Defenseman will likely be No. 1 pick overall

Saturday, June 24, 2006

St. Louis has its eyes on 6-foot-4 Erik Johnson.

ST. LOUIS -- Barring a trade or some other unexpected development, St. Louis Blues general manager Larry Pleau said the team will take 18-year-old defenseman Erik Johnson with the first overall pick in today's NHL entry draft in Vancouver.

"As we sit right now, it sure looks like the defenseman," Pleau said of Johnson, a Bloomington, Minn., native, who played for the U.S. National Team Development Program the past two seasons. "But you never know what somebody's going to throw at you over the next 48 hours." Pleau told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Friday's edition.

The draft marks the first time in the team's 39-year history it has the No. 1 pick.

Many experts have long believed Johnson was the best player available. Pleau said the Blues thought so too, but wanted to be sure.

"We were at the same conclusion two months ago," he said, "but you go through the due diligence ... it's just the process you go through. But we're as close as can be that [Johnson] is the direction we're going in."

Johnson was excited by the news.

"That's pretty amazing to know that the Blues are that confident to make me the first overall pick," Johnson said.

"You get the feeling that it's more of a certainty than a probability. It's good to feel that it's becoming a reality."

Blues assistant general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said the 6-foot-4, 222 pound Johnson passed the team's "head and heart" test -- he showed the intelligence and physical attributes of a good NHL player, along with the passion.

"One of the things you don't want to get caught doing is admiring the size of the guy," Kekalainen said. "But he's impressive off the ice, too, and that confirmed what we see on the ice."

Longtime Blues defenseman Al MacInnis scouted Johnson on two occasions and came back impressed.

"He's rated No. 1 for a reason," MacInnis said. "For an 18-year-old kid, he just showed a lot of composure. He just has such a presence out there ... at the World Juniors, against all the top players, he's just a presence."

Some have compared Johnson to MacInnis' former teammate, Chris Pronger, now with Edmonton.

"I would say there are some similarities," MacInnis said. "Obviously one, (Johnson) makes a great outlet pass and nobody does that better than Chris Pronger. He's big in size, very mobile ... they both have great hockey sense."

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