Windy City calls

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:20 PM ET

Cam Barker didn't have a favourite NHL team when he was growing up, but he does now.

The talented defenceman from Winnipeg was scooped up by the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday with the third overall selection in the 2004 NHL entry draft, making him the first North American player taken this year and the highest-picked Manitoban since Pat Falloon of Foxwarren went second to the San Jose Sharks in the 1991 draft.

The 6-foot-3, 214-pounder spent the past two seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL and is thrilled to be joining an Original-Six franchise.

"It's unbelievable. The history of this team is so deep," Barker said yesterday from Raleigh, N.C., where he was joined by his mother, father, brother and grandpa. "They went through a little bit of trouble the last few years but they're rebuilding and there's so much young talent. My grandpa's favourite team was always Chicago and he's absolutely thrilled I got picked by them. Everything worked out great."

Barker, the captain of Manitoba's Canada Games entry in 2003, wasn't the only Winnipegger chosen in the first round.

Travis Zajac went to the New Jersey Devils with the 20th overall selection after the 2002 Stanley Cup champions swapped first round selections and sent a third-rounder to the Dallas Stars.

Zajac, known as a skilled centre who has an edge to his game, played in the MJHL with the St. James Canadians as a 16-year-old before spending the past two seasons with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Zajac had 43 goals, 112 points and 110 penalty minutes in 59 games last season and is committed to attending the University of North Dakota in the fall.

"It was an amazing feeling," said Zajac, who was joined by his father Tom. "As soon as I got up (to go to the podium), I was just thinking not to trip down the stairs. My legs were wobbling a little bit and as soon as I heard my name it was a little bit of a relief."

Seeing Barker and Zajac go in the first round was great for young hockey players in the province.

"It's excellent and shows we're on the right path," said Peter Woods, executive director for Hockey Manitoba. "It also shows the two different options to look at. One player went through Tier II and college and the other made a commitment through the WHL."

Both Barker and Zajac were among the 44 players invited to attend Canada's World Junior selection camp in Calgary later this summer.

Barker, who handles the puck well and is known for his mobility and ability to make good outlet passes, is often compared by scouts to Eric Brewer of the Edmonton Oilers and Wade Redden of the Ottawa Senators.

He had 21 goals, 65 points and 105 penalty minutes in 69 games last season for the Tigers, who won the WHL championship and lost in the semis at the Memorial Cup in Kelowna, B.C.

There were some rumblings the Blackhawks were considering trading away the pick, but nothing materialized.

"Teams were rumoured to be trying to trade up, but Chicago was my first choice before the draft," said Barker, who hopes he and fellow Winnipegger Tyler Arnason will be teammates in the fall.

"I want to get bigger and faster. There are a lot of things I want to work on in the summer."

Kamloops Blazers goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was born in Regina but spent some time living in Winnipeg, was selected 14th overall by the Edmonton Oilers.

Dubnyk was the second goalie chosen, behind Al Montoya, the Michigan Wolverines stalwart who led the United States to the gold medal at the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championship.


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