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Islanders draft goalie DiPietro, trade Luongo, Weekes

Sunday, June 25, 2000

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

CALGARY, Alberta -- Talk about putting pressure on a kid.

The New York Islanders chose goaltender Rick DiPietro of Boston University with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft yesterday at the Canadian Airlines Saddledome, making him the first netminder to go first overall.

"It's a great honor," DiPietro said. "I'm blown away."

If he wasn't by that selection, he certainly was after he learned what New York management did to make room for him. The Islanders, one of the league's doormats for nearly a decade, took the radical step of trading Roberto Luongo and Kevin Weekes, the talented, young goaltenders who split the starting duties this past season.

General Manager Mike Milbury sent Luongo, a 20-year-old who is considered by many to be the best player in the world for his age group, and forward Olli Jokinen to the Florida Panthers for forwards Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.

And they sent Weekes, a 25-year-old who blossomed this past season, and defenseman Kristian Kudroc to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the No. 5 choice in the draft, along with an exchange of other picks.

"We're rolling the dice here a little bit," Milbury said, grinning as if to acknowledge his understatement. "Luongo is going to be an excellent goaltender in this league for a lot of years. But in our minds, we feel DiPietro possesses an element Roberto didn't have."

Milbury was referring to DiPietro's extraordinary stickhandling skills, but he also pointed to the 17-3-5 record and 2.44 goals-against average DiPietro posted in his freshman year at Boston University.

DiPietro, 19, forfeited his college eligibility before the draft and is all but a lock to jump immediately to the NHL, a rarity for any goaltender.

Milbury was quick to point out the most recent example.

"Look up Tom Barrasso's stats," he said. "We have every intent of giving Rick a chance to play in the fall."

As an 18-year-old in 1983, Barrasso entered the NHL out of a Massachusetts high school, winning the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender in his rookie year with a 26-12-3 record and 2.84 goals-against average.

But there is no guarantee of similar success for DiPietro, and he hedged at making any lofty projections for himself.

"I don't know what level I'll have to play at because I've never been in the NHL," DiPietro said. "Roberto's going to be a franchise goalie in Florida, and I know that, but I've just got to do my best. Obviously, there's going to be a lot of pressure on me."

Milbury applied a bit of pressure to himself, too.

"In the end, we thought the quality that DiPietro will bring is just a notch above Luongo. If we're wrong, we may have made an unbelievable mistake. It'll be bonehead city. It's my job. If we're not a better team immediately, off with my head. I've been here five years, and I'm tired of losing."

The rest of the top five ...

With the second choice, the Atlanta Thrashers chose Dany Heatley, the player many scouts had projected to go first. Heatley is a bullish, 6-foot-1, 200-pound left winger who scored 28 goals in 36 games for the University of Wisconsin this past season.

Heatley isn't sure if he'll leave Wisconsin right away.

"That's something we have to talk about," Heatley said. "The Thrashers want to do what's best for me."

That marked the first time American college players had been taken with the top two picks.

With the third choice, the Minnesota Wild chose Marian Gaborik, a sharp-shooting, 6-1, 183-pound left winger out of Slovakia. He had 25 goals in 50 games for the Dukla Trencin club this past season and was another player many felt could have been taken first, but his stock fell with a poor showing at the World Junior Championships in January.

With the fourth choice, the Columbus Blue Jackets chose Rostislav Klesla, a mobile, 6-2, 198-pound defenseman out of the Czech Republic who played for Brampton of the Ontario Hockey League. He had 16 goals and 174 penalty minutes this past season.

With the fifth choice, acquired from the Lightning, the Islanders took Raffi Torres, another player from the Brampton club. A 6-2, 200-pound left winger, he had 43 goals in 68 games, excelling also as a grinder.

In other major trades ...

The Colorado Avalanche dealt Sandis Ozolinsh, one of the league's most gifted offensive defensemen, to the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Nolan Pratt and the 14th overall pick. The teams also exchanged a host of other picks in later rounds.

The Edmonton Oilers sent hard-shooting defenseman Roman Hamrlik to the Islanders for defenseman Eric Brewer, center Josh Green and a second-round pick.

The first three rounds of the draft were completed in roughly five hours. The final six begin today at 11 a.m.

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