OTTAWA - The drama in this year's NHL entry draft does not sit with the No. 1 overall pick.
Unless the Tampa Bay Lightning get an "earth-shaking offer" as GM Jay Feaster put it Wednesday, they are indeed going to select Sarnia Sting forward Steven Stamkos with the first pick Friday night. After all, the 18-year-old offensive wizard is already featured on the NHL club's website.
After the first pick, it gets interesting. First, there is still some intrigue about which defenceman the Los Angeles Kings would select second overall - Drew Doughty of the OHL's Guelph Storm or Zach Bogosian of the OHL's Peterborough Petes.
"I'd say we're fairly close," Kings GM Dean Lombardi said when asked which prospect they had settled on. "But part of it is that we're still looking at all the deals."
And that's the wild card. They might move the pick.
The "deals," as Lombardi put it, are two-fold.
"On the first front, I figured I had two legitimate offers for the pick outright that I presented to ownership last week," said Lombardi. "But it was very clear the direction they want to go, which is more committed towards putting together a solid nucleus."
The Kings want to go young and be patient so they want to draft a blue-chip prospect this week. But then there's the second trade option.
"As far as moving down in the draft, those are still options," said Lombardi. "That still has to remain in the equation. And I would suggest that that could go right up until we make the pick. I think the deal outright for the pick, you're probably in or out for sure the day before.
"The one where you're moving moving down, as I've done in the past, can sometimes not happen until right up to making the pick. I've had one legitimate proposal that deserves consideration in terms of moving back."
Lombardi refused to say which team had made him the offer but the rumour mill Wednesday had the Pittsburgh Penguins making a play for the selection. The Penguins don't have a pick in the opening three rounds.
Either way, the Kings hold the keys to this year's draft drama.
"They're holding up a lot of things right now," said an NHL executive, who requested anonymity. "Until they decide what they're doing with the pick a lot of other things are on hold."
Regardless of who picks No. 2 overall, one thing won't change. This year's draft is top heavy with quality defencemen.
"Our scouts and our reports indicate there's no question that the quality of the defencemen and the quantity is among the highest ever," said veteran New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.
Bogosian is the No. 2-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting followed by Doughty at No. 3 and then No. 4 Tyler Myers of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, No. 5 Luke Schenn of the Rockets and No. 6 Alex Pietrangelo of the OHL's Niagara Ice Dogs. They're all blue-liners.
"I think there's probably four to five defencemen that'll go in the top 10 and then probably three to four in the next 10," said Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson. "It's pretty defenceman-heavy this year. We're sitting at No. 6 and I think we'll get a pretty good player."
Overall, scouts and GMs are drooling over the draft in general.
"I think it is deep," said Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. "I think there is a gap close to the top, around No. 4. But it's all relative. After that I think there's a lot of quality players for a long time. ...
"We've inquired about moving up," added Chiarelli. "The price right now is really expensive. If we don't move up we'll be excited about the player we get because of the depth of this draft and the quality of player that is there."
The Atlanta Thrashers have the No. 3 overall pick followed by the St. Louis Blues at No. 4.
"Talking to our scouting staff, it sounds like it's one of the deeper drafts in the last little while," said Doug Armstrong, recently named vice-president of player personnel by the Blues. "And picking fourth overall, I think we're really excited we're going to get a good player in St. Louis.
"But I think for the teams further down the draft, it looks like there's a lot of good players."
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the highest pick among the six Canadian teams at No. 7 overall, followed by the Vancouver Canucks at No. 10, the Calgary Flames at No. 17, the Ottawa Senators at No. 18, the Edmonton Oilers at No. 22 and the Montreal Canadiens at No. 25.
The first round goes in prime time Friday while Rounds 2 through 7 go Saturday.
"I think it's going to be a great draft," said Armstrong. "I think it's great for the teams that are picking deeper down. And I also think it's good for teams higher in the draft if they want to move.
"It brings a lot of different teams and a lot of different scenarios into play."
There was a trade Wednesday, with the Lightning re-acquiring the rights to winger Vaclav Prospal from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a seventh-round pick in this week's draft and a conditional pick in 2009.
Prospal, who was sent to the Flyers at the trade deadline, is an unrestricted free agent July 1. The 33-year-old had a career-high 33 goals and had 38 assists in 80 games with Tampa Bay and the Flyers last season.