Storylines take shape at the NHL Draft

By Jason Menard

Although the Bell Centre may still be fairly empty, that’s not stopping a host of voices from being heard. And while at the moment only whispers are filling the rafters, within a few hours a packed house will be in full throat. While many of them will be counting down the moments until the hometown Habs’ moment at the podium at pick 18, they — along with hockey fans around the world — will be eagerly anticipating the answer to the question of who will be going first overall.

Some of those fans will be paying a premium for the right to hear commissioner Gary Bettman announcement of the New York Islanders‘ first-overall selection. Scalpers outside the Bell Centre were charging $100 a ticket just a few hours before the beginning of the draft.

But the consensus amongst those milling about the draft floor — from scouts, pundits, and team officials alike — is that the Islanders will select London Knights’ forward John Tavares with the first pick of the draft. Beyond his on-ice abilities, Tavares will open up a number of off-ice opportunities for an Islanders team struggling to engage a community in its long-term arena and entertainment complex vision. In addition, Tavares’ marketing potential makes him an attractive option for a club looking to reclaim its lost lustre. That said, people are chattering in bemused wonderment at New York GM Garth Snow’s total and utter lack of commentary on this move. He has created a vacuum around him — and nature, and NHL fans, abhor that vacuum.

Who picks after New York is a matter of conjecture. A couple of teams — the Islanders and Minnesota Wild, specifically — have a number of early round selections, which they could package together in an effort to move up, or to obtain veteran support.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have also been rumoured to be busy in the hours and minutes leading up to the draft. Tomas Kaberle’s name has been bandied about as a potential trade target in a couple of moves: one with the Bruins and one with the Stars, although both trades appear to have been kiboshed.

Swedish fans watching the draft should have plenty for which to cheer — regardless of where Hedman ends up going. Five — and possibly six — Swedes could be selected in the first round. Goaltenders, however, could be hard to find in the first round of this year’s draft. 

And there are a pair of players who may end up throwing all projections out of the window. Both the Windsor Spitfires’ Ryan Ellis and the London Knights’ Nazem Kadri represent wildcards at this year’s draft. Both players have been rumoured by some at the draft to sneak into the top-10, while others have them firmly entrenched in the latter half of the lottery, and beyond. 

Some people don’t expect the first dominoes on the trade front to fall until after Snow brings that jersey up to the podium and reveals the name on its back. Until then, anticipation — and the rumour mill — continues to gain momentum.