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Tavares and Tampa Bay

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning
All this week's Mark Pukalo will take a look at the Top 3 projected picks  in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, which begins in Montreal on Friday, and what effect they would have on the Lightning...

Depending on how you look at it, the New York Islanders have either given no indication who they will select first overall in the NHL Entry Draft Friday night or sent off several different signals.

There will be some drama.

It will be a fun night for all three top prospects. But after being in the spotlight for more than four years, John Tavares is most looking forward to the day he can turn from his hometown of Oakville, Ontario toward Long Island, Tampa Bay, Denver or somewhere else and start his professional career.

“New York has been pretty quiet while they are thinking about what they want to do,” Tavares said, during a trip to Tampa Bay. “There are a lot of rumors floating around. Anything can happen. You have to expect that and be ready for anything.

“It would be special to be chosen first overall and I’d be very excited about it. But down the road, it’s not going to matter what number I’m selected. I’m just going to be happy to be part of an organization that sees me as part of the future and hopefully build a winning tradition and win some Stanley Cups.”

Most experts have said if the Islanders select Hedman first overall, Tavares’ destination could be the St. Pete Times Forum.

If that occurs, Tavares, a center who broke Wayne Gretzky’s scoring record for a 16-year old in the Ontario Junior Hockey League with 72 goals, would fit in nicely to help give the Lightning impressive scoring depth.

With all-stars Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, last season’s rookie sensation Steven Stamkos and potential 30-goal scorers Vaclav Prospal and Ryan Malone on board, Tavares could ease into a supporting role to start -- unlike other places.

E.J. McGuire, The NHL’s Director of Central Scouting, said Tavares is outstanding from the top of the circle to the goal and “can develop into a winger” if needed. When someone has been in the public eye for as long as Tavares, McGuire said scouts tend to nit pick.

“He scored at almost a goal a game pace for three solid years,” McGuire said. “And when he went head to head with [Hedman] at the World Juniors, he was the MVP.”

Tavares isn’t a top-end skater, but he scored 215 goals in 247 OHL games and had eight goals in six games to lead Team Canada to the gold medal in the World Juniors in January. He also has not been tabbed as a good two-way player, but Tavares is determined to change that.

“I’m definitely working on being that guy,” Tavares said. “I think I showed that really well at the World Juniors this year, being accountable at both ends of the ice.

“I want to be that guy who takes big face-offs and when you need that big penalty kill late in a game I want to be on the ice. I want to be a guy counted on all over the ice, not only just for the way you do things, for leadership as well. I’m still young, so I’m still learning a lot and I’m sure the teammates I have next year will definitely bring me along well.”

Tavares said he enjoyed his trip to Tampa with Hedman and Duchene and was impressed by the facilities.

What are his impressions of the team?

“This team has some pretty good offensive depth, they are developing some young defensemen and they have a pretty good goaltender [Mike Smith], too,” Tavares said. “Things are going to be turning around here pretty soon.”
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