MONTREAL -- John Tavares or Victor Hedman? The dynamic scorer or the powerful defenseman?
Those questions have been at the forefront of every discussion concerning the 2009 Entry Draft for nearly a year. The answer to those questions, and more, will be revealed Friday night when the first round of the draft starts at 7 p.m. ET (VERSUS, TSN) at the Bell Centre.
The New York Islanders have the first selection, and though General Manager Garth Snow hasn't said who he'll take, the Isles' choice is likely to come down to either Tavares or Hedman, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American and European skaters, respectively.
For Tavares, a prodigy since the age of 14 when he was given "exceptional player" status to enter the Ontario Hockey League a year early, Friday night will be a culmination of four seasons in the spotlight with the Oshawa Generals and London Knights. Tavares led the OHL this season with 58 goals and 104 points, and was named the Top Forward and MVP at the World Junior Championship. He ended his junior career with a league-record 215 goals in 247 games.
"The way he sees the ice and passes the puck through traffic -- draw the comparison to whoever you want, but when you watched Wayne Gretzky, if you put your stick on the ice, you'd get the puck on your stick at some point," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "John is phenomenal at getting the puck through traffic to his linemates, getting to openings. The way he reads the play and can get to where he figures the rebounds will be and bangs in the rebound. He's a real smart player."
"He is probably better than any other player in the Draft from the top of the circle down at being a threat to score," added Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire. "He is pure offense, and for his first years in the NHL will probably be asked to do just that."
The compliments flow just as heavily for Hedman, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Swedish blueliner whose game has been compared to NHL All-Stars Nicklas Lidstrom and Jay Bouwmeester. He's played the last two seasons with Modo in the Swedish Elite League.
"Hedman is a big, strapping kid with an offensive upside," McGuire said. "Rock-solid … a defenseman around which teams build a franchise."
"For being that young he's very mature, and he's big but moves like a smaller guy," added Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. "Very mobile, and his puck sense is excellent. Hedman is dominating the game, playing on the first defense pair on Modo. He's playing around 20 minutes per game."
Tavares and Hedman may be the names at the top of the marquee, but they're not the only potential NHL stars who are likely to be selected Friday night.
Brampton Battalion center Matt Duchene, Vancouver Giants center Evander Kane, Brandon Wheat Kings center Brayden Schenn and Swedish left wing Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson all have top-level talent that could see them in the NHL as soon as the 2009-10 season.
Duchene, considered by some a contender for the top pick, could be the best all-round player in the draft. It would be a surprise if he slips out of the top three.
"Duchene has the ability to dominate a game," Edwards said. "He is an excellent all-round skater with great speed, his playmaking and ability to see the ice and move the puck through traffic to create offense are outstanding. He has a very good shot, but I see his best asset as his speed and ability to beat defensemen to the middle or outside."
At 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds, Kane dominated players in the Western Hockey League, finishing with 48 goals and 96 points. He also had a strong showing for Canada at the World Junior Championship, finishing with 2 goals and 6 points in six games while playing on the fourth line. "He has power-forward qualities from the blue line in," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "He's the type of player who doesn't like being denied access to the net. That's one area he's gotten better since the start of the season. He's gotten stronger as the season has gone on. … You can almost see when he's got the puck, he's going to the net and defying people to stop him."
Like Kane, Svensson made a name for himself at the World Juniors, finishing tied for second on the team with 7 points in six games.
"He is absolutely fearless on the ice," Stubb said. "He is a great skater. With his moves, he's creating scoring chances both for himself and for his teammates. He is a guy that can go straight for the net and make things happen -- just with his speed and his energy."
Schenn, the younger brother of Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn -- the fifth pick of the 2008 Entry Draft -- is an elite-level playmaker who reminds some scouts of Philadelphia captain Mike Richards.
"Outstanding work ethic," McGuire said. "Brayden Schenn is all about work. He takes the puck to the net and scores goals when he gets there. He's got a tremendous work ethic. He's equally adept at creating goals or scoring them."
Other top forwards who could hear their name called early on Friday include Schenn's teammate, right wing Scott Glennie; University of Minnesota center Jordan Schroeder, the top-rated U.S.-born player; Peterborough Petes right wing Zack Kassian and Lethbridge Hurricanes right wing Carter Ashton, the top power forwards in the draft; and London Knights center Nazem Kadri.
Top defensemen that should go somewhere in the first round include Ryan Ellis, who helped lead the Windsor Spitfires to the Memorial Cup and Canada to the gold medal at the World Juniors; the Spokane Chiefs' Jared Cowen; Simon Despres of the Saint John Sea Dogs; Dmitry Kulikov of the Drummondville Voltigeurs; the Chicago Steel's John Moore, the top-rated U.S.-born defenseman; the Saskatoon Blades' Stefan Elliott, the Western Hockey League Scholastic Player of the Year; and the Oshawa Generals' Calvin de Haan.
There are no goaltender prospects who are first-round locks, but the Plymouth Whalers' Matthew Hackett, the Saginaw Spirit's Edward Pasquale, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles' Olivier Roy and Sweden's Robin Lehner could hear their name called Friday night.
If no goalie is chosen in the first round, it would be the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 1992.
Another story could be the number of Swedish prospects drafted early; as many as nine Swedes could go in the first round, among them forwards Svensson, Jacob Josefson, Marcus Johansson and Carl Klingberg; defensemen Hedman, Oliver Ekman-Larson, Tim Erixon and David Rundblad; and goaltender Robin Lehner.
The Islanders hold the top pick, followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Colorado Avalanche, the Atlanta Thrashers and the Los Angeles Kings. The Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars, Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers round out the top 10.
The only team with two first-round picks is the Islanders, who also have the No. 26 pick originally held by the San Jose Sharks.
That order could change in a major way, however, if a number of rumored trades come to fruition. Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has been extremely vocal in his desire to move up from No. 7 into the top three to have a chance at Tavares, Hedman or Duchene.
Among players who reportedly are available in trades are Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier, Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger, Senators forward Dany Heatley and Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday starting at 10 a.m. (NHL Network).