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Old 01-08-2007, 05:11 AM   #69
24champ
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EJ Hradek on Team USA(more specifically on Jack Johnson)-
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Here's a sentence that I'm very happy to write: Team USA defeated Sweden, 2-1, to win the bronze medal at the World Junior Championship on Friday. The Americans had lost their four previous bronze-medal games at this elite tournament and it's their second medal in the last four WJC appearances. Team USA won the gold medal in 2004.

Blues prospect Erik Johnson, the first overall pick at last June's draft, scored the game-winning goal midway through the second period. Johnson took a pass from fellow defenseman Taylor Chorney (Edmonton, 36th overall, 2005) in the high slot and ripped a low wrist shot past Swedish stopper Joel Gistedt. Chorney made the play by keeping the puck in along the left wing boards, then patiently finding Johnson with a crisp pass.

U.S. goalie Jeff Frazee (New Jersey, 38th overall, 2005) made 26 stops to earn the victory. The University of Minnesota puckstopper went 4-1 after replacing Jeff Zatkoff (Los Angeles, 74th overall, 2006) in the third game of the tournament. Frazee's only loss came in a semifinals shootout against Canada.

As I watched the game (thankfully, TSN's broadcast was shown on the NHL's Center Ice package), I wondered what Anaheim GM Brian Burke and his Carolina counterpart, Jim Rutherford, might be thinking.

Burke has done a terrific job since arriving in Anaheim in 2005. Let me say that again, Burke has done a terrific job with the Ducks. That said, he must be kicking himself for passing on American-born defenseman Jack Johnson at the 2005 draft. This kid is the real deal. He can skate, pass and shoot. He plays well in his own end, and he seems to thrive on adversity and loves a physical game. Really, he's a perfect Burke-type player.

Still, he passed on him to select another American, winger Bobby Ryan. Now, I don't want to downgrade Ryan, a power forward who's having another good season with Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League, but Johnson is going to be a special defenseman in the NHL. It's hard to believe he could have joined a defense that already includes future Hall of Famers Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. That would've called for a Dick Enberg special, "Oh my!"

Instead, Johnson will play up the road from Anaheim in Los Angeles. Kings GM Dean Lombardi made a steal of deal when he acquired Johnson's rights from the Hurricanes in October. Lombardi sent defenseman Tim Gleason and center Eric Belanger to the Canes for Johnson and overpaid D-man Oleg Tverdovsky. Clearly, Deano took Tverdovsky as the price to get Johnson. It was well worth it.

Rutherford, who became a 2005 draft day winner when the Ducks passed on Johnson, opted to deal the future star after he refused several offers to leave the University of Michigan and turn pro with the Canes. I guess everyone has their reasons for doing things, but I just don't see the sense in trading a player with Johnson's potential. I hate to criticize a Cup-winning GM and a good guy like Rutherford, but I wouldn't have traded Johnson. He's going to be a real good one.

While I don't have it on any firm authority, I expect Johnson to turn pro after his sophomore season at Michigan. I don't think he'll jump to join the Kings for the final few games of this season, but rather make the decision over the summer. When he does come to the NHL, I expect he's going to leave both Burke and Rutherford shaking their heads more than a few times.

Finally, I thought Buffalo-native Patrick Kane really juiced his stock for the upcoming draft with his strong play during the tournament. Kane is a terrific offensive player. He has excellent, quick hands. He's particularly good around the net, where he has a nice patience with the puck. With the tournament behind him, he'll go back to London (OHL) where he and fellow draft eligible Sam Gagner are tearing up the league. I think there's a chance that Kane will be the first player selected at the June draft.
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