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Lightning ready to pick Stamkos No. 1 in NHL draft @NHLdotcom

OTTAWA (AP) -Jay Feaster has the easy job - "idiot-proof" is how the Tampa Bay Lightning general manager puts it - and is all but absolutely certain he will select forward Steven Stamkos with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft on Friday night.

Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi, by comparison, has a much more difficult task determining what he'll do with the No. 2 pick.

With his staff "bunkered down around the mattress" of his hotel room, Lombardi said Thursday he was busy fielding calls from as many as 20 teams, and weighing whether to trade the pick or use it on one of a solid corps of defense prospects ranked behind Stamkos.

"Probably 50-50," Lombardi said, regarding what he'll do.

Atlanta drafts third, followed by St. Louis and the New York Islanders.

Trade rumors have dominated the days leading up to the draft in part because there are numerous teams eager to move into the top 10 to get a chance at a draft class considered by NHL Central Scouting officials to be among the deepest in recent memory.

It's a group that includes two U.S.-born players: Zach Bogosian, who's from Massena, N.Y., and rated second among North American skaters; and defenseman Tyler Myers, who was born in Houston but moved with his family to Alberta when he was 10.

Another reason for the trade talk is the lack of elite veteran players projected to hit the free-agent market on July 1. That's different from last year, when Scott Gomez, Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Ryan Smyth and Paul Kariya all made big splashes in free agency.

Columbus, with two first-round picks (Nos. 6 and 19), is looking to make a trade to land a quality center. The Buffalo Sabres are interested in dealing forward Maxim Afinogenov. And the Boston Bruins are interested in dealing forward Glen Murray. Then there's uncertainty in Pittsburgh, which stands to lose Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone to free agency.

Amid all the speculation, Feaster, at least, is finally enjoying some certainty.

A day after the league formally approved the Lightning's sale to a group of investors led by Oren Koules, the team eagerly awaits the chance to select Stamkos - the consensus top prospect.

"Oh yeah, that's the worst-kept secret," Feaster said, noting he already has Stamkos penciled in as the team's second-line center this season. "I think he's special. I don't think they come around all that often."

Listed at just under 6-feet and 176 pounds, Stamkos is a skilled two-way player with exceptional speed, who produced 197 points (100 goals, 97 assists) in 124 games with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League over the past two seasons.

Central Scouting director E.J. McGuire compares the 18-year-old to a young Joe Sakic.

"He's far and away the guy who will play next year in the league," McGuire said. "He'll be exciting. And he'll fulfill the prophecy that he'll bring people out of the seats."

The Lightning have been so sure of their choice that they've already begun a marketing campaign, titled, "Seen Stamkos," and advertising him as "Coming soon to Hockey Bay, USA," in reference to Tampa Bay.

The Lightning missed the playoffs by finishing with a league-worst 31 wins this season, but they maintain a talented core including Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle. This marks only the second time the Lightning have had the No. 1 pick after selecting Lecavalier in 1998.

"It's been pretty exciting, there's been a lot of hype in Tampa Bay," Stamkos said. "You know, I'm not going to a rebuilding organization. They have talent there and that definitely takes the pressure off a young guy coming in."

Stamkos' place at the top overshadows what's considered one of the best crop of defensemen to enter the same draft.

It's a group that features offense - Bogosian had 11 goals and 50 assists with OHL Peterborough last season - and size, led by Myers, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 204 pounds.

The top-ranked international prospect is Russian Nikita Filatov, who had 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in 34 games with CSKA2 of the Russian 3 League.

NHL teams recently have avoided selecting Russian-born players because of the lack of a transfer agreement with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. The lack of agreement is considered the reason why only seven Russians were drafted last year, the fewest since 1987.

Aware of the concern, Filatov is so eager to play in the NHL that he's prepared to play for a Canadian Junior Hockey League team next season, rather than return to Russia, should he fail to make the roster of the team that drafts him.

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