Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Peg will take best player available

Club needs scoring, defence

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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not just about the jersey he pulls on -- a black and grey job emblazoned with an NHL logo -- or whether he is a defenceman, centre, goalie or winger.

It's not just about his nationality, be it Canadian, American, Russian, Swede, Finn or otherwise.

No, when Kevin Cheveldayoff steps to the podium Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to announce Winnipeg's first selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft -- No. 7 overall -- it will represent something bigger. Like the announcement of the NHL's return on May 31, then of Cheveldayoff as GM, Claude Noel as coach and of the unveiling of the 2011-12 schedule, the first pick in the draft will be one of those historic moments that hammers home this:

Our town is back in hockey's big leagues.

And over the last couple of days Winnipeg's hockey-operations department has conducted interviews with 10 or so of the draft's top prospects.

"There is a general excitement, even from some of the young players, in talking about Winnipeg," said Cheveldayoff this week.

"They've seen the stories, they've heard about the fans, they've heard about all he different things and they're excited about it."


Interestingly, while the annual draft-weekend trading frenzy unfolds around them -- it was Mike Richards to L.A., Jeff Carter to Columbus on Thursday -- Winnipeg's management team appears intent on sticking to one of the key components of its new franchise blueprint: building through the draft.

Yes, the phone may be ringing and Winnipeg may listening, but...

"There have been some managers who have started to call, just to talk not so much about that (No. 7) spot but everything in general," Cheveldayoff said. "Spots, players, what are you looking for, what are you willing to move... it's been a much more active day when it comes to those conversations.

"Some of the teams (that have called) are above us (in the draft order). Do we have the opportunity to move up? Do we have the want to do that? We'll see. You have to be somewhat fluid on how you want to approach these things and if my staff says, 'You know what, we've got to get this guy' then we're going to make every effort that we possibly can to get him.

"But we're going to be big believers in the scouting side of things, in the development side of things and one thing our ownership group is very, very adamant about is drafting and developing. Building from within is an investment, not an expense."

Most mock drafts and draft experts have Winnipeg eyeing help down the middle at centre, a position that is thin through the organization. Couple that with the fact Atlanta finished 20th in goals scored last year, 218, and it would seem the scouting staff might be eyeing three centres that might be available at the seven spot: Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs; Mika Zibanejed, who played for Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League and Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

That said, as much as the team has some solid defensive building blocks in Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian and a promising goaltender in Ondrej Pavelec, it is also a team that finished 29th in goals against -- better only than the Colorado Avalanche.

To that end, the club did interview Niagara defenceman Dougie Hamilton and has vowed to take the best player available on its draft board.

"We're looking for someone that is going to make an impact on this organization and whether it is a forward or a defencemen, that will play itself out," said Cheveldayoff.

"We're looking for a guy who is going to come in and be a part of this franchise for many years to come. At No. 7 you're not controlling your own destiny as to who falls into that position and you just have to be ready for it.

"There's lots of different scenarios and you have to be prepared for all of them."

Cheveldayoff smiled then. And it was a smile that hid the bags under his eyes that have come courtesy the countless hours working to get this franchise ready for the puck drop in October. Most of all, it was a smile everyone in the organization has been sporting since the end of May and, in particular, as a historic moment approaches here at the draft.


A revised order of selection for the opening round of the National Hockey League's 2011 entry draft to be held June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn.:

1. Edmonton Oilers

2. Colorado Avalanche

3. Florida Panthers

4. New Jersey Devils

5. N.Y. Islanders

6. Ottawa Senators

7. Winnipeg

8. Philadelphia Flyers (from Columbus)

9. Boston Bruins (from Toronto)

10. Minnesota Wild

11. Colorado Avalanche (from St. Louis)

12. Carolina Hurricanes

13. Calgary Flames

14. Dallas Stars

15. N.Y. Rangers

16. Buffalo Sabres

17. Montreal Canadiens

18. Chicago Blackhawks

19. Edmonton Oilers (from Los Angeles)

20. Phoenix Coyotes.

21. Ottawa Senators (from Nashville)

22. Anaheim Ducks

23. Pittsburgh Penguins

24. Detroit Red Wings

25. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Philadelphia)

26. Washington Capitals

27. Tampa Bay Lightning

28. San Jose Sharks

29. Vancouver Canucks

30. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Boston)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2011 C3

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