger Wojtek Wolski of the Brampton Battalion (21st to Colorado) was the lone GTA player selected in the first round.

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FIRST ROUND

1. WAS Alexander Ovechkin LW

2. PIT Yevgeny Malkin C-W

3. CHI Cameron Barker D

4. CAR Andrew Ladd LW

5. PHX Blake Wheeler RW

6. NYR Al Montoya G

7. FLA Rostislav Olesz C

8. CLB Alexandre Picard LW

9. ANA Ladislav Smid D

10. ATL Boris Valabik D

11. LA Lauri Tukonen W

12. MIN A.J. Thelen D

13. BUF Drew Stafford RW

14. EDM Devan Dubnyk G

15. NAS Alexander Radulov RW

16. ISL Petteri Nokelainen F

17. STL Marek Schwarz G

18. MON Kyle Chipchura C

19. NYR Lauri Korpikoski W

20. NJ Travis Zajac C

21. COL Wojtek Wolski LW

22. SJ Lukas Kaspar RW

23. OTT Andrej Meszaros D

24. CAL Kris Chucko LW

25. EDM Rob Schremp C

26. VAN Cory Schneider G

27. WAS Jeff Schultz D

28. DAL Mark Fistric D

29. WAS Mike Green D

30. TB Andy Rogers D


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