Which option will Islanders choose for NHL draft?
NEWSDAY/GREG LOGAN firstname.lastname@example.org , May 16, 2009
There are less than six weeks left until the June 26 NHL draft in which the Islanders hold the No. 1 pick ahead of Tampa Bay and Colorado. The consensus top three prospects are London center John Tavares, Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman and Brampton center Matt Duchene. Here are three of the many scenarios for how events could play out at the top of the draft:
1. John Tavares, the all-time leading goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League, is the clear favorite among Islanders fans hoping to land a pure scorer to fill the team's most glaring need. But one major scouting service, "Redline Report," recently dropped Tavares behind Victor Hedman in its rankings, and Toronto general manager Brian Burke said he doesn't believe every GM has Tavares rated No. 1. Indications from the Islanders are that all three of the top prospects are under consideration.
Critics say Tavares is a one-dimensional goal scorer who only contributes at the offensive end from the faceoff circles to the net. He's not a great skater, and he pays only passing attention to defense, resulting in a poor plus-minus rating. Some also have questioned his attitude and leadership and have labeled him a selfish player. As good as he is, no one puts him on the same level as such superstars as Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Because he has been in the spotlight since scoring 72 goals three seasons ago as a 16-year-old, no one has been scrutinized more closely than Tavares. So the concentration on his supposed flaws has created an air of skepticism. Still, most project Tavares to be a 40-goal scorer in the NHL.
It's possible Islanders general manager Garth Snow, by not declaring his choice immediately after winning the draft lottery, is trying to take advantage of the situation to see how much teams will offer for the chance to draft Tavares. Burke doesn't have the assets, but maybe someone else will blow Snow away with a blockbuster offer. If it doesn't happen, then Snow drops the smokescreen, chooses Tavares, gets the sniper he craves and boosts ticket sales, setting off a joyful celebration at the Islanders' draft party and in the marketing department.
2. It's not a smokescreen. Questions about John Tavares' ability to establish himself as a franchise player capable of leading a team to the Stanley Cup are real. Despite the long-held perception of Tavares as the odds-on favorite to be No. 1, Garth Snow, assistant GM Ryan Jankowski and the scouting staff go a different direction.
In that case, Victor Hedman, the top-ranked European skater, would be viewed as the next most likely choice. At 6-6, 220 pounds, his chief assets are size and remarkable skating ability for a big man. He's an offensive defenseman who is effective on defense because of his speed and his wingspan. He's not a big hitter, but he doesn't shy from contact. Rather than playing juniors last season, Hedman was rookie of the year in the Swedish Elite League with seven goals and 21 points in 43 games while playing 20 minutes a game on Modo's top pairing.
The late closer in this three-horse race is speedy center Matt Duchene, who has scouts raving and comparing him to such all-time greats as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. He was Brampton's third-leading scorer with 31 goals and 79 points in 58 games, but OHL coaches voted him the league's best playmaker and best stickhandler. His accomplishments came while playing with second-line wingers behind top-line center Cody Hodgson, the 10th overall pick last season.
Islanders fans might not like it if Snow selects Hedman, but they will understand the philosophy of building around a cornerstone defenseman some have compared to Detroit great Nicklas Lidstrom. However, there's an equally good chance Snow might choose Duchene, creating an uproar among fans who lack familiarity with him and don't believe he's a sniper. But Duchene likely would be the future top-line center with Josh Bailey, last year's first-round pick, anchoring the second line.
3. If Isles fans learned anything about Garth Snow and Ryan Jankowski last year, it's that they aren't afraid to defy convention if they have a conviction about a player. Once sniper Steve Stamkos and the top three defensemen were off the board, the Islanders targeted Bailey and traded down twice, adding picks in the process, to get him at No. 9. Now they hold all the cards with the No. 1 pick, giving them multiple trade opportunities.
Given their draft position and the focus on the top three prospects, it's doubtful any team could offer enough value to cause the Islanders to trade out of the top three spots. If they want Hedman, they probably should stay put rather than change places with No. 2 Tampa Bay because the Lightnings need a quality defenseman to replace the traded Dan Boyle. But if the Isles like Duchene best, they might be able to trade down to No. 3 Colorado's spot and still get him. The price for No. 1? How about Avalanche defenseman John Michael Liles?
More intriguing is the prospect of a three-way deal in which the Islanders wind up with the second and third picks. Here's the basic framework: Cash-strapped Tampa Bay dumps the long-term contract of All-Star center Vincent Lecavalier to Colorado, where he replaces the retiring Sakic; the Avalanche sends the third overall pick to the Isles, who also swap the No. 1 pick for the Lightning's No. 2. Tampa then drafts Tavares, who comes much cheaper than Lecavalier, and hopes that he and Stamkos turn into their version of Pittsburgh's Crosby-Malkin combo. Of course, Tampa also would get other players, prospects or picks in the deal from both Colorado and the Isles.
The Isles then take Hedman and Duchene as Islanders fans celebrate with days of drinking and feasting. It's an extreme longshot, yes, but not impossible.