The plot was thickening as the NHL entry draft was inching closer to its commencement. Just before New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow spoke his first words in the Bell Centre, one’s guess as to who would be selected as the first overall pick would be as legitimate as the next.
But for London Knights star John Tavares, there was no stopping what had been predetermined since he had been accepted as an exceptional 14-year-old prodigy in the OHL nearly five years ago.
The Islanders took the PR route—what with all the marketing luxuries Tavares brings to the ailing franchise—by claiming the popular choice in the Oakville native and managed to satisfy the masses who attended Nassau Coliseum to witness the draft from Long Island.
Now the jerseys can make their way through the printing mill.
Contrary to what hype dictated, however, the draft continued to unfold in a rather orthodox manner. Victor Hedman, the Swedish giant who has the silky qualities of a rapid defenseman, headed to the Tampa Bay Lightning; while Matt Duchene, the quiet rival to the other top two draftees, was chosen by his childhood team in the Colorado Avalanche.
Meanwhile, there weren’t any spectacular floor trades to turn the night into a dramatic occasion.
The discontented face of Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brain Burke would have affirmed that notion, seeing the subsequent fourth and fifth selections filled by Evander Kane of the Vancouver Giants and Brayden Schenn of the Brandon Wheat Kings, respectively.
Burke was unable to move up any places from the Leafs’ original seventh overall position, forcing him to draw on Nazem Kadri of the Knights as an alternative.
Although Kadri is a volatile centre who has the ability to navigate on the ice, he doesn’t quite fit the archetypal player makeup—belligerence, truculence and testosterone—Burke so dearly covets. But the selection is a progressive step forward for an organization clearly in the advanced stages of rebuilding its foundation.
"He's got a chance to be a very good offensive player," said TSN analyst Bob McKenzie. "This is a terrific kid who has tremendous offensive ability. He just needs a little consistency."
The only significant transfer of the night didn’t have any ramifications on the outcome of the draft. With Scott Niedermayer announcing he will play next season, the Anaheim Ducks were forced to peddle provocative defenseman Chris Pronger along with Ryan Dingle to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Joffrey Lupul, prospect Luca Sbisa, the 2009 and 2010 first round pick and a conditional third round pick.
The Flyers, who were heavily interested in acquiring the rights to Jay Bouwmeester before free agency on July 1, will now have to combat their own salary cap issues after embracing Pronger, and it is speculated that forward Daniel Briere may be sacrificed as a resolution.
Briere is currently bound to an eight-year, $52 million contract.
The phones, though, were buzzing all night, despite what would become modest conclusions. The Islanders made the most notable transaction by dealing four picks in each of the first four rounds to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 16th and 77th selections, which were then parlayed in a deal that captured the Minnesota Wild’s 12th spot.
That allowed the Islanders to seal Tavares’ former teammate Calvin De Haan as their next prospect, ostensibly realizing the chemistry between both players.
However, most of the suspense was eased early on when Tavares was made this year’s draft king, preventing any paramount deviations.
For all of the public declarations made by general managers, there wasn’t much that materialized. Not much intrigue was sent in the direction of Senators goal scorer Dany Heatley, as Brian Murray said only three teams had expressed moderate interest from the beginning of the day but slowly fleeted from an advanced discussion.
Leafs rearguard Tomas Kaberle escaped a move to Boston for Phil Kessel and a draft pick following the fallout of a miscommunication between both parties, while the Florida Panthers failed to garner any return for Bouwmeester.