Since I was fortunate enough to be able to attend my first NHL Draft this year, I thought I'd provide everyone with my own synopsis of this past weekend's events... First off, the crowd at the RBC Center was tremendous. The turnout was a lot better than I expected...the announced attendance was just under 15,000. I must admit that I did not expect the Hurricanes' faithful to be quite so enthusiastic about their team as they turned out to be. Perhaps there is hope for hockey in non-traditional markets, after all. Obviously, there are even fewer opportunities to learn about junior, college, and European hockey in Raleigh than there are in the northern US. As such, I was impressed by the degree to which many of the fans had immersed themselves in "draft culture". Case in point, I had a fan sitting next to me asking how to pronounce "Seitsonen" and spell "Akerlund". When I applauded the Canes' selection of Martin Vagner in the 9th round, another person wanted to know why I liked the selection. Definitely a pleasant surprise. No surprises to start the draft - Ovechkin and Malkin go 1-2. With good reason, AO looked like a kid in a candy store all day long. Word was that he was a huge fan favorite at PR events preceding the draft. At #4, fans were thrilled to see the home team make a bold move to jump up in the draft and select Andrew Ladd. Every once in awhile, a good hockey move turns out to be a good PR move, as well! With the 5th pick, the Phoenix Coyotes basically set the tone for the rest of the draft. Although neither Tukonen nor Olesz seemed to be a great fit, I figured the 'Yotes would either go with the consensus BPA or possibly take Al Montoya. Shows how much I know. Following a huge standing ovation, Wayne Gretzky leaned into the microphone and announced: "From Breck High School, Blake Wheeler." I just about fell out of my seat. Blake Wheeler?!?!? I've seen teams go off the board at #15 (Jesse Niinimaki, for example), but at #5? Ballsy, to say the least! The rest of the first round was kinda anticlimactic...certainly nothing exciting enough to top the Wheeler pick. Andrew and I were both happy to see our respective HFNHL picks, Ladislav Smid and Petteri Nokelainen, rise a few spots. The Oilers, in particular, had a rather interesting round, as Kevin Lowe & Co. added to the chaos by taking Devan Dubnyk earlier than expected, and later helped sort out the chaos by ending Robbie Schremp's slide through the first round. Also worth noting was the Dallas Stars trading down from #20 to #22 to #28 and finally ending up with Mark Fistric, a player with "Murray Baron upside". Talk about excitement! A run on huge defensemen at the end of the first round, particularly those from the Calgary Hitmen, forced a few players like Johannes Salomonsson and Dave Bolland into the second round. This made the long fall of Wes O'Neill all the more perplexing. It almost seemed like teams were purposely trying to select obscure names from even more obscure leagues just so that they didn't have to select O'Neill. Forget the four players from Salmon Arm that got drafted...at least I've heard of the BCHL. I'm talking about players from independent junior teams, for crying out loud! I randomly guessed that O'Neill would fall to #115. Just about the only pick I got right all day. That's the 2004 NHL Draft in a nutshell.