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Kings take chance on historic day

June 23, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

COLUMBUS, OHIO — An expected NHL draft-day trading spree morphed into something different Friday: intersecting story lines of historical significance, a risky opening-round pick (fourth overall) by the Kings and an Orange County teenager becoming the first California-born player selected in the first round.

First, the history at Nationwide Arena. Right wing Patrick Kane of Buffalo and left wing James vanRiemsdyk of Middletown, N.J., became the first U.S.-born players to be chosen first and second overall in the NHL Entry Draft, taken by Chicago and Philadelphia. Later, Jonathon Blum, born in Long Beach and raised in Orange County, joined the Nashville Predators, going 23rd overall.

With the 19th pick, the Stanley Cup champion Ducks delved into history, as well ... family history by taking 17-year-old center Logan MacMillian of Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, whose father Bob played 11 seasons in the NHL. The Ducks had the 16th pick but moved down three spots in a trade with Minnesota.

The Kings created the first stir by selecting 18-year-old defenseman Thomas Hickey of Seattle of the Western Hockey League, ranked 26th by Central Scouting.

The math of No. 4 stemming from a rating of 26 quickly led a Canadian TV announcer to ask whether the Kings erred. That was shot down by TSN draft analyst Pierre Maguire, looking at a potential future defense corps of Jack Johnson and Hickey, adding, "No, it's not a mistake."

Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi didn't shy away from acknowledging the obvious, saying: "The payoff is greater, but there's more risk." He compared Hickey to fifth-rated Karl Alzner, who went one spot later, saying Alzner was a "very safe pick."

Lombardi was especially impressed by Hickey's lateral movement, and Kings scout Mike Donnelly said: "He wowed us. You can't see that kind of skating very often in a North American kid."

The surprise selection stunned the engaging youngster, who grew up in Calgary. Hickey, 5 feet 10 and 182 pounds, had nine goals and 50 points in Seattle in 68 games last season.

"I was sort of dozing off. I was thinking about later picks and sort of heard my name, thought maybe it was a mistake," he said.

But as soon as he got off the draft stage, Hickey took a moment to pinch himself, and said, "and I felt it."

Lombardi contemplated cutting a deal and dropping down a few spots, thinking he might be able to still grab Hickey.

"At eight or nine, if somebody knocked my socks off, I might have done it," he said. "But I was getting antsy."

Draft day is something of a family day and the Ducks' latest addition, MacMillian, gave credit to his father, who is now a scout for the Flames.

"He helped me along the way," said MacMillian, who had 20 goals and 55 points. "He went through everything I've gone through already and everything I will go through."

Family, those present, and the one person not there, was in the mind of an emotional Blum. The 18-year-old defenseman, who had 51 points in 72 games with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League last season, spoke of being "proud" of the California hockey history.

But the question was bound to come up and someone asked about his twin sister Ashley, who died in a fire at their home in 2004.

"She would have been up there in the crowd," he said. "It would really mean a lot."

Not only did Blum lose his "best friend" and sister, his mother, Dana, was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after the fire. Reports have said she is cancer free, and there were 15 family and friends on hand for his star turn on the draft stage.


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