Columbus made Gilbert Brule their top selection in the draft.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Gilbert Brule -- a talented center nicknamed "Bruiser" because he doesn't shy away from contact -- was selected in the first round of the NHL draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.
The Blue Jackets used the sixth pick to select Brule, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound 18-year-old from North Vancouver, British Columbia. Last year with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, he had 39 goals and 48 assists in 70 games.
Brule may join the Blue Jackets sooner than expected. General manager Doug MacLean revealed Friday that the team would not be re-signing veteran center Andrew Cassels or defenseman Scott Lachance.
"We think Gilbert is a great fit with our group of young forwards," MacLean said. "He has tremendous skill and intensity and plays with a physical edge. He also puts points on the board. We're thrilled he was available when we were picking at number six."
Fourth straight time
It was the fourth year in a row that the Blue Jackets took a forward in the first round (Rick Nash in 2002, Nikolai Zherdev in 2003 and Alexandre Picard in 2004).
As expected, the Pittsburgh Penguins chose Sidney Crosby -- dubbed "The Next One" because of his similarities to Wayne Gretzky -- with the overall No. 1 selection.
Brule comes highly rated by hockey experts. He was rated as the fifth-best North American skater prospect in the draft by the Central Scouting Service. The International Scouting Service pegged Brule as the No. 2 prospect -- right behind Crosby.
Similar to Crosby
The ISS report says, "Brule's rookie numbers are a far cry from Crosby's 51-84-135 season in Rimouski, but the two centers are similar in many respects. Both are about 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, extremely strong and agile on their skates, able to make plays in traffic and get shots away with players draped all over them.
"Both are outstanding skaters with great vision of the ice. Both can win a battle for the puck against bigger opponents. Both can beat defensemen one on one with their strength, speed or stick-handling skills, and both are natural goalscorers."
Brule will be groomed to join a young and talented Blue Jackets offense led by Nash and Zherdev. Nash tied for the NHL lead in goals with 41 two years ago before a lockout wiped out all the 2004-2005 season, and Zherdev proved to be a wizard with the puck during his rookie season in the league two years ago.
Added defense help
The Blue Jackets added defense with their remaining picks, taking defenseman Adam McQuaid in the second round (55th pick overall), defenseman Kris Russell in the third (67th), right winger Jared Boll in the fourth (101st), goalie Tomas Popperle in the fifth (131st), defenseman Derek Reinhard and center Kirill Starkov in the sixth (177th and 189th), and defenseman Trevor Hendrikx in the seventh (201st). Columbus traded with Phoenix for the second sixth round pick.
Two Ohioans also were drafted. Tom Fritsche, a former Ohio State University player from Parma, was taken by Colorado in the second round (47th pick overall). And Nathan Davis, a Cleveland native who played at Miami of Ohio, went to Chicago in the fourth round (113th).