Drew Doughty warms up before the CHL Top Prospects game in Edmonton, Jan.23, 2008. Doughty is expected to be a top pick in the NHL entry draft in Ottawa on June.20. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson
OTTAWA - It might surprise some hockey fans that Steven Stamkos is not the prospect the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau believes is most ready to step into the league.
He's been receiving all the attention heading into the NHL draft and for good reason - the Tampa Bay Lightning have all-but said they'll select Stamkos first overall and many believe he's destined to become a star.
However, there are also some good players behind him who might also be ready to help an NHL team as soon as next season.
Defencemen Zach Bogosian and Drew Doughty each think they'll be ready to take that step with the team that calls their name on Friday night (7 p.m. ET).
"I really hope I can play in the NHL next year," Doughty said Thursday at a prospects luncheon. "I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen."
He's already dropped 20 pounds in recent months by closely watching his diet and working out harder than ever. The NHL's scouting service says that the Guelph Storm defenceman "is one of the guys most able to step into the NHL next year."
Doughty grew up in London, Ont., and was a fan of the Los Angeles Kings in the Wayne Gretzky days. He would love for Kings GM Dean Lombardi to call his name when he makes the second overall pick.
"They were my favourite team all along," said Doughty.
Neither of those players are likely to end up in a Canadian city. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the highest pick among the six Canadian teams at No. 7 overall, followed by Vancouver at No. 10, Calgary at No. 17, Ottawa at No. 18, Edmonton at No. 22 and Montreal at No. 25.
Doughty probably wouldn't be in a position to play in the NHL if not for a fateful decision by minor hockey coach Brad Ostrom a few years back.
He had always been a two-way centre before Ostrom converted him to a defenceman.
"We were short defencemen in training camp so he threw me back there just to fill a position," explained Doughty. "I ended up playing pretty well back there and he enjoyed how I looked. He asked me if I would (switch) and I wasn't too keen on it at first.
"If he didn't make that switch I probably wouldn't be where I am today."
Bogosian grew up in Massena, N.Y., and has already spent plenty of time with Hall of Fame defencemen.
In 2000, he found himself at Scott Stevens' cottage with the Stanley Cup after the New Jersey Devils had won the trophy. Bogosian was a friend of Stevens' nephew and was the only non-family member there.
After leaving home at age 14, Bogosian attended Cushing Academy in Massachusetts and had Ray Bourque as an assistant coach.
From there, he moved on to the Peterborough Petes for the last two seasons. Bogosian wore No. 4 with the Petes in honour of Bobby Orr, who just happens to be his agent.
"I've been very fortunate," he said. "Just meeting guys like that, you see the way they are on the ice, off the ice, in charity events (and) at home. It's something you really look up to - all three of those guys."
Bogosian has been spending plenty of time in Ottawa the past few months and it has nothing to do with the draft.
He drives here from his home in Upstate New York four or five times a week to work with trainer Lorne Goldenberg and has started to get recognized by border agents.
"It's pretty bad on gas but it's worked for me," said Bogosian.
His commute is just one example on the extremely high level of commitment every top player needs to reach this level.
Doughty was told he needed to shed some pounds so he started eating six small meals a day while amping up his workouts. He certainly wasn't going to take much of a run at the tasty buffet offered on Thursday.
"No, definitely not," he said.
The key moment in his season came during the world junior championship. Not only did he win gold with Canada, he was also named the top defenceman in the tournament and really started believing he belonged with the best.
Bogosian also came into his own this season as an assistant captain with the Petes.
On the eve of the most important day of his life, he was feeling pretty anxious.
"It's been built up so much over the last few months," said Bogosian.
He's expected to go in the top five, which means he'll likely end up getting chosen by L.A. (2nd pick), Atlanta (3rd), St. Louis (4th) or the New York Islanders (5th) - barring trades.
Most 18-year-old's get to choose where they live but Bogosian will gladly forego that right for the chance to play in the NHL.
"I'd rather have this job than get to pick where I live," he said. "I'm very fortunate to think of myself as a hockey player and hopefully make a fortune with this game.
"It's fun playing a game for your job."