For years, the 2009 Entry Draft has been viewed as the coronation of John Tavares as the next hockey great in the royal line of Wayne Gretzky-Mario Lemieux-Sidney Crosby.
While Tavares could still wind up as the No. 1 pick, the 2009 Entry Draft is no longer a one-horse race to the finish line.
Tavares, the brilliant forward for the Oshawa Generals, has rewritten the Ontario Hockey League record books. Last season, he posted a more-than-respectable 118 points for the Generals, but that total was not good enough to meet the lofty status reserved for the wunderkind who has been hyped since he was 14.
His 2007-08 total was 16 points below the 134-point season he posted in 2006-07, but is was the 32-goal drop in production – from 72 to 40 – that really raised the eyebrows of many scouts and had them looking for successors to the 2009 draft crown that was once deemed the sole province of Tavares.
And there seems to be no shortage of candidates, headed by big Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, who is a smooth-skating, two-way defenseman with a 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame that immediately brings to mind perennial all-star Chris Pronger.
Many observers are saying -- some quite loudly -- that Hedman has passed Tavares in the race to be No. 1 come this June in Montreal, Quebec when the draft will be held June 26 and 27 at Bell Centre.
While it is unlikely that Tavares would fall more than one spot, there are even some schools of thought that suggest Tavares might not be the first North American taken in the draft this June.
"It will depend on the performance of a number of guys, but certainly there is a scenario where John Tavares would not be the first North American taken," said E.J. McGuire, the head of NHL Central Scouting, which scouts and ranks all draft-eligible players for the 30 NHL clubs.
One of the players mentioned as a possibility to overtake Tavares is Matt Duchene of the OHL's Brampton Battalion.
Duchene, nephew of Anaheim Ducks assistant coach Newell Brown, was considered a potential first-round pick when Central Scouting released its 2008 Futures List at the end of last season. Duchene helped his profile this summer, though, by captaining Canada to the gold medal at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, an international U-18 tournament in mid-August. Duchene had five points in that four-game tournament.