Magical first round

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:19 PM ET

RALEIGH -- A year ago, the draft was just a dream for Andrew Ladd.

Watching it from his home in Maple Ridge, B.C., with but one WHL game under his belt, he couldn't help but wonder if such an experience was in his future.

A year later, the Calgary Hitmen standout was greeted to the NHL with a rousing ovation having been claimed in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Amazing" was how Ladd put it into words. "It seemed pretty far away. I thought, 'Wow it would be nice to get there' but I never expected it.

"The second half of the year I was really confident and thought I could do it."

Ranked first among North American skaters, Ladd was taken fourth overall by the Hurricanes, who traded up from their eighth spot to the position that had been owned by Columbus.

Earlier, as expected, the Washington Capitals made Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin the first overall pick.

Pittsburgh selected countryman Evgeni Malkin with the second choice, while Chicago took towering Medicine Hat defenceman Cam Barker third.

Ladd was pleased to go fourth.

"We were expecting top 10 but didn't really know where. We had heard a few things but we were really rolling the dice," he said. "I would have been happy to go anywhere, the first thing we wanted is an opportunity, and I think Carolina is a great place to have that opportunity."

Ladd was the first of three Hitmen chosen in the first round, a first for the WHL squad. Calgary-born defencemen Jeff Schultz (Washington, 27th) and Andy Rogers (Tampa Bay, 30th) were also called upon.

Ladd, who was acquired by the Hitmen midway through the 2002-03 campaign and made the club this past season, rocketed up the charts with a 30-goal, 45-assist season.

Looking to make a splash, the Hurricanes switched picks and surrendered a late second-rounder, to move up and grab the player GM Jim Rutherford said was third on his team's list behind Ovechkin and Malkin.

"When we finalized our list, he became the player we really wanted," Rutherford said. "He was at the top of our list at the midway point in the season."

With last year's top-ranked North American skater, Eric Staal, also in the Hurricanes fold, Ladd is the second piece to a future No. 1 line. He'd like that chance as soon as next season.

"I hope so," he said. "We have to do what's best for my development but if the situation's right, I'd like to do that."

Schultz, a hulking defenceman at 6 ft. 6 in., 212 lb., coming off an 11-goal, 24-assist season, was one of three first-rounders claimed by the Capitals.

Schultz is looking forward to playing with Ovechkin one day.

"Now I get to play with him and see what he's like. Maybe he can rub some of that off into my game," Schultz said.

The final pick in the first round, Rogers was claimed by the reigning Stanley Cup champs, which happens to be the same club that beat his hometown Flames in the final.

"It's a little weird," said the 6-ft. 5-in., 206-lb. defenceman who collected one goal and three assists. "I really had no choice but to dislike the T-Bay Lightning, I guess but that's totally out the window now.

"It's definitely now my favourite team."

A fourth member of the Hitmen, d-man Brett Carson, is expected to be chosen today when Rounds 4-9 take place.


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