Takin' a T/O With BT: Prospects Abound For John Tavares and Victor Hedman

xx yySenior Writer IJanuary 17, 2009

Ever since the World Juniors ended, the talks has heated up about who is going to go first overall.

With the way John Tavares played during the WJHC, he cemented himself in some scouts minds as to who should be the first overall pick come June.

But the towering Victor Hedman won't go away. A 6'6, 220 pound defenseman is a gem of a defensemen. A big guy that can skate and knows what to do with his size is hard to find at any point in his career, but finding him young? For many team's that's too hard to pass up.

Both players have their enticing qualities. Tavares has dynamic offensive skills which in two games have already made him a fan-favorite in London. He's creative, he knows how to shoot, and he's not exactly tiny either (6'0, 203 pounds).

One of the biggest problems with Tavares though (and it's not something he can control) is that everyone wants to get their name in the paper when he's on the ice. In the past week's CHL All-Star game, Tavares was levelled by Zach Kassian, forcing Knights' fans to hold their breath as Tavares skated off the ice favoring his arm, visibly frustrated and uncomfortable.

After the game Kassian had no ill-will about the hit, and credited it for "getting his name out there" at a "game you play to be remembered".

Hedman meanwhile, already has the same kind of experience many European rookies come to North America with—men's league experience.

Last year after spending two seasons (and part of last season) on MODO's J20 team, Hedman had proved he was ready for a callup. He was a +22 with 29 points (15 goals and 14 assists) in 50 J20 games, and once being called up to the Swedish Elite League Hedman kept that momentum going with four more points and a plus-one rating.

The one thing that Hedman could stand to work on though, is his mean streak. For a big defenseman (usually compared to Chris Pronger) he could stand to be a little more aggressive (not to Pronger-like levels though).

Looking at the standings right now, the bottom-five shakeout in the following order:

1. New York Islanders—28 points

2. Atlanta Thrashers—35 points

3. Ottawa Senators—36 points

4. St Louis Blues—37 points

5. Tampa Bay Lightning—38 points

The next closest teams in both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference are the Los Angeles Kings with 40 points (West) and the Toronto Maple Leafs with 41 points (East).

The previous "Top-Five" listed above isn't necessarily accurate. Remember the Draft Lottery still needs to take place, but in going with the bottom-five teams in the league, we're currently looking at the only five teams with a shot at the first overall pick because no non-playoff team can move up, at most, four spots (and they can only drop one spot) thanks to the Draft Lottery.

So with each team currently holding an equal (we'll call it equal because the season isn't over yet) shot at the first overall pick, who makes more sense: Tavares or Hedman?

New York Islanders

Looking at the Islanders right now, it's hard to fathom them anywhere but the first overall position come June. They're last in the league in wins (12), 26th in goals-per game (2.48), 29th in goals allowed-per game (3.54), and in the middle of the road with regards to penalty killing (12th—82.4%) and power play proficiency (18th—17.4%).

Franchise (and I only say this because he's there for another twelve seasons) goaltender Rick DiPietro also looks to have encountered trouble with his knee and may be out for the rest of the season, furthering the Islanders' problems.

While the Islanders have a bunch of solid prospects (Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, and Josh Bailey) up front, with Sarnia Sting forward Justin DiBenedetto sitting third currently in OHL scoring.

On the back end, Mark Streit has become the most productive defenseman while Chris Campoli has started to turn the corner and find his 30-point form once again. The Islanders have a handful of defensive prospects in the CHL including Jared Spurgeon and Jyri Niemi, but many of them are being touted as strong offensively with some having a bit of trouble on the defensive end.

Verdict: Both Hedman and Tavares would help the Islanders, but Tavares could be the way to go.

The biggest thing (and while this can't determine who they draft this year) is Rick DiPietro's health. If he can finally figure out a way to stay healthy, then not only will he cut down on the goals-against (third-worst in the league) but he'll also help out some of younger defensemen hone their skills in their own end.

If DiPietro can get healthy and some of those young defensemen can adapt to the NHL, then bringing in Tavares could provide the Islanders with a line of John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Kyle Okposo, which will hopefully bump up the Islanders' goal production.

With the opportunity to take either of these guys though, the Islanders can't go wrong (unless they trade the pick) and Hedman could help just as much as Tavares on the back end.


Atlanta Thrashers

Here's an interesting scenario if I ever saw one: Ilya Kovalchuk is given the captaincy with just over a year-and-a-half to his impending free agency, meaning the Thrashers' are going to have to sell Ilya on the fact they want to contend.

Bryan Little is having a break-out season and could have 35 goals by years' end and Angelo Esposito hunting for his third 30-goal season in four years in the QMJHL, the Thrashers have some talent up front.

Riley Holzapfel, while not expected to be a dynamo in the NHL, may also put up some solid totals over his career, and Brett Sterling has proven he can score goals in bunches in the AHL (as well as play some inspiring hockey alongside Little) but he still needs to earn himself an extended look at the NHL level.

On the back end, the two Thrashers that everyone knows and talks about are Tobias Enstrom and Brois Valabik. Valabik brings a big presence at 6'7 and 240lbs, but not much of an offensive streak. If Valabik can develop into the kind of shut-down defender the Thrash want and need though, then the offensive burden can hopefully be left to Tobias Enstrom, although the Swede is currently suffering through a troublesome season while Zach Bogosian will hopefully become a big-time power play catalyst for this team.

In addition to that, the Thrashers also have Paul Postma still serving time in the CHL, and he's already posted a career-high with 48 points in 46 games this season for Calgary, tying him for first amongst WHL defensemen in the scoring race with Jonathon Blum, a Nashville commodity.

Verdict: John Tavares

Again, both would fit in with the Thrashers, but with an already big (and mean) presence in Valabik and the offensive potential of Enstrom and Postma, the defense will be fine if Kari Lehtonen can stay consistent or if Ondrej Pavelec can steal away the starting job.

Acquiring Tavares does a few things for the Thrashers though. It proves to Ilya that they're committed to surrounding him with young, offensive talent in the long-term (a message that may have become muddled in the trading of Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa), it provides the team with two quality scoring centres (in Tavares and Little), and if Ilya does decide to jet it gives the Thrashers their next young superstar who can then be paired with Bryan Little.

Ottawa Senators

The Sens are a hard team to figure out; just what is wrong with them?

Looking at their roster, one thing is for sure: The Sens need secondary scoring. Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, and Dany Heatley are all under contract until 2012/13, but after those three, Filip Kuba is the only other Senator with more than 20 points this season.

Scratch that, the only Senator with more than 15 points at this time.

Then again it doesn't help when your three superstars all suffer off-years at the same time.

Jesse Winchester was supposed to light it up on the top line this year, and he didn't. Nick Foligno is producing better offensively this season, but he's a -16 and 12 points in 42 games doesn't offset that.

Like many other Sens prospects, Peter Regin has to prove himself in the AHL before he gets a chance to strut his stuff in the NHL, along with Ilya Zubov whose shown a lot of promise in the AHL this season.

The Senators' two brightest prospects though are on defense. Brian Lee, who started the year with the team, with 5 points in 18 games. Lee's puck-moving ability has been on display with the Binghamton Senators throughout his AHL career as he's tallied 29 assists in 77 career AHL games.

Last year's first round pick Erik Karlsson is also a dynamic puck-moving defenseman who averaged just under a point a game (47 points in 48 games) in J20 Swedish League action. While he hasn't been producing at that kind of clip in the SEL (just three points in 30 games) Karlsson should pace Ottawa's offense from the back end in a few years. He also played with Hedman at this year's 2009 World Junior tournament and was named the Best Defenseman of the tournament, and he led Team Sweden in scoring.

Verdict: John Tavares

This was a hard pick. If I were a Sens fan, I'd be giddy at the prospects of Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman lining up side-by-side for my team for the foreseeable future and having the two best Swedish defenders on my team (after Nik Lidstrom retires that is). I'm sure it would also be nice for Daniel Alfredsson to play with two of his countrymen in the last few years of his career.

Unfortunately, that's one of the problems the Sens run into. With a waning offensive attack and an aging Alfie (He'll be 40 by the end of his current extension), the Sens need to boost their offense, especially if they're even entertaining the idea of trading Spezza or Heatley, and rekindle some secondary scoring if they ever hope to go back to the Cup finals.


St Louis Blues

The Blues are my favorite young team in the league.

Their offense features premiere players such as Patrik Berglund, Brad Boyes, and T.J. Oshie (who's been hot with seven points in his past six games since returning from an ankle injury) along with David Perron and David Backes, and even B.J. Crombeen can throw in some occasional offense.

Then look at their defense: Despite a devastating knee injury, Erik Johnson still has a bright future in the NHL as a puck-moving defenseman. Alex Pietrangelo got an early cup of coffee (and an early hit to the head thanks to Ryan Hollweg) this season, nabbing himself an assist, and has been solid for the Niagara Ice Dogs with 17 points in 14 games.

We still haven't even gotten to Lars Eller yet, another highly-touted Centreman, Steve Wagner, or Ian Cole on defense either.

Verdict: Victor Hedman

We all know that it isn't possible to have too much a of a good thing, and adding John Tavares to this roster of dynamic young forwards would be ludicrous: Imagine if they moved Tavares to the left side so their first line looked like Tavares, Berglund, and Brad Boyes.

Down. Right. Scary.

Then again, so is going up against a defensive six of Hedman, Pietrangelo, Johnson, Cole, Wagner, and Barret Jackman.

St Louis is another one of those teams that has done a great job of drafting and acquiring good young players, and if they were to somehow land one of these two guys, it could put them over the top sooner rather than later.


Tampa Bay Lightning

Is Vincent Lecavalier staying or going? What about Martin St. Louis? Did you know that Steve Stamkos, Steve Downie, and Paul Szczechura are the only forwards on the current roster under the age of 25 and Szczechura's now on the IR?

Over the offseason, the "upgrading" of the forward ranks was well documented. We also saw the Lightning hardly even touch their defense, other than to trade away Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich.

Forwards-wise, Luca Cunti has found a home in the QMJHL, but his production is a little stunted this year with only 28 points in 39 games. Radek Smolenak has started to up his production at the AHL level, and Dana Tyrell could be a great player for the Lightning down the road.

On the back end, Matt Smaby hasn't been terrible since being called up by the Lightning (although he's currently injured). Smaby had one assist in those nine games, and although his ice-time started to decrease after a -2 outing against Washington, Smaby's been fairly solid in what limited time he's seen for the Lightning.

Ty Wishart (acquired in the Boyle trade with San Jose) has only seen one game with the Lightning this season (-1 in seven minutes of ice time), and his production has been down in the AHL, only registering three points in 35 games after a breakout season from the hulking defensemen in his final WHL season.

Vladimir Mihalik has also seen some time in the NHL with the Lightning this year, and the 6'7 Czech was fairly successful registering two assists, and playing 15 minutes against the San Jose Sharks just a few nights ago (although he ended up being -2).

Verdict: Victor Hedman

A few weeks ago I wrote that the Tampa Bay Lightning would probably draft John Tavares if they were able to get the first overall pick. This isn't because I think they should, or that it's the smart thing to do, but like Stamkos, he'd be the easiest to market around (the Lightning already had their "Seen Stamkos" strategy in place before the poor guy signed his first contract).

Two of the best young talents in the game (and the past two first overall draft picks) playing on the same line is a marketing pitch that really writes itself.

However, if the Lightning were to ignore the business side of things, the smart pick for them would be Hedman.

They have a lot of size coming up through the defensive ranks (6'7, 222lbs Mihalik; 6'4, 205lbs Wishart; 6'5, 222lbs Smaby) but they'll need a leader for these trees, and that can be Hedman.

A player who already (for the most part) knows how to use his size fairly effectively in a mens' league is going to fit in nicely alongside Steve Eminger (6'2, 212lbs) and Andrej Meszaros (6'2, 218lbs), and the other three when they're NHL ready giving the Lightning an deep NHL defense with size that knows how to score.

The Dark Horses

Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings already have some great offensive talent. Dustin Brown is going to be a big-time goal scorer for them, while Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, and Patrick O'Sullivan are all going to put up points in bunches. Teddy Purcell has also been a dynamic scorer in the AHL with 83 points in 67 games last season, and Oscar Moller will be interesting to watch once he returns from a broken clavicle.

Then we get to the defense. Jack Johnson is just returning from a shoulder injury suffered early on in the season but once he gets his legs under him again he'll be able to use his size and instincts to give L.A. some excellent play.

Aside from Kris Versteeg, Drew Doughty is the rookie that everyone is talking about this season. He's averaging over 23 minutes a game this season, tacked up 12 points so far, and will one day (seemingly soon) be the offensive leader of L.A.'s back end.

Throw into the equation how Kyle Quincey has played and the nearing-debut of Thomas Hickey, and the Los Angeles Kings have a strong defense for the future.

Verdict: Victor Hedman

Like St Louis, Tavares would create a dangerous combination if he were to centre a line with Dustin Brown on his left side and (eventually) Teddy Purcell on his right. From there, Kopitar, O'Sullivan, and Frolov would all see some more space on the ice with the opponent concentrating on the top line.

What sways me (and we'd still have to gauge this as the season goes on) is how Jack Johnson recovers from injury. In his three seasons in L.A. Johnson was alright last season and in his five games in 2006/07 it was hard to gauge where he was at in the NHL.

Coming back from injury though, if Johnson has trouble over the next few months, Hedman may become the partner of the future for Drew Doughty.

If Quincey can consistently perform at this level over the next few seasons, Colten Teubert can grow into his 6'4 frame, and Thomas Hickey develops to the point he can slide onto an NHL defense, the Kings may have a high-powered defense to go with a soon-to-be high powered offense.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are a hard team to pick for, as last night in watching them blow another multi-goal lead, I admitted to having an urge to strongly consider choosing Victor Hedman over John Tavares if, in some way, shape, or form the Leafs were able to play their way into the first overall pick. There are three reasons why this could be made a realistic possibility:

1) A defensive pairing of Luke Schenn and Victor Hedman could, in three or four years, be one of the best in the league with dominating size, skill (did you see Schenn lift Kovalchuk's stick on that breakaway last night? That play got the loudest cheer of the night), and a little offensive prowess thanks to Hedman's vision (The Leafs have currently allowed 162 goals, second-worst in the league and have the worst powerplay).

2) Having two of the best young defenders in front of him could benefit Justin Pogge in two ways: 1) He'd be able to rely on two of the brightest young defenders in the game and 2) He'd be able to develop a level of confidence in both of them from the outset of their relationship.

3) Both Schenn and Hedman have experience in leadership roles and pressure situations, which could offer an easy answer to who gets the 'C' whenever the Leafs are ready to award one.

The argument for Tavares can be just as swaying however. While the Leafs have some young talent still developing in Nikolai Kulemin and Jiri Tlusty (along with Christopher DiDomenico, Ben Winnett, Jimmy Hayes, and Robbie Earl) they don't have that hands-down number one centre. Although Tavares has the versatility to shift around, that's what he would give the Leafs.

The Leafs also are fairly deep in the defensive depth chart. Along with Luke Schenn, Anton Stralman can still be that solid puck-moving defenseman, Staffan Kronwall has been a solid presence for the Marlies and may still thrive in an NHL setting, while Ian White has been a great asset this season, and Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are technically still on the roster.

Verdict: John Tavares

I'm personally convinced that if the Leafs were to go the other direction and draft Hedman they'd be fine. In fact, they'd be more than fine with two of the brightest young defenders from the past two drafts playing together.

However, the underwhelming offense and the lack of that true number one centre could prove as reason to draft Tavares and jump-start the Leafs offense.

My other argument would have been that after drafting the second half of a dynamic defensive pairing the Leafs could examine some free agent options to shore up their offense, but we've seen how well that's gone over the past few years.


This is merely a preview though, because the season still has three more months to go, and Central Scouting is boasting about 2009 having one of the deepest draft classes in years.

Although there's only one Victor Hedman and one John Tavares, the teams on this list and around the league will also have the likes of Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Matt Duchene, Dimitry Kulikov, and Scott Glennie to choose from.

Whether one of these teams picks first overall though, or there's a draft day trade that could shake the foundation of the NHL, there's going to be some interesting storylines between now and the draft.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.


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