|K.C. Johnson Tribune Staff Writer
June 24, 2000 3:23 PM CDT
CALGARY - Wearing a cat-ate-the-canary grin, Mike Smith strolled over
to a corner of the Saddledome early Saturday morning after doing little
to dispel the stereotype that he loves European players.
"Nyet, nyet, nyet," Smith said, smiling—and anticipating the first question
he would face.
In Smith's draft debut as the Blackhawks' manager of hockey operations,
he selected two Russian players, center Mikhail Yakubov and right wing
Pavel Vorobiev, with back-to-back first-round picks in the 2000 NHL entry
The Hawks then traded down in the second round with San Jose, acquiring
a third-round pick in the process. With the pick they took Jonas Nordqvist,
a center from Sweden.
"Why do people keep creating that fictional story?" Smith said. "We
draft good players. We don't care where players are from."
For the record Yakubov is the first player drafted from the city of
Barnaul, Russia, which is near the Chinese border. And Vorobiev hails from
Both are 18 years old. Both were rated highly in the NHL Central Scouting
Service's final rankings for European players.
In other words, even accounting for some overhyped optimism typical
of any draft day, they've got skill.
"Everybody is going to say it was automatic that we were going to take
Russians because of Mike. But they just happened to fall into that slot,"
said Dale Tallon, the Hawks' director of player personnel who scouted both
"Obviously we had Yakubov rated higher than where he ended up and we
were excited to get him. He's a big, rangy, smart centerman who can skate.
Vorobiev is a character kid with great skills. He works hard and plays
like a North American."
The Hawks used the third-round pick acquired from San Jose to pick Russian
winger Igor Radulov. Rounds four through nine will be staged Sunday.
"If you took a consensus among the scouting people, they'd say we got
two talented players in the first round," Smith said. "And I've always
said your goal in the draft is to draft talented players. This draft went
better than we thought it would."
The Hawks were so sure Yakubov would be gone by the time their first
pick arrived at No. 10 that they didn't have a nameplate for his team sweater.
They also didn't do a predraft interview with him.
Smith spent all of Friday night and early Saturday morning exploring
He had several offers to move down, including one he called "very attractive"
that would have netted the Hawks a pick and a prospect.
But by 7:30 Saturday morning, Smith knew he wouldn't be able to parlay
the Hawks' two first-round picks into two first-round picks and a player
who could contribute next season.
When Calgary jazzed the hometown crowd by taking local goaltender Brent
Krahn with the ninth pick, Smith knew he had his men.
"I told everyone, 'If Calgary takes the goalie, nobody high-five each
other,'" Smith said. "If either Yakubov or Vorobiev had been gone at 10,
we would've moved the pick down [in a trade.]"
They weren't, and the Hawks didn't.
Smith said both players will attend training camp in September and then
return to their respective teams in Russia.
Yakubov had 12 goals and 31 points in 26 games for Togliatti and Vorobiev
managed 19 goals and 34 points in 40 games for Yaroslavl.
Yakubov is "a pure talent ... who controls the puck and the flow of
the game," Smith said. "Vorobiev is more of a two-way player who is strong
along the boards and in front of the net. They both have a chance to be
The two played against each other growing up and were teammates on an
under-18 Russian national team.
Asked through a translator who would make the Blackhawks first, Yakubov
said: "We will make it together and play on the same line."
Neither player has ever been to Chicago.
"But I heard that the basketball is very good there," Yakubov said.
Apparently Yakubov is behind the times on his Chicago sports knowledge.