Since April 14th when NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announced that the New York Islanders were awarded the No. 1 pick in this Friday's Entry Draft, the debate began over who they should select. Should they choose the stud Canadian boy, John Tavares, who's been hyped since he was 14-years old or the big Swede, Victor Hedman, who could be a cornerstone player on the Islanders blue line for years to come?
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Montreal. Brampton Battalion center Matt Duchene, who has been either No. 3 or No. 4 on most scouting reports all year long, gained some serious steam and consideration for being selected No. 1 overall by the Islanders. Things his Defcon 5 last Friday when Islanders beat writer (and Puck Daddy roundtable participant) Greg Logan of Newsday wrote that he believed Garth Snow was much more interested in Duchene over Tavares or Hedman. Crikey!
Who Snow will choose on Friday night is anyone's guess at this point and to be honest, it's actually refreshing to read the speculation leading up to the Islanders moment in the sun. When was the last time the No. 1 overall pick wasn't a well-known fact in the weeks leading up to the Draft? 2002? 2003? Snow may very well not surprise anyone and take Tavares first, but at least he's giving many more hockey fans a reason to stick with the broadcast past the first 15 minutes and through Pierre McGuire's 37th "monster" reference before the first commercial break.
Star power - Name the last player that the New York Islanders had on their roster that made you want to watch one of their games?
Still thinking? Exactly.
I've been on the "JT for the Isles" bandwagon for a while and it's more than what he can bring on the ice as I wrote in April:
Just as importantly, off the ice, Tavares can be used as a selling tool for tickets (many, many tickets) and to create buzz around a team that still falls back on its four-Stanley Cup winning teams of the 1980's whenever it needs to sell tickets. It's time for the franchise to create new memories and stop living off of ones almost 30 years ago.
Pucks in the net - Mark Streit was the Islanders leading scorer last season. Mark Streit. A defenseman. Oh, did I forget to mention he won the team scoring title by 17 points? Granted, the team was ravaged with injuries and only had two players (Streit and Richard Park) play more than 70 games last season, but still. Kyle Okposo might be a star in the development process, but Tavares can be a star right now.
A piece to build around - After the wacky summer of 2006, general manager Garth Snow has righted the ship and set the Islanders sailing in the right direction. It may take them a while and, depending on whether or not the Lighthouse Project gets approved, it might occur in Kansas City, but Snow is building a competitive team through the draft. Tavares can be the centerpiece of that rebuilding process. Like Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and Alexander Ovechkin in Washington, teams can build around great young talent and Tavares is a player that can help reverse the fortunes of a horrible recent draft history.
Building from the back out -The Islanders have their goaltender, as long as Rick DiPietro can get healthy one of these years. They have their forward in Kyle Okposo, who's a budding star in the NHL. The missing piece? A young defenseman to provide a stable presence on the blue line and can cornerstone piece of Garth Snow's rebuilding pan.
A big presence - No, he's not the next coming of Chris Pronger as his physical game could use some upgrades, but Hedman's athletic ability and hockey sense makes him an asset on any blue line. He can be the Islanders power play quarterback to help the NHL's 23rd rank team with the man advantage. He can be that puck moving defensemen to compliment Mark Streit. He can soak up 20-25 minutes night. Bottom line, Victor Hedman won't be a terrible draft decision should Snow want to go defensive.
Size matters - There aren't many 6-foot-6 defenseman in the NHL that are as mobile as Hedman and offer the same offensive flair that he can. Don't expect a bruising Zdeno Chara-like meany patrolling the blue line somewhere in the NHL next season, but expect this "tall glass of lingonberry" to be a contributor on the offensive side of things wherever he lands.
The complete player - John Tavares might be the better "hockey business" move, but there's a growing opinion that Duchene is the best hockey move that can be made for the Islanders. His speed fits Islanders head coach Scott Gordon's system. His ability to create on the ice is the type of players that the Isles can use. There's not many flaws coming out of the mouths of scouts when they talk about Duchene.
"Steve Yzerman" - That's who most scouts compared Duchene's game to and it's quite the compliment. Duchene was an alternate rotating captain with the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League, so check "leadership" off your NHL Draft "What to look for" list.
Mr. Popularity - Ask any scout and they'll find something they don't like about Tavares (his skating) and Hedman (not physical enough). Ask them about Duchene and there's not much to dislike. "Good hockey sense. He's physical. Better team player. Skills have improved annually." It's been Tavares vs. Hedman for most of the year, but Duchene is turning heads and could turn out to be the real gem of this draft.