BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Kings stunned Minnesota fans who came to the Met Center to watch the National Hockey League draft Saturday by announcing the signing of University of Minnesota goalie Robb Stauber to a multi-year contract shortly before the selection process started.
The last Minnesota fans heard, Stauber had said he would return for his senior season with the Golden Gophers.
But it seems that he had a change of heart when King owner Bruce McNall joined General Manager Rogie Vachon in negotiations with him late Friday.
"I didn't really do or say anything that made a difference, I don't think," McNall said. "I think maybe the fact I was there made them think it was the time for no more games."
The Kings had another surprise even before the draft got under way when they announced the acquisition of veteran right wing Keith Crowder from the Boston Bruins as a free agent without compensation.
Stauber and Crowder will figure into the Kings' immediate plans, so they upstaged the Kings' pick of Brent Thompson as their first draft choice. Thompson was the 39th choice overall when the Kings drafted near the end of the second round. He is expected to play two more years of major junior hockey in Medicine Hat, Canada, and, possibly, a year at the Kings' New Haven, Conn., affiliate before moving up to provide the Kings with much-needed help as a big, strong defenseman.
The Kings lost their first-round choice, along with first-round picks in 1991 and 1993, when they completed the Wayne Gretzky deal with the Edmonton Oilers. Saturday morning, Edmonton traded that pick to the New Jersey Devils for Corey Foster, a 1988 first-round selection. New Jersey selected center Jason Miller of Medicine Hat.
The league's No. 1 pick belonged to the Quebec Nordiques, who, as expected, drafted Swedish star Mats Sundin, a 6-foot-3 1/2, 187-pound right wing from Sollentuna, a suburb of Stockholm. He still has military time to serve and also has two years left on a contract with Swedish Elite League champion Djurgardens. But he is a formidable offensive threat.
Sundin became the NHL's first European player to be chosen No. 1. Pierre Gauthier, head scout for the Nordiques, said: "'We just couldn't let the opportunity to pick such a good player pass by. Mats Sundin has the potential to become a superstar in the National Hockey League. . . . His personality and his character led us to invest in that player for the future of our organization."
The New York Islanders used the next pick to choose left wing Dave Chyzowski, and the Toronto Maple Leafs then used the first of their three first-round selections to take center Scott Thornton.
The Winnipeg Jets chose center Stu Barnes at No. 4, New Jersey made right wing Bill Guerin of Wilbraham, Mass., the first American drafted, and the Chicago Blackhawks made 6-4, 206-pound Adam Bennett the first defenseman selected.
The Minnesota North Stars surprisingly passed on Czechoslovakian star Robert Holik in favor of Doug Zmolek, a Rochester (Minn.) High School star who will be attending the University of Minnesota this fall. Zmolek was projected as a second- or third-round pick.
That announcement, too, had the fans at the Met Center murmuring.
Stauber, property of the Kings since the 1986 draft, had indicated that he would return for his senior season. Stauber won the Hobey Baker Award as the country's best college player in 1987-88 and finished last season with a record of 26-8 and a goals-against-average of 2.43.
Stauber said that he was not influenced by the $1.2-million contract signed Friday by his Western Collegiate Hockey Assn. rival at the University of Wisconsin, goalie Curtis Joseph.
"I just felt like it was the best time for me," Stauber said.
Stauber played in the 1986 U.S. Olympic Festival and has expressed a desire to play in the Olympics. Asked if he had given up that dream by turning pro, Stauber noted how Olympic rules have been relaxed lately and added: "You can always plan your retirement to be able to play in the Olympics. Just because you're old doesn't mean you can't play."
Now, at 21, he's the youngest on a long list of King goalies.
Kelly Hrudey shapes up as the starter, backed by either Mario Gosselin (formerly of the Nordiques and recently signed as a free agent) or Stauber. It is looking more unlikely that the Kings will sign Glenn Healy, who is a free agent without compensation. Healy, the Kings' starter through most of last season, won 25 games.
Bob Janecyk retired from the New Haven club late last season, but Rollie Melanson is still with the Kings. He has been offered a termination contract, so he is a free agent without compensation until the end of the month, when the Kings will be able to sign him to that contract or buy him out.
"We signed Gosselin to be on the safe side," Vachon said. "Realistically, we didn't think the kid (Stauber) wanted to come out."
But Vachon believes that "you need at least five goalies in your organization."