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Kings Play It Aggressively With Jokinen

NHL draft: Thornton goes to Bruins as No. 1 pick; Mighty Ducks take Swedish center Holmqvist.

June 22, 1997|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PITTSBURGH — Olli Jokinen may lack muscle, but he doesn't lack self-assurance. And if the Finnish teenager's adjustment to the NHL is as smooth as he anticipates, the Kings' rebuilding process may be a little shorter.

Jokinen, ranked first among European players by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, was chosen third overall by the Kings in Saturday's NHL entry draft at the Civic Arena. But Jokinen may be second to none in this year's crop as a total package of size, speed and skill--not to mention assertiveness.

"I need to work a little more on strength but I feel I can fit right in the lineup and score a few goals for L.A. and I will help them," said Jokinen, a 6-foot-2, 198-pound center who scored 14 goals and 41 points in 50 games with IFK Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. "I'm very happy."

So was King Coach Larry Robinson, who has been insistent that the team add bulk and offensive depth. "He is a very confident young man," Robinson said. "A lot of them, when you ask if they're ready, they go, 'No, I need another year or two in junior.' Olli said right off the bat, 'Yup.'

"This is the type of kid you can play against the better line on the other team or against the checking line. We're very, very happy."

As expected, the Boston Bruins used the first pick to take Sault Ste. Marie center Joe Thornton, whose exceptional puckhandling, explosive speed and extraordinary vision on the ice inspired comparisons to Philadelphia Flyer center Eric Lindros. The San Jose Sharks then took center Patrick Marleau from Seattle of the Western Hockey League, whom the Kings liked enough for General Manager Dave Taylor to acknowledge there would have been "a little debate" at their draft table if San Jose had passed on him. After the Kings selected Jokinen, the New York Islanders made Roberto Luongo of Val d'Or the fourth pick, the earliest a goalie has ever been selected.

While Taylor liked Marleau, he was delighted to get Jokinen.

"He's very aggressive and very mature. For an 18-year-old to play in the Finnish Elite League is almost unheard of," Taylor said. "He has a lot of leadership ability and plays a physical game and goes to the net."

Continuing their hunt for help in the foreseeable future, the Kings took 6-3, 218-pound left wing Matt Zultek 15th overall with the pick they acquired from St. Louis in the Wayne Gretzky trade. "With a team that's rebuilding, that's going to give me a better chance to step in," said Zultek, who patterns himself after power forwards Dave Andreychuk of New Jersey and Brendan Shanahan of Detroit and is rated a strong skater with good hands who likes to drive to the net.

By contrast, the Mighty Ducks were looking further down the road in selecting playmaking Swedish center Mikael Holmqvist 18th and left wing Maxim Balmochnykh from Lada Togliatti of Russia in the second round, 45th overall. Neither is likely to play in the NHL for at least two years, but Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira said both have star potential.

"He's built like a one-iron, thin like a pencil," Ferreira said of the 6-3, 189-pound Holmqvist, who might play junior hockey in Canada next season to become accustomed to the North American style of play. "But he's skilled and he's got long, fluid skating strides. He's going to grow into his body. He's a skill guy with really good speed and really good hands."

Balmochnykh underwent surgery early this spring to correct an irregular heartbeat, but the Ducks have been assured he's fine. "He's like [Edmonton winger Andrei] Kovalenko, a hard-nosed guy that goes to the net and has good hands," Ferreira said.

The Kings' second-round pick (29th overall) was Scott Barney, a 6-4 center who had 54 points and 110 penalty minutes with Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League last season. They didn't have a third-rounder; the Ducks in that round chose Jay Legault, a 6-4, 192-pound center the Ducks claim they had rated in their top 30. The Ducks later chose a goaltender, Luc Vaillancourt of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, for depth in the organization. Both teams said they had tried to make deals--the Kings to move up from 15th and the Ducks simply to accumulate picks--but were foiled.

"I think we addressed some needs," Robinson said. "Up front and down the middle we've gotten bigger, but I still think we'll look at the free agent market."

NHL draft notes

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