There is little drama regarding this Saturday's No. 1 pick, as Sidney Crosby sweaters fly off the rack in Pittsburgh.
But plenty of speculation surrounds the second and third choices, which could drastically alter the first round as it unfolds at an Ottawa hotel.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the Crosby lottery bridesmaids, are well-positioned with prospects at forward such as Joffrey Lupul, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. So it's logical to link them to Jack Johnson, the top-ranked North American defenceman who shares a U.S. birth certificate with Ducks' general manager Brian Burke. The latter has no qualms making dramatic draft-day deals as he did in 1999 to unite the Sedin twins in Vancouver with the second and third picks.
Sitting at third are the Carolina Hurricanes, who would do well with either Johnson, Benoit Pouliot (the Sudbury Wolves left winger ranked second among North American forwards), Owen Sound Attack winger Bobby Ryan or any of the top-ranked Europeans.
But they could opt to trade down and create their own brother act, by choosing defenceman Marc Staal (currently ranked ninth on the continent) with elder sibling Eric Staal, the Hurricanes' first pick in 2003.
Barry Trapp, the Maple Leafs' director of amateur scouting, will meet with general manager John Ferguson in the next couple of days prior to the entire staff gathering in Ottawa. The Leafs select 21st.
The Pens have been in conversation with Pat Brisson, the agent for their 2004 top pick Evgeni Malkin, about forgoing a year in the Russian league to join Crosby in Steeltown.
Brisson also represents Crosby, so the chances of Malkin centring a second line behind a top combo of Crosby, Mario Lemieux and Mark Recchi are good, especially with a new international transfer deal that gives NHL teams until Aug. 15 to sign Europeans.
Lemieux also has said that the Pens will add at least one more high-profile forward during the free-agent signing period that begins next week.
JACKETS A GOOD FIT
Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean is tired of hearing that his team is a sickly franchise dragging down the NHL.
"It irks me to no end," MacLean said yesterday. "It's out of ignorance is what it is. It's a lack of knowledge of what's really going on in our market."
The five-year-old team has more than 12,000 season tickets, with 70% of the holders keeping their full investment on their account during the lockout. They averaged 17,376 fans at the 18,136-seat Nationwide Arena in 2003-04, including 16 sellouts, making it 95 of their last 138 home games.
"People who say they want to get rid of Columbus, that's just frustrating," said Jackets' Todd Marchant. "They've obviously never seen a game there or else they would never dream of thinking that."
- "People have said he has the vision of (Wayne) Gretzky and the scoring and playmaking ability of Lemieux. If that's true, it's incredible that he's coming to Pittsburgh." -- Pens' GM Craig Patrick on landing Crosby in the lottery
- "I'm looking forward to taking a puck off the ankle or the chin. (It) beats reading about the negotiations every day." -- Edmonton Oilers' defenceman Steve Staios
- "I don't want to fly all the way out to Los Angeles to find out we tied a game." -- Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Robert Esche, praising the new rule adopting a shootout following overtime.
- With file from CP/AP.