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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NHL Draft Rings to a Russian Tune

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SUNRISE, Florida — Russians made the biggest splash on an NHL draft day dominated by Europeans as star center Alexei Yashin was traded to the New York Islanders and Atlanta made Ilja Kovalchuk the top overall pick Saturday.

New York acquired Yashin from the Ottawa Senators for giant Czech defenseman Zdeno Chara and forward Bill Muckalt, plus the second overall pick in the draft.

With the second pick, Ottawa selected the top-ranked North American center available, Jason Spezza from the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.

Yashin was one of several big names traded on draft day. Having lost faith in Roman Turek, the St. Louis Blues traded their former No. 1 goaltender and a fourth-round selection to the Calgary Flames for goalie Fred Brathwaite and center Daniel Tkaczuk, a former first-round pick.

And the Bure brothers will be teammates for the first time in a decade. The Florida Panthers acquired right wing Valeri Bure, reuniting him with his superstar brother Pavel, along with center Jason Wiemer from the Calgary Flames.

Florida sent Rob Niedermayer and a second-round pick to Calgary.

Thirteen Europeans were among the 30 first-round picks as Russians went first, third and fifth.

Kovalchuk, the first Russian to be drafted No. 1, was one of five from his country picked in the first round. Joining him were Alexander Svitov (3, Tampa Bay), Stanislav Chistov (5, Anaheim), Igor Knyazev (15, Carolina) and Alexander Perejougin (25, Montreal).

Three Czechs went in the first round: Ales Hemsky (13, Edmonton), Jiri Novotny (22, Buffalo) and Lukas Krajicek (24, Florida). Hemsky and Krajicek played for Canadian minor league teams before being drafted.

Two Finns, Mikko Koivu (6, Minnesota) and Tuomo Ruutu (9, Chicago), and two Swedes, Fredrik Sjostrom (11, Phoenix) and Jens Karlsson (18, Los Angeles), along with one German, Marcel Goc (20, San Jose), were the other European first-rounders.

In another trade that may draw less attention but could prove significant, Florida dealt Philadelphia the rights to 32-year-old Czech forward Jiri Dopita, widely considered the world's best veteran player outside the NHL.

Three other NHL teams have owned the rights to Dopita but were unable to sign the Nagano Olympics gold-medal winner.

Top pick Kovalchuk, an outstanding playmaker and puckhandler, scored 28 goals in 40 games in Russia last season and dazzled scouts at the under-18 world championships, where he had 11 goals in six games.

"We got the best player in Europe and the best player overall," said Atlanta general manager Don Waddell. "He will make an impact next season with our team. We are very happy this worked out this way although we kept our options open until today.

"We had some great offers until as late as 10:00 this morning. But this is best for our franchise, getting a young superstar."

Before the draft, Waddell had said of Kovalchuk: "He's got Pavel Bure-type hands, the Owen Nolan-type grip. He's going to go around a lot of guys with his skill level, but he's also going to go through guys. He's a bulldozer, not afraid to run over guys."

Yashin sat out the 1999-2000 season in a bitter contract dispute. After losing in arbitration and in court, he reported last season and played well during the regular campaign but had a poor playoff as Ottawa lost to Toronto.

Yashin made $3.6 million last season and will expect two to three times that figure from the Islanders.

"We have so many draft picks in our stable of young players, it was time to advance the cause," said Islanders general manager Mike Milbury.

"This [Yashin] is a premium, first-line center. We are excited and exultant. He is a franchise player whom we will build our team around."

Ottawa general manager Marshall Johnston said: "After sitting out, Alex came back to us last year and gave us a great season. He played hard but we felt this was the way to go considering the financial problems.

"We did well getting Spezza, the best player in North America, and two good NHL players in Muckalt and Chara. We really liked Jason Spezza."

In other trades, Chicago dealt former Montreal defenseman Stephane Quintal back to the Canadiens for a fourth-round draft pick and Toronto sent Russian center Igor Korolev to Chicago for a draft pick.