This time two years ago, the response to this question would be, "Victor who?"
Times have changed, and these days young John Tavares isn't the only one scouts and GMs are drooling over. So it begs the question. Who will go number one in Montreal come next June?
Both players are from different worlds—literally.
On one hand, you have John Tavares, the Canadian power forward with endless potential and scoring ability. Scouts have been raving about this guy for years.
Even as a 15-year-old "kid" (I use the word loosely seeing, as he stood 6'0" and 180 pounds at 15), Tavares handled the attention and pressure thrust on him by the hockey world, and has passed all expectations in remarkable fashion.
Already showing his leadership abilities just adds to the plethora of talents the young man from Oakville possesses.
On the other hand, there is Victor Hedman. When you first see this guy, you think he's going to be a slow, lumbering, skater. Instead, Hedman has an explosive first stride and enough speed to skate with anyone in the NHL.
His offensive abilities make this young man look like the complete package, and definitely a franchise defenseman.
Moving quickly up the pre-draft rankings of many scouts and GMs across the league, Victor is making some serious "Hed-way."
Barring major setbacks, both these guys will go one-two in the '09 Draft, and should go on to be leaders on their respective clubs.
But who to take in the first slot? Ah, decisions, decisions.
Let's take a look at the candidates:
Tavares is a 6'1, 198 pound native of Oakville, Ontario. He is the youngest player ever to play in the OHL since Bobby Orr. He was chosen by the Oshawa Generals at age 14 on an exceptional-player clause—a rule created solely for him—which allowed him to be drafted seven months before his 15th birthday.
He scored 91 goals and 158 points with the AAA Marlboro's Minor Midgets a year prior to joining the OHL, and has been on scouts' radar ever since.
In his rookie year with Oshawa, Tavares put up 45 goals and 77 points in 65 regular-season games—not bad, for a 15-year-old kid. His sophomore year was historic. Scoring 72 goals to go along with 134 points, Tavares broke Wayne Gretzky's record for most goals by a 16-year-old in the OHL.
He followed that up with a 118-point effort in 2007-08. The key stat here is his 78 assists—a 12-assist increase in that category, showing the evolution of his game from goal scorer to a more complete, play-making style.
However, make no mistake, John Tavares is still a lethal scorer.
I got a chance to see him play about a month ago against the Niagara Ice Dogs. From the moment he stepped on the ice, you could tell he didn't belong being in the OHL anymore.
"His body is built to play hockey," says a former coach of his. "Even as a younger kid, the older boys could never knock John off the puck. He uses his body very well."
This is what I noticed most about Tavares in the game. His lower-body strength allowed him to protect the puck deep in the zone and win battles in the corner.
Being one of the biggest guys in the OHL means Tavares can play this style of play now. But how will his game translate to the NHL when guys are bigger, faster, and stronger?
His skating ability is being pegged as his one flaw. But it's hard to look at a guy's skating ability and knock him on that, when that's not his game to begin with. His game is creating down low and on the perimeter, and looking for guys streaking to the net.
It's arguable that given his physical style of play, he will face a rough transition to the NHL. However, it's also arguable that 360 points in 210 games translate to any league.
Across the pond, we take a peek at a guy who a lot of scouts have ranked number one, a guy who is already drawing comparisons to Niklas Lidstrom.
Big shoes to fill, indeed.
Victor Erik Olaf Hedman
Hedman hails from Ornksoldsvik, Sweden. The 6'6", 220-pound defenceman shares his birth place with some other NHL stars—Markus Naslund, Peter Forsberg, and Henrik and Daniel Sedin, to name a few.
Not bad for a community of about 50,000.
This guy is a behemoth. Standing nearly 6'9" on the ice, he can stare over the heads of most opponents. He also owns a quick set of feet and is a great puck mover—rare commodities for a guy in his frame.
Another positive to his game is his inherent ability to play with a nasty streak. Playing with some dirtiness never hurt anybody—after all, this is hockey. Look for his physical play to be a big positive in his game.
The scariest part, perhaps, is that Hedman is considered an offensive defenceman.
The young Swede scored 28 points in 35 games for MODO's under-20 team two years ago, before being promoted to the senior team the following year. This season, Hedman has two goals to go along with eight points in his first 19 games.
Admittedly, I have seen less of the hulking Swedish blueliner than Tavares. However, from the games I've seen him play, I get the feeling this kid will make the jump straight in to the NHL.
The comparisons for Hedman are a lot to live up, however. The aforementioned Lidstrom comparison, to name just one, will be a big cross to bear for the youngster.
And he, unlike Tavares, is coming in to an entirely different world, one in which he can't yet speak the native tongue.
Although not directly related to hockey, these barriers present problems of their own. How will Victor deal with life away from home, with the pressure of possibly, being number one?
Another key thought is that, traditionally, defence is a harder position to step in and play. Not all 18-year-old defencemen jump into the league like Luke Schenn.
At the end of it all, whichever two teams are lucky enough to land these guys are in for a prize. The elite junior status both have reached is not by fluke. The reality is, here are two studs about to walk in to the NHL and join this new generation of hockey player.
So, back to the question. Who will go number one?
That is a question that can be debated now, and possibly long after the draft next June. What it will most likely come down to is a matter of what the team drafting number-one overall needs to add to their team at that point in time.
One final thought: Think back to the last time a draft so closely resembled this one. Think back to '93.
A speedy forward with apparently endless scoring ability, is chosen first overall by the Ottawa Senators. His name is Alexandre Daigle. Second in the draft that year was a young defenceman by the name of Chris Pronger.
Does that change your minds maybe? Just a little food for thought.
Come June, two teams will be rewarded for being worst in the league.
Until that day comes, all we have is speculation on who will be drafted first overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft.
Who would you take?
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