Islanders on the clock as NHL Draft hits TSN

TSN.ca Staff
6/26/2009 5:55:22 PM
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Hockey fans in Montreal have always been accustomed to the drama and intrigue of the game - and there will be plenty of both to go around tonight when the city hosts the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre.

Watch it all unfold on TSN and TSN HD at 7pm et/4pm pt and follow it online with TSN.ca's latest updates, live blog and Tweets from Hockey Insider Darren Dreger.

It will be an evening where long-standing questions will finally be answered, with the first one centring around two very highly-touted players - London Knights forward John Tavares and defenceman Victor Hedman from MoDo of the Swedish Elite League. The New York Islanders - who could use a little bit of everything on the road back to respectability - have kept the hockey world guessing on who GM Garth Snow is tipping his hand at.

In Tavares, the Islanders could get an exciting name on the marquee to put fans back in the seat and a green light for their ambitious Lighthouse arena project. Hedman - who could have Islander fans filing out quickly from their draft party at Nassau Coliseum if he's drafted - has drawn comparisons to elite blueliners like Chris Pronger and Jay Bouwmweester - will take a bit longer to develop but has all the makings of a defenceman you can around.

Regardless of who goes first, the Tampa Bay Lightning have the enviable position of holding the second pick. With Steven Stamkos already in the fold, a player like Hedman or Tavares will only strengthen their march back towards the postseason.

But the big question in Tampa over the last few days has been the internal issues with the front office. Co-owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules are reportedly at odds over how the franchise should be run, leaving general manager Brian Lawton in a tough spot on potential decisions like trading their pick or dealing captain Vincent Lecavalier.

"We are always looking for options, we are always looking for ways to improve our club and whenever you have options you feel better about that," said Lawton.

And with the draft being held in Montreal, there are more Vinny-to-the-Habs rumours than you can shake a stick at.
With $33 million in cap room and 11 players set to become unrestricted free agents next Wednesday, general manager Bob Gainey made it clear that he was looking for an big, scoring centre.

"We want our team to get a lot better, and if we're going to get a lot better, we need to make some impact improvements," Gainey told reporters.

"We feel like we have some of the assets needed to put a deal together if we have a partner that really wants to move (in) that direction. It hasn't been a secret that we've always been in the market for a big, strong centre if we can get our hands on one. Wherever that player might be that's where we'll be looking."

Lecavalier's name isn't the only one being bandied around on the draft floor, as there's the potential for star-powered trades upstaging the blue-chippers.

Fifty-goal scorer Dany Heatley - who asked the Ottawa Senators to trade him a couple of weeks ago - could be in play over the weekend, along with Philadelphia's Daniel Briere, San Jose's Ryane Clowe, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez of the New York Rangers and Maple Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle. Toronto GM Brian Burke said Thursday that there's a 'significant offer' on the table for the blueliner, which only adds fuel to the fire that is his well-publicized desire to make a splash.

"We are prepared to move down, and we are prepared to pick," said Burke. "We like where we are, we like the group of players and we are prepared to move up."

The Leafs, along with 'Top 10' clubs that include the Senators and Edmonton Oilers, have some good options. After TSN's Top 5 of Tavares, Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn, promising players like Jared Cowen, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson could fall in their laps.

The Canadiens, Flames and Canucks pick 18th, 20th and 22nd respectively and there's plenty of speculation that the three Canadian clubs could select talent from their own backyard. Quebec natives Louis Leblanc, Jordan Caron and Simon Despres have been linked to the Habs, while a few mock drafts have the Flames taking Calgary kid Dylan Olsen.

Canuck fans could also be seeing a hometown blue-shipper in the system with North Vancouver's Stefan Elliott.

"The Canucks will be looking for some depth on defence," said NHL on TSN analyst Pierre McGuire on Wednesday. "He fancies himself as a version of Mike Green."

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