TORONTO (Reuters) - John Tavares, a Canadian goal scoring machine or giant Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman -- that is the intriguing choice facing the New York Islanders.
The Islanders have top pick in Friday’s NHL draft for finishing with the league’s worst record last season and if general manager Garth Snow has already made a decision he is not giving anything away.
Scrutinized by 30 NHL teams, dissected by hundreds of scouts, Tavares and Hedman have been poked, prodded and psycho-analyzed but days before the draft it is far from certain which player will hear his name called first in Montreal.
They have been asked to do push ups, bench presses and have been quizzed about who they would want to have dinner with; U.S. president Barack Obama, NHL bad boy Sean Avery or tennis queen Maria Sharapova.
While Tavares thinks he would like to dine with Obama, the correct answer if there is one, will not move him to the head of the class on Friday.
It is the choices Tavares and Hedman have made on the ice that will ultimately decide who will have the honor of going number one.
Both players have been labeled blue-chip talents destined for long, outstanding professional careers but offer fascinating alternatives for the Islanders.
One is a player who could fill the net and hopefully a new arena, the other is a cornerstone for a rebuilding franchise.
Touted as a future number one pick since he was 14-years-old, Tavares has been hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, a pure goal scorer who can add some offensive pizzazz to an Islanders attack that scored only 201 goals last season.
While some have questioned Tavares’ skating, no one doubts his talents with the puck. He is a lethal finisher who played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Oshawa Generals and London Knights notching a record 215 goals.
The 18-year-old forward has also proven himself against the world’s best, helping Canada to a pair of gold medals at the world junior hockey championships, earning tournament MVP honors at the event earlier this year.
”Sure, I’d love to go number one but then I’d love to go to any NHL team,“ Tavares told reporters. ”I think I can contribute and be part of a team that can win a Stanley Cup.
“If it happens, I’ll be very honored and very excited but I’ll be just as honored if it doesn‘t.”
Hedman enters the draft a battle harden 18-year-old, who has spent two season in the Swedish Elite league.
A hulking 6ft 6ins (1.981 meter) and 220 lbs (99.79 kg) Hedman has been compared to surly Anaheim Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger but has also displayed plenty of the puck-sense and skill that has made compatriot and Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom the NHL’s top blueliner.
”I‘m looking forward to seeing which team I’ll go to,“ said Hedman. ”It would be an honor to be picked number one and I want to go to a team that sees me as an important player.
“It is up to me to show I‘m ready.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning, who had the number one pick a year ago, will have second choice while the Colorado Avalanche will make the third selection.
Editing by Ossian Shine