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Ducks Get Their Man in Kariya : Hockey: Freshman from University of Maine--described as All-American--fits the bill as fourth pick in NHL entry draft.

June 27, 1993|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

QUEBEC CITY — The playmaking and the poise of Paul Kariya have kept the Mighty Ducks entranced for months. Even in the final minutes before the expansion team made him its first-ever choice in the NHL entry draft Saturday, their eyes gave them away.

"We had a hunch he was going to go to Anaheim," said Shawn Walsh, Kariya's coach at the University of Maine. "The first few picks, Michael Eisner kept looking back over here."

The Walt Disney Co. chairman seemed as taken with the 18-year-old center, who will become the Ducks' first home-grown hockey player, as some of the team's scouts.

Kariya, selected by the Ducks with the No. 4 choice overall at Le Colisee, is a Japanese-Canadian whose personality is best described as All-American. He won the Hobey Baker Award--hockey's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy--last season as a freshman at Maine, and tacked on an NCAA championship, too. The Mighty Ducks were drafting the first true Disney hockey player, and Kariya was a fit.

"You think about putting a team together, and he's the type of guy you'd really like to start building a franchise around," General Manager Jack Ferreira said.

The Ducks drafted 11 players Saturday--six of them Europeans, five of whom are Russian, including Nikolai Tsulygin, their second-round pick. Tsulygin, 18, is a talented but still awkward 6-foot-3 defenseman who probably will play in Europe again next season. He speaks no English but is pleased to be a Mighty Duck.

"He knows it's a new team formed just this year," an interpreter said. "He believes this is a company that mostly deals with cartoons but now is starting in hockey as well."

The coup of the Ducks' draft, which ended about nine hours after it started, was clearly Kariya.

Word had been out that the Ducks liked Kariya, but with the fourth or fifth pick, depending on a coin toss with Florida, it was not certain they would get the chance to draft him. When Florida won the toss and the right to choose either the No. 4 pick and next year's No. 1, or the No. 5 pick and next year's No. 2, the Ducks weren't sure where they stood.

Alexandre Daigle, a French-speaking player who was the consensus No. 1 prospect, was chosen first by Ottawa. Then the Ducks' draft table had to wait to see what San Jose, also rumored to like Kariya, would do with the No. 2.

The Sharks traded it to Hartford, and with that announcement, Ferreira became more confident. Hartford took 6-foot-6 defenseman Chris Pronger, and the Ducks figured they had their man.

Tampa Bay was interested in a big physical scorer and took center Chris Gratton third. The Panthers, knowing that they and the Ducks liked different players, gave up No. 4 to pick fifth and secure next year's No. 1.

"We're ecstatic about the way things fell," team President Tony Tavares said. "Until then, the deck was shuffled 17 different ways and there were rumors all over the place. We were prepared to take the best player available."

Kariya seemed as pleased with the Ducks as they were with him.

"I'm just elated to be part of the organization with Anaheim," he said. "I've been hearing rumors for quite a while. One of them was Anaheim. I'm really happy this rumor came true."

Kariya, who has jet-black hair and olive skin, is of Japanese and Scottish heritage. His father, Tetsuhiko, was born in a Japanese internment camp in Canada during World War II, something Kariya finds hard to imagine, and something his father and grandparents speak of very seldom.

The son of two teachers, Kariya still must decide whether he will return to Maine next season and if he wants to play for the Canadian Olympic team, which the Ducks are encouraging. Though they believe he is capable of playing in the NHL now after seeing him play alongside NHL players for Team Canada in the World Championships, they do not want to rush him. He seems likely to join the Ducks late next season or for their second year.

Still, he already possesses remarkable poise, and his college coach describes him as "18 going on 28."

Kariya smiled through the inevitable Duck and Disney questions, but he will not be repeating the athletes' advertising slogan, "I'm going to Disneyland."

"I believe that would jeopardize my NCAA eligibility," he said, laughing. "You have to be really careful with them."

Ferreira first saw Kariya play during the NCAA tournament this year while sitting with Pierre Gauthier, the team's assistant general manager and top amateur talent expert.

"I looked at Pierre at the end of the second period and said, 'This guy's a home run,' " Ferreira said. "In all your years scouting, there are very few players you go see who are the one guy in the game you can't wait to see get back on the ice. That's Paul Kariya. That's what he did for me this year.

"He has that sense of everybody else around him that makes them better. He's so clever with the puck, and he sees the entire ice."

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