Isles got No. 1, but who will get picked in June?

April, 14, 2009

Who says you can't win for losing?

The Islanders, who finished at the very bottom of the 30-team standings, will get the first pick at the league's annual draft in June. The Isles secured the spot by winning the draft lottery Tuesday night.

After a season of losing, management and fans can start to get a little (or very) paranoid. I'm sure there were some frayed nerves among both groups in the hours leading up to the announcement. If the pingpong balls had bounced poorly for the Islanders, the result would have been beyond disappointing. Those fears, however, were alleviated when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly pulled the Islanders' logo out of the oversized envelope.

With the pick in their pocket, the Isles likely will choose between Canadian-born pivot John Tavares or lanky Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman. Earlier Tuesday, NHL's Central Scouting Bureau announced its final prospect rankings. Not surprisingly, Tavares was the top North American skater and Hedman the No. 1 European skater.

In a post-lottery conference call, Isles GM Garth Snow sounded thrilled to have the top pick. Who wouldn't be? After that, the goalie-turned-GM was noncommittal about the club's plans for the pick.

Interestingly, he did admit having one of the elite prospects ranked higher than the other in his mind. But he carefully stopped himself there, leaving us to wonder. Isn't that what we (media and fans) do best … wonder?

I haven't seen either player nearly enough to offer my own judgment on which would be a better choice for the Islanders. At this point, a majority of amateur scouts point to Tavares. In this case, the Isles might be good either way. If they choose Tavares, they'll have a top center to build around. If they take Hedman, they'll have a franchise-type defender. For a struggling franchise that needs to add top players at those key positions, either guy would be a big building block for the future.

For their part, Tavares and Hedman said all the right things about the Isles' franchise when questioned during TSN's draft lottery show. For the franchise's sake, let's hope they meant it. Let's face it -- this franchise can't afford to have a top pick leave it waiting at the Zamboni door.

On this day in Islander Country, all is good. Fans can sleep well knowing that they have the first pick and that Mike Milbury isn't around to mess it up.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.


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