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Mighty Ducks Sign First-Round Pick Salei


ANAHEIM — The Mighty Ducks have signed their first-round draft pick, defenseman Ruslan Salei, to a three-year, $2.25-million contract.

Known as "Russ" or "Rusty" to his North American teammates, Salei was the ninth overall selection in June's NHL draft after playing for Las Vegas in the International Hockey League last season.

The Ducks drafted Salei, who will be 22 in September, in hopes he can make the team as a rookie and shore up a shallow defense corps. (Most players available in the draft are 18.)

Salei left his native Belarus last year to play in the minor leagues and try to draw the attention of NHL scouts. Projected as a late first-round pick, he ended up in the top 10 partly because of the Ducks' immediate needs.

"I would say he'll see his fair share of ice time this year," General Manager Jack Ferreira said. "Whether he'll be in the lineup every game, I don't know. But he has that year of minor-league experience under his belt."

Because Salei remains the property of a European team, Tivali Minsk, he had to sign by a Thursday deadline to ensure his eligibility this season under the NHL's agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation.

The deadline added urgency for both sides in the negotiations, which were simplified by NHL entry-level limits that went into effect last year and allow a maximum guaranteed compensation of $875,000 next season, though incentive clauses can increase earnings substantially. Salei will make $725,000 this season if he makes the NHL team--a $325,000 salary plus a $400,000 signing bonus--or $62,500 in the minors.

"We had to do the deal," said Mark Gandler, Salei's agent. "He's not 18. He can't say 'Goodbye, see you next year, I'm going to play junior another year like [1995 first-round pick] Chad Kilger could have.' He's 22. He needs to play hockey. And the sooner he starts, the sooner his next contract starts."

Salei appeared in 76 games for Las Vegas last season, scoring seven goals with 23 assists. Before joining Las Vegas, he played two seasons for Tivali Minsk.

Las Vegas Coach Chris McSorley, brother of Marty McSorley, called Salei one of the top three defensemen in the IHL, which is the most competitive of the minor leagues and includes a number of former NHL players at the end of their careers.

The acquisition of Salei was part of the reason the Ducks didn't re-sign team captain Randy Ladouceur, 35, who is a finalist for an assistant coaching job with the Hartford Whalers and will probably retire. He would be 70 games short of 1,000 for his career.

Salei is expected to report to the Ducks for training camp, which starts Sept. 7 in Anaheim.

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