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PRO TEAMS LOAD UP ON EUROPEAN TALENT IN NHL ENTRY DRAFT

SHARE PRO TEAMS LOAD UP ON EUROPEAN TALENT IN NHL ENTRY DRAFT

Czechoslovak defenseman Roman Hamrlik led a run on European talent at the National Hockey League entry draft Saturday, going as the first pick to the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ten of the first-round selections at the Montreal Forum were European players - 11 if you count Boston's Dmitri Kvartalnov, a 26-year-old Russian free agent who played last year with San Diego of the International Hockey League.The biggest surprise of the first round came from Quebec, which did not trade celebrated holdout Eric Lindros. The future of Lindros apparently will go to an arbitrator, as both the Flyers and Rangers claim to have made handshake deals with the Nordiques.

Hamrlik became the second European to be taken first overall, following the selection of Sweden's Mats Sundin by Quebec in 1989. He also is the highest-drafted player from Eastern Europe, which until a few years ago could not send players to the NHL.

At 6-foot-2 and 189 pounds, Hamrlik combines mobility with the hard-checking style that fits into the NHL mold. He scored five goals and five assists in 34 games for his Czechoslovak elite team last season.

Hamrlik, 18, still has two years remaining on his contract with ZPS Zlin in the splintering country, though he believes he will be available to play in the NHL sooner.

"My thought was I would be picked by either of the expansion teams," Hamrlik said. "I am very happy to be coming to play in North America as soon as possible."

Ottawa followed by selecting Russian center Alexei Yashin with the second pick, marking the first time non-North American players were taken with the first two selections.

Yashin, 18, is known for his ability to handle the puck in traffic and may have the ability to join the Senators immediately.

"I didn't know Ottawa was going to take me," said Yashin, who played for Moscow Dynamo last year. "I was really surprised to be picked so high. But I don't know when I will play for Ottawa because I still have three years left on my contract with Moscow."

Yashin, a member of the gold medal-winning Commonwealth of Independent States team at the World Junior Championships, became the highest Russian selected in the draft. The previous high was 15th, when the New York Rangers selected left wing Alexei Kovalev last year.

The San Jose Sharks, last year's expansion team, went third by taking defenseman Mike Rathje and Quebec followed with winger Todd Warriner.

Rathje, a 6-5 stay-at-home defenseman, played the past two seasons with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League, tallying 109 penalty minutes last season.

Warriner, from Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League, had been expected to be taken with one of the first two picks. Renowned as a scorer, he came back strong last year after a knee injury that plagued him for 16 games.

"As for going fourth overall, I'm not surprised," he said. "Quebec has a great future especially when they trade Lindros. I have an open mind when it comes to Quebec. After all, it is the NHL."

Toronto traded the fifth pick of the draft to the New York Islanders for their first- and second-round picks, Nos. 8 and 32. The Islanders then selected Russian defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, another Dynamo Moscow player.

Calgary, picking sixth, took Warriner's Windsor linemate Cory Stillman and Philadelphia followed with Ryan Sittler, who played high-school hockey at Nichols Academy in Buffalo, N.Y.