Blues bank on Johnson

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:15 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- Needing to build from scratch, the St. Louis Blues put their cornerstone in place by grabbing defenceman Erik Johnson first overall in yesterday's NHL entry draft.

Despite receiving a plethora of offers for the choice, the Blues opened the draft in Vancouver by choosing the highly touted 18-year-old from Bloomington, Minn., who scouts have compared to former Blues star Chris Pronger.

Sale of the franchise was completed a few days ago, meaning a new chapter begins for the team that missed the playoffs for the first time in a generation.

"I lived in St. Louis and I thought it was a great city. I'm really happy to be a part of that organization and the team," Johnson said. "I just know ... they are going to do a tremendous job and do the best they can to bring St. Louis a Stanley Cup title."

The hulking defenceman (6 ft. 4 in., 222 lb.) collected 11 goals and 22 assists with the U.S. under-18 National Development team.

The 18-year-old has a letter of intent to go to the University of Minnesota in the fall but there is a possibility he'll turn pro.

"You know, it just depends on what St. Louis wants me to do. If they think it's in my best interests to try and turn pro, I'm definitely open to that.

"Right now, I'm committed to Minnesota and I still have pretty firm intentions on doing that."

Though the day usually keys on selecting future NHLers, the trade winds blew through GM Place early, too.

Right after Johnson was chosen, the Calgary Flames made noise by acquiring left-winger Alex Tanguay from the Colorado Avalanche for defenceman Jordan Leopold and a second-round draft pick.

Pittsburgh used its No. 2 choice to select Jordan Staal -- younger brother of Carolina's rising star Eric Staal -- who collected 68 points in 68 games with the OHL's Peterborough Petes.

The downtrodden Pens now have a enviable stable of talented forwards in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the latest member of the Staal clan to pull on an NHL jersey.

Winnipegger Jonathan Toews was chosen third by Chicago.

Toews, who played for the University of North Dakota and jumped to near the top of the draft with an outstanding performance at the world junior tournament, collected 22 goals and 39 points for the Fighting Sioux, helping them reach the NCAA's Frozen Four.

Nicklas Backstrom of Sweden was chosen fourth by Washington, becoming the first European taken.

With 26 points in 46 games, the 18-year-old Backstrom led Brynas in scoring and also was part of Sweden's gold-medal winning world championship team.

Phil Kessel, pegged a year ago as the consensus first-overall choice, fell all the way to fifth when the Boston Bruins called his name.

He played for the University of Minnesota and led all NCAA freshmen with 51 points in 39 games.


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