Penguins get their man

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

OTTAWA -- Sidney Crosby's first task yesterday was to stick handle through a record number of American juniors who pursued him to the National Hockey League's first-round draft podium.

Crosby's coronation as No. 1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday was followed by Yanks Bobby Ryan (a right winger picked second by Anaheim) and defenceman Jack Johnson (third by Carolina) with a total of eight chosen in the first 30.

"Critics of NHL expansion should take note," Mighty Ducks general manager Brian Burke said. "Minor hockey is flourishing in non-traditional areas outside of Massachusetts and Minnesota because of that expansion."

Ryan is from Cherry Hill, N.J., and well known to OHL fans from the Owen Sound Attack. Johnson, a high school friend of Crosby's, was born in Indianapolis. Washington, Wisconsin, North Dakota and New York were other states sprinkled through the first-round register.

"It's a great day for the USA," Ryan said. "I think we've shown we have the same talent up there as Canada and Russia."

Johnson acknowledged the Crosby hype allowed him to develop on the U.S. national junior team without distractions.

"It was a benefit to me, but Sidney set the bar high and it was a good one to set," Johnson said.

Crosby will head to Pittsburgh in a few days to be introduced as nothing less than the salvation of the tattered franchise.

"I was happy I wasn't sitting there too long," he joked of the anti-climactic first pick, following in Mario Lemieux's footsteps from 21 years ago and two years after the Pens took goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at No. 1. "Mario just said 'Congratulations, enjoy it.' "

DINNER DATE

The two had dinner on Friday night and discussed their future as linemates, roommates and stake holders in the one-time NHL dynasty.

"We've talked about this for many years, we knew this kid was coming," Lemieux said. "He has got all the tools to have a great career. He says he needs to work on his shot a little, but it looks good to me."

Burke set a high price for his second pick, and his old team, the Vancouver Canucks, were one of the clubs banging on the door. But Burke said Ryan "blew him away" in his interview with candid answers and convinced him not to deal.

The American invasion pushed No. 2 candidate Benoit Pouliot to fourth, where the staid Minnesota Wild could use his 67 points with the Sudbury Wolves.

Top-rated goaltender Casey Price of Vancouver then became the highest-drafted Montreal Canadiens goaltender since Bunny Larocque in 1972. The North American element kicked Europeans out of the top 10 spots for the first time since 1987, though 57 Euros were taken through the seven rounds, compared to 110 Canadians and 61 Americans.

Many less-heralded players popped up in the second half of the first round, such as St. Mike's Jr. A centre Andrew Cogliano. He was 63rd among North American skaters, but was taken 25th by Edmonton.


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