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National Hockey League Draft : 1,500 at Forum See Kings Choose, Not Trade

Times Staff Writer

About 1,500 hard-core hockey fans showed up at the Forum Saturday morning to watch on large-screen TV a live satellite telecast of the National Hockey League draft from Toronto. About 500 were on hand last year.

There was more interest in the draft this year because the Kings had two picks in the first round, owing to the trade last October that sent left wing Charlie Simmer to the Boston Bruins.

Ex-King General Manager George Maguire, who recently moved to Florida, was noted for dealing away top draft picks. But things have changed under Rogie Vachon, the current general manager. Vachon said several teams tried to get him to swap his picks this year for a veteran goalie, but he refused.

The Kings used the ninth and 10th picks to select two 18-year-old forwards who Vachon said probably won’t make the team next season. They were left wing Craig Duncanson (5-11 and 175 pounds) of Sudbury, Canada, and center Dan Gratton (6-1 and 184) of Brantford, Canada, which like Sudbury is in the province of Ontario. Gratton is from the same town as Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers.

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Vachon said he was surprised that Duncanson and Gratton were still around when the Kings’ turn came, since his scouts had them rated fifth and sixth.

“We picked the two best players available,” Vachon said. “Craig is a rugged left winger with good hands. Gratton is a real good skater with good hands and a good shot. His stock went down a bit because he was moved around from center to left wing to right wing.

“We don’t expect them to make our team next year. We feel they might be one year away. Last year, everyone said it was a great year, but only six players from the first round made it.”

Duncanson, rated as a poor skater by scouts, scored 35 goals and had 28 assists last season for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League.

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“Certainly, I think my skating does lack, and it’s something I have to work on,” Duncanson said.

Gratton had 24 goals and 48 assists last season for the Oswaha Generals of the OHL.

“It’s an honor to be picked by the Kings,” he said. “I was a little surprised to still be here.”

The rest of the draft didn’t go according to form.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs, who had the worst record in the NHL last season, had the top pick and selected defenseman Wendel Clark (5-11, 190) of the Saskatoon Blades.

Clark was ranked No. 2 by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau behind Michigan State All-American center Craig Simpson (6-2, 181), who is a Canadian. But Simpson said last week that he didn’t want to play for the inept Maple Leafs and might stay in college if they drafted him.

“I had no idea what would happen until I heard my name,” Clark told reporters in Toronto.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who had the second pick, chose Simpson.

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Simpson doesn’t have an agent because of NCAA eligibility rules.

“I pretty well decided Pittsburgh was a place I would feel comfortable with,” Simpson told the Associated Press. “I’ve heard terrific things about Pittsburgh, that it is ranked the No. 1 city in the U.S., and I have no reservations.”

Defenseman Craig Wolanin of Warren, Mich., was the first American drafted. Wolanin, 17, who played junior hockey for the Kitchener Rangers, was selected third by the New Jersey Devils.

Keith Gretzky, the younger brother of Wayne, was drafted in the third round by the Buffalo Sabres. Most teams passed on Keith because of his size (5-8, 151). He had 31 goals and 62 assists in junior hockey last season.

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There were two big trades before the draft began at 10 a.m. PDT.

The Calgary Flames traded Kent Nilsson to the Minnesota North Stars for the North Stars’ second-round pick and a future second-round pick.

And the Montreal Canadiens traded right wing Mark Hunter, the rights to defenseman Mike Dark of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and four draft choices to the St. Louis’ Blues for the Blues’ No. 1 pick and four other draft picks.


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