It was a terrible season for the St. Louis Blues, who traded away All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger in a salary-cap maneuver last August and then proceeded to finish with the worst record in the NHL.
Perhaps looking to atone for mistakes, the Blues selected 18-year-old defenseman Erik Johnson, a Minnesota native, with the first pick in the league's entry draft Saturday at General Motors Place in Vancouver, Canada.
Johnson, a member of the U.S. under-18 national team, is the fifth American to be taken first overall and the first since goaltender Rick DiPietro was selected by the New York Islanders in 2000. A record 10 U.S.-born players were selected in the first round.
At 6 feet 4 and 222 pounds, Johnson has often been compared to Pronger because of his large frame and his combination of offensive ability and physical play along the blue line. The Blues, whose 21-46-15 record was their worst in 25 years, had the No. 1 pick for the first time.
"It's one of the best feelings I've ever had," Johnson told NHL radio. "They've been a very successful organization over the past three decades and made the playoffs every year. I want to help turn them around to win the Stanley Cup one day."
Picking second, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected center Jordan Staal, whose brother, Eric, won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. Another brother, Marc, is a prospect with the New York Rangers.
University of North Dakota center Jonathan Toews went third to the Chicago Blackhawks, and Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom went fourth to the Washington Capitals. Minnesota freshman Phil Kessel, who was once expected to go first, went at No. 5 to the Boston Bruins.
Other teams made news outside of the draft. The Colorado Avalanche traded veteran left wing Alex Tanguay to the Calgary Flames for defenseman Jordan Leopold and a second-round pick this year along with a second-rounder in either 2007 or 2008.
The Toronto Maple Leafs addressed their goaltending issues by acquiring former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft from the Bruins for Finnish goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask.