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NHL PLAYOFFS | NOTES

Thrashers Will Pick First in June Draft

April 11, 2001|From Associated Press

The Atlanta Thrashers won the NHL Entry Draft drawing Tuesday and will pick first in the draft of junior players.

The draft is set for June 23-24 in Sunrise, Fla.

The Thrashers would have picked third based on inverse order of regular-season finish but moved up as a result of the drawing. The Thrashers had the third greatest likelihood, 14.2%, of advancing through the lottery.

"It's a big thing for the franchise," General Manager Don Waddell said. "Last year we were seeded one and lost and went to two. For a team to move from third to the first spot, particularly in this draft, is a nice move. It's something this franchise is going to reap a lot of benefits for years to come."

Also participating in the drawing conducted at the NHL offices in New York were the Mighty Ducks, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes.

The lottery is weighted to give the teams with the fewest points during the regular season the greatest chance of being selected. The last-place Islanders, for example, had the greatest number of combinations (25%), followed by the Lightning (18.8) and Thrashers.

Only the five teams with the fewest points had the chance to gain the No. 1 pick and no team could move up more than four positions in the draft order. No team can fall more than one position. The Islanders, who moved up from fifth to first in last year's lottery and picked goaltender Rick DiPietro, slipped to second for the June draft.

Following the Thrashers and the Islanders, the draft order: Tampa Bay, Florida, the Ducks, Minnesota, Montreal, Columbus, Chicago, the Rangers, Calgary, Nashville, Boston and Phoenix.

Forwards Jason Spezza of Windsor, Canada, and Ilia Kovalchuk of Russia's Spartak Moscow are considered the top two prospects in this year's draft.

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Defenseman Ray Bourque of the Colorado Avalanche did not skate during practice in Denver because of a lower back strain and remained questionable for the first game of Colorado's first-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks.

Bourque will be evaluated today, team spokesman Jean Martineau said.

"Right now I am optimistic for Thursday and I am confident I will be in there," Bourque, a 19-time all-star and 22-year veteran, said. "I think I am feeling pretty good, but I am still day-to-day and will see how things go tomorrow."

Bourque suffered a strained lower back early into Sunday's 4-2 victory over Minnesota. He left the game and never returned.

The Avalanche opens its best-of-seven series at Denver on Thursday against the Canucks.

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The Thrashers fired assistant coaches George Kingston and Jay Leach after the expansion team finished its second season with the league's third-worst record, General Manager Don Waddell said.

Curt Fraser will return as coach next season, although the Thrashers have won only 37 games in their first two seasons. Fraser has one year remaining on his contract, which will be extended this summer, Waddell said.

"He knows we're happy with the job he's doing," Waddell said. "About the other guys, our team is changing and our needs are different than the first two years. It was time to go in another direction."

Both Kingston and Leach were with the team during its first two seasons, when the Thrashers were 37-108-19. The club's 23-45-12-2 record and 60 points this season was 21 points better than its 39-point inaugural season.

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