To paraphrase comedian Sarah Silverman, “John Tavares is magic.”
At least, it sure seems that way, if you believe even half of what has been written about the goal-a-game teenager who has scared the bejeezus out of Ontario League netminders for the past four seasons. Put the puck on his stick and poof! – it’s in the net.
If you’re not familiar with Silverman, she released a comedy DVD in 2005 entitled Jesus Is Magic. (Before you jump to conclusions, please know this: No, we’re not pulling a John Lennon and comparing Tavares to any divine beings, or anything like that.) If you’ve seen the DVD, you may remember Silverman’s intro song, before the stand-up act begins.
Near the end of the self-serving show tune, Silverman spits out the words “Sandra Bullock! Sandra Bullock! Sandra Bullock!” as she displays her disgust for Hollywood’s inability to look beyond the same two or three leading ladies.
It’s sort of the same thing with Tavares. Like Bullock and the movie genre of (ridiculously unbelievable) romantic comedies, when it comes to the 2009 NHL draft, we’ve been hearing about Tavares for what seems like forever - and from every conceivable angle. If Silverman was an amateur scout, she’d probably be at the same breaking point: “John Tavares! John Tavares! John Tavares!”
The good news is, Tavares’ days as a “draft-eligible prospect” are almost over. Whether he ends up an Islander or a Lightning or maybe even a Maple Leaf is still up in the air and it’s no sure thing Tavares will even be drafted No. 1.
The rise of Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman and another OHL slickster, Matt Duchene, has mixed in some mystery to the NHL’s Friday night festivities in Montreal. Still, after four years of hearing how Tavares is a 50-goal-scorer-in-waiting and virtually unstoppable within 20 feet of the net, it’ll be a shock if he doesn’t go first overall.
However, if the Islanders decide to select the 6-foot-6 Hedman to solidify their blueline – or even the two-way Duchene to solidify, well, everything else – surely they’ll try to trade down a spot or two and see what the Leafs will surrender to keep Tavares in his home province (and hometown, for that matter).
With the No. 1 overall pick and with a prospect as intriguing as Tavares, the Isles need to wring out every last drop of their enviable drafting position. Is GM Garth Snow, who was an NHL backup goalie with no managerial experience less than four years ago, up to the task of maximizing the payoff?
Well, give Snow this much: He’s met with all three top prospects and has had some fun dropping cryptic hints to the media, but he hasn’t betrayed which way he’s leaning. And that’s surely a good way to keep a bidding war going; the more that’s unknown, the better.
Fact is, the last six times the Isles have had a first round draft pick, they selected a forward. The time before that, they took goalie Rick DiPietro. The last time they took a defenseman in the first round was back in 1999, when they picked Branislav Mezei and Kristian Kudroc.
New York doesn’t have a forward prospect on par with Tavares – few teams do – but they have a handful of promising players up front in Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau and Corey Trivino. The blueline, meanwhile, has been stocked by free agents and castoffs since Denis Potvin retired. So an anchor with Chris Pronger-esque potential, like Hedman, has got to be tempting.
After writing the previous paragraph, it suddenly became oh-so-clear.
The Islanders don’t need Tavares or Hedman.
They need Tavares and Hedman.
Good luck, Garth. The hockey world is watching.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.
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