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Oilers choose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with first pick of 2011 NHL draft

What a day for Canada: The Winnipeg Jets returned to the NHL and 15 players born in hockey’s homeland were chosen in the first round of the league’s entry draft, held Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

As expected, Edmonton — picking first for the second consecutive year — chose top-ranked center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored 31 goals and 106 points in 69 games with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League last season. Colorado followed by selecting left wing Gabriel Landeskog, a skillful Swede who played for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

High-scoring center Jonathan Huberdeau was chosen third, by Florida, and defenseman Adam Larsson of Sweden, the top-ranked European skater, was chosen fourth by New Jersey.

“It’s amazing. A dream come true,” Nugent-Hopkins told reporters.

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A record-tying six Swedes were chosen in the first round, a trend the Ducks continued by selecting right wing Rickard Rakell with the 30th pick. The Ducks had the 22nd pick but traded that to Toronto for the 30th and 39th picks after the player they wanted was gone before their turn.

Rakell, 18, came to North America to play for Plymouth of the OHL. He had 19 goals and 43 points in 49 games last season and was hampered by an ankle sprain. Ducks General Manager Bob Murray, who liked the then-17-year-old Rakell at the last world junior championships, said the youngster’s ankle has healed and should not be a concern.

“He’s a good, two-way, smart hockey player,” Murray said by phone from St. Paul. “We’re very happy he was still there at 30.

“He’s very intelligent and he plays more of a North American game than a European game.”

In addition to 15 Canada-born players and six Swedes, the draft class was composed of five American-born players and one player each from Denmark, Finland, Russia and Switzerland.

The Kings traded their first-round pick, No. 19, to Edmonton in the Dustin Penner deal. They are not scheduled to pick until No.49. The second through seventh rounds will be conducted Saturday.

However, the Kings apparently granted Ryan Smyth’s wish to return home by trading the veteran left wing to Edmonton for a fifth-round pick and forward Gilbert Brule. After being delayed by unspecified complications, General Manager Dean Lombardi confirmed it via email shortly after 8 p.m. PDT. The Oilers did not immediately confirm the deal.

It is expected that the Kings will trade Brule as soon as possible, having taken him only to give the Oilers salary cap relief to off-set Smyth’s $6.25-million cap hit.

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The Winnipeg Jets returned to the draft floor though they didn’t have time to create a new logo and gave players jerseys with the NHL crest on the front.

The league’s board of governors approved the sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg on Tuesday. The nickname — previously used by the franchise that left Winnipeg for Phoenix and became the Coyotes in 1996 — was disclosed Friday. The Jets’ first pick, No. 7 overall, was center Mark Scheifele from Barrie of the OHL.

Murray, who said he didn’t expect to pull off any deals, also said he planned to talk to Don Baizley, who represents impending free agent Teemu Selanne.

Murray is optimistic that Selanne will return for another season at age 41.

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“I think he wants to play hockey again,” Murray said.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen


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