MONTREAL (AP) -John Tavares has waited for this moment nearly all his life even though he is only 18 years old.
Tavares could very well be the top pick at the NHL draft on Friday night. The New York Islanders have the first selection.
"I've worked very hard to get where I am," said Tavares, who turns 19 on Sept. 20. "I've really changed a lot of things that I needed to to get myself for the next level and it's always been my dream to play in the National Hockey League so (Friday) is one step towards that."
Tavares said he recently picked up a nugget of wisdom from Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock that helped put the significance of being chosen first overall in perspective.
"I remember being in Pittsburgh for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final and I got to meet Mike Babcock and he said the draft was only one day, so there's still a lot of work to be done but I'm excited about everything," Tavares said. "I think the most exciting thing for me (Friday) is just the moment that my name's called."
Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman could also go No. 1 in a tight race unlike recent drafts that had clear-cut top picks such as Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos.
A mobile 6-foot-6, 220-pound defenseman, Hedman was asked if he would be surprised to hear his name called first.
"Surprised? There's been a lot of talk about who will go first and it's a pretty open race," Hedman said. "I would say the last couple years they knew who was going first but I heard this was more like an open race. I'm just going to be a very happy man."
NHL central scouting director E.J. McGuire said that Tavares wins out as his top-rated prospect in a tight race with Hedman.
"Oh, very close," McGuire said. "I mean, if a team wants a 'D' - like if Pittsburgh was drafting (number) 1, with (Jordan) Staal, (Evgeni) Malkin, Crosby, you take Hedman, hands down, there's no question."
Center Matt Duchene's stock has also moved up recently and he is expected to go in the top five.
Colorado has the third pick, followed by Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Toronto, Dallas, Ottawa and Edmonton to round out the top 10.
University of Minnesota center Jordan Schroeder and Chicago native John Moore are the top-ranked Americans, fifth and sixth respectively overall.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow is aware of the opportunity he has with the No. 1 pick. The team recently brought all three prospects to Long Island for extensive visits.
Hedman received the same treatment from the Lightning.
"Those are two great teams," Hedman said. "The Islanders won four straight Cups and I got to meet Mike Bossy, that was pretty huge. And down in Tampa, they won the Cup five years ago and if I'm selected by them, I'm more than happy to help them reach the Cup next year or in years to come, and the same with the Islanders. It would be great to get them to the playoffs again and get them started."
Tavares is aware of the prospect of being a top-ranked player in the draft.
"Well both are in a pretty big rebuilding process, obviously," Tavares said. "New York is really starting from scratch, kind of the way Tampa Bay did last year, and obviously they both want to come to do the same thing. You see the Pittsburghs, the Chicagos and other teams have done recently with being at the bottom. Obviously New York's got a few more holes they've got to fill but Tampa Bay's got a few guys up front and a couple of pieces in the back end that they're building around and both futures look very good for both of them."