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Predators Make Moves In NHL Draft

The Nashville Predators made goaltender Mike Richter the biggest name selected in Friday's expansion draft but will build their team around another goalie, Mike Dunham, who was taken from the New Jersey Devils.

Richter, who backstopped

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the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994 but struggled last season, was one of several star free agents available. But he and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp were the only ones chosen by the Predators and general manager David Poile, who bypassed goalies Curtis Joseph and John Vanbiesbrouck along with right wing Brett Hull and center Doug Gilmour.

"When you're given 26 selections, it was never our goal to take 26 good NHL players," said Poile, who was the Washington Capitals general manager from 1982-97. "There'll be some players that may not make it to Nashville. There are some that are signed for minor-league purposes. There is a lot that goes into making up our team. Today was just a starting point."

Nashville has exclusive rights to sign Richter and Krupp until July 1st. But both are expected to go elsewhere, leaving the Predators with a high pick in the 1999 amateur draft as compensation.

The Rangers left Richter unprotected because they expect to be able to continue negotiating with him after July 1. And they also will be exempt from losing a goaltender in next year's expansion draft to stock the Atlanta Thrashers.

"We have taken him for the compensatory pick, which we believe, based on this year's compensatory picks, will be a high second-round draft choice," Poile said of Richter. "I firmly think the Rangers are going to try to sign him, will sign him."

"Uwe Krupp is in the same situation," he continued. "That is something I may have a comment on a little later on. We do get a compensatory pick with that and there may be something else that goes with that situation."

Nashville announced its 26 selections this afternoon in Buffalo, but saved Dunham for last. The 26-year-old goalie was the only player brought out in a Predators jersey and received a loud ovation from the crowd, which included friends and family from Johnson City, New York.

Dunham has seen precious little action while backing up Martin Brodeur over the last two seasons, but has a 13-12-4 career mark with a 2.42 goals-against average.

"In his career, he's been the No. 1 guy, he's been successful at every stage along the way," Poile said. "Now he's in the NHL and he's only had one obstacle to get by, Martin Brodeur. We've now taken away that obstacle and given him the chance to be the guy in Nashville."

"I'm really just excited to get this opportunity," Dunham said. "I'm looking forward to training camp, I'm looking forward to getting in there and earning my spot. I've just been waiting for my opportunity, my chance, to come. I look at this as another step."

The Predators, who begin play in October, selected the maximum five goaltenders, adding Mikhail Shtalenkov from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Frederic Chabot from the Los Angeles Kings and Tomas Vokoun from the Montreal Canadiens.

Krupp, whose rights likely will be traded before the end of the day, was one of eight defenseman taken. The others were the oft-injured Al Iafrate of the San Jose Sharks, Bob Boughner of the Buffalo Sabres, J.J. Daigneault of the New York Islanders, Rob Zettler of the Toronto Maple Leafs, John Slaney of the Phoenix Coyotes, Joel Bouchard of the Calgary Flames and Chris Armstrong of the Florida Panthers.

"We would like (Iafrate) to come to Nashville as soon as possible to sit down and see what he has in mind with his future," Poile said. "We do have strong interest in Al, hopefully we can work something out for his future."

Doug Brown of the two-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings was the most recognizable name taken among the Predators' 13 forwardsThe 34-year-old Brown scored twice in Game Four against the Washington Capitals as the Red Wings completed their second straight Stanley Cup Finals sweep.

"As far as I'm concerned, there is huge appeal to get someone that is a winner, someone that's won two consecutive Stanley Cups," Poile said. "There is great appeal to get somebody who has leadership possibilities, that's a good person. There's great appeal to get a determined worker who bounces back from injuries and gets back into the lineup."

"I probably can understand and appreciate the closeness of the Detroit Red Wings team, and that he'd probably want to stay there. But this is a chance for him to take his game to a higher level and be more important than he's ever been before."

Andrew Brunette of the Capitals, who had a six-game goal-scoring streak this season, also was selected. Nashville's other selections lack experience and include journeyman Blair Atcheynum of the St. Louis Blues, Tony Hrkac of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Greg Johnson of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Other forwards taken were Denny Lambert of the Ottawa Senators, Mike Sullivan of the Boston Bruins, Scott Walker of the Vancouver Canucks, Patrick Cote of the Dallas Stars, Jeff Daniels of the Carolina Hurricanes, Craig Darby of the Philadelphia Flyers, Paul Brousseau of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Doug Friedman of the Edmonton Oilers.

"The blanket characteristics we looked for were character (and) team quickness," said Predators coach Barry Trotz. "From there, we looked at some individuals who may have a special skill and put that into the formula."

Added Poile, "We're really excited about this. ... I've got to believe Mike Dunham's excited about this. I've got to believe Scott Walker's excited about this. Guys like that are going to, hopefully, go through the wall for you. And past expansions, the first year is about the philosophy, `Hey, nobody wanted you so let's prove them wrong.'

"We have some veteran players whose role may be leadership. We've got to carve a niche for everybody to make it, that they want to play in Nashville, that they feel that they're making a contribution in Nashville and they want to make us winners."

Each existing NHL team protected either five defensemen, nine forwards and one goaltender or three defensemen, seven forwards and two goalies. Each team also was able to protect either one additional forward or defenseman

The Thrashers will be the NHL's next expansion franchise, joining the league in 1999-2000. They will be followed by the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, who enter in 2000-01.

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