June 21, 2003
Seen and Heard at the 2003 NHL Draft
Vancouver: We're Ready for Umberger

By Mike Eidelbes

First-Round Selections
Second and Third Rounds
Fourth through Ninth Rounds
Picks by College Team
Seen and Heard: Day Two

NASHVILLE When the Vancouver Canucks selected Ohio State's Ryan Kesler with the 23rd pick of the first round, it's not surprising that talk quickly turned to Kesler's teammate R.J. Umberger, another Canucks first-round pick.

But according to Vancouver general manager Brian Burke, the two may not be teammates in Columbus for long.

"We've never taken a player out of school early unless they've wanted to come," Burke said. "I think R.J. is ready to come out. Again, I talked to Coach (John) Markell and told him what I just said to you guys ... that we'd never take a player out early. If R.J. wants to come out, then we're going to try to sign him. He's got to take the next step at some point."

Umberger, among this summer's INCH Flight Risks, was the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2001 draft. The first-team All-CCHA and second-team All-America selection would likely command the rookie salary cap to sign, approximately $1 million per year.

Burke, while leaving the decision essentially up to Umberger, did note that he sees some areas where Umberger could improve.

"I think R.J.'s challenge is consistency," Burke said. "He had points in the season where he dominated and points where he didn't. That's what he's going to have to develop to take the next step."


While fans of the Minnesota Wild may be lamenting the fact that general manager Doug Risebrough passed up Colorado College defenseman and Rochester, Minn., native with the 20th overall pick, they can take solace in the selection of Danny Irmen in the third round.

"I never would've thought in my wildest dreams that I'd be drafted by the Wild," said Irmen, who will be a freshman at the University of Minnesota this fall. "It's just something really special."

And while he's pleased with the chance to potentially play his college and professional hockey in the Upper Midwest, the 6-foot, 182-pound center from Fargo, N.D., is clearly focused on the Gophers' 2003-04 season.

"I can't wait," said Irmen, who's been working out with the Gophers three times a week. "The group of guys they have there are unbelievable. There's going to be a little pressure, but I think that's what we want. We have a great team and coach (Don) Lucia has proven he is a great coach, and I can't wait to start playing for him."

All excitement aside, Irmen knows it'll be difficult to crack a line-up that lost just one key contributor (Matt DeMarchi) from last season. He also knows it will be tough to put aside thoughts off a three-peat, but he and his future teammates haven't broached the subject.

"I haven't heard one thing about it," Irmen said. "This group of guys looks to tomorrow and takes what comes. Obviously, this team has a great chance of doing it but as the season goes on, we'll find out."


While Irmen gets the chance to stay close to home by being chosen by the Wild, Massachusetts forward Stephen Werner earned the opportunity to go back home when Washington selected him in the third round. A native of Chevy Chase, Md., the sophomore-to-be was named to the Hockey East all-rookie team after scoring 38 points for the Minutemen last season.

"When I heard my name called I couldn't believe it," Werner said. "I grew up playing for the Little Caps, idolizing the Capitals players. It is a dream come true."

The Capitals, of course, struck gold with another local product in Princeton graduate Jeff Halpern. Halpern is a native of Potomac, Md., and also played for the Little Caps growing up.


While college hockey fans are basking in the glow of today's record-setting selection of nine college or college-bound players in the first round, it's interesting to note that just six years ago, no players with college ties were chosen in the opening round. In fact, just three college players Minnesota's Ben Clymer (Boston), Brad Defauw of North Dakota (Carolina) and St. Cloud State's Brian Gaffaney (Pittsburgh) were taken in the first two rounds.


• Boston College coach Jerry York was in attendance Saturday. When asked for a comment about two of his players getting chosen in the first round, he referred to a group of friends with whom he was exiting the arena floor and replied, "If I don't go with these guys, I'll miss dinner."

• Vancouver's fondness for Buckeyes was not the only trend evident in Saturday's first round. Buffalo selected Thomas Vanek fifth overall, the second year in a row and third time in eight years that the Sabres have chosen a Minnesota player. Last year Buffalo picked Gopher defenseman Keith Ballard, while in 1996 the Sabres took Erik Rasmussen seventh overall.

In addition, New Jersey traded up to take Zach Parise; in 2000 the Devils took David Hale with their first-round selection. Los Angeles wrapped up all this first-round familiarity by choosing Michigan's Jeff Tambellini, who follows in the footsteps of fellow Wolverine Mike Cammalleri (taken 49th overall in 2001).

• Parise's slide to 17th was the biggest surprise of the first round. While some scouts expressed concern about his size, it's probably not a shock that New Jersey jumped at the chance to take him, since the Devils just won the Cup with John Madden and Brian Gionta. Edmonton, the team that originally held the 17th pick, may have passed on Parise because the Oilers certainly lack size in their lineup.

"I'm not a Gopher, I just play against them on TV."

• Zach Parise quickly defused a potentially awkward situation during media interviews in the bowels of the arena. A television crew stringing for a Minneapolis station asked him how he felt as a Golden Gopher going to New Jersey. Parise, who calls Faribault, Minn., home, quickly and discreetly told the reporter he lived in Minnesota but played for North Dakota.

• Dartmouth's Hugh Jessiman became the highest-drafted player in school history when the New York Rangers took him 12th overall. Ned Desmond, picked by St. Louis in the third round in 1985, previously held that distinction.

• While New York reporters were obviously interested in talking hockey with Rangers' first-round pick Hugh Jessiman, they seemed more enthralled with the nickname hung on him by his Dartmouth teammates: Huge Specimen.

• Buffalo Sabres director of player personnel Don Luce thinks his club got a two-for-one deal by selecting Thomas Vanek with the fifth overall pick. Because of his performance in the 2003 Frozen Four at HSBC Arena, Luce says they've tapped not only a future star, but a name familiar to the citizens of western New York.

"People went to the Frozen Four saw him play and that was a bonus for us," Luce said. "He came in there and he played exceptionally well. It is a plus."

• Ohio State's Ryan Kesler is no stranger to the Vancouver area. Last summer, he spent a month working out in British Columbia with a personal trainer. He stayed in the Burnaby home of Milan and Nenad Gajic, who play for Michigan and Michigan State, respectively. Among those with whom Kesler worked out was current Canuck and Wolverine Hobey Baker Award winner Brendan Morrison.

• The only college sweaters spotted at the GEC were those of defending national champion Minnesota. However, INCH spies did see a woman wearing a Predators' jersey emblazoned with the name and number of former Michigan State star Adam Hall and two Lightning sweaters honoring Miami All-American Dan Boyle. Perhaps most shocking: a woman wearing a Columbus Blue Jackets jersey with the name of former BC skater Blake Bellefuille on the back.

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