- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

MONTREAL | The New York Islanders kept everyone guessing, including John Tavares himself, right up until they made the high-scoring center the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

The Islanders chose Tavares, an 18-year-old junior star with the London Knights, with the first overall pick ahead of 6-foot-6, 220-pound Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, the top-ranked European prospect.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took Hedman, and the Colorado Avalanche followed with forward Matt Duchene, the first three selections going as expected.

Tavares, a 6-foot, 185-pound native of Oakville, Ontario, led the Ontario Hockey League with 58 goals this season and broke Peter Lee’s 33-year-old league record of 213 career goals.

“He’s an offensively gifted hockey player,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow said. “Whether it’s shooting the puck or distributing it, he sees the puck at a different level than any other young player that I’ve seen in this draft.”

Snow kept the team’s draft intentions a closely guarded secret right until he announced Tavares’ name to the Bell Centre crowd. He was the team’s fourth No. 1 pick overall and the first since they made Rick DiPietro the first goalie selected first overall in 2000.

“Yeah, I had no idea, just like everybody else,” Tavares said. “I didn’t know what their decision would be but it was obviously a great moment for me, a special feeling.”

Tavares’ selection was immediately celebrated by Islanders fans, who were shown on the Bell Centre video scoreboard gathered for a team draft party at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the team’s arena in Uniondale, N.Y.

“I didn’t see it, but I heard things and obviously they are really interested in having me, and I definitely have the support of the fans and the community - that’s huge,” Tavares said. “I’m very thankful to be going there, and I appreciate the opportunity to be part of Long Island. It’s going to be great, and I can’t wait to get things going knowing where it’s headed. It’s going to be a great future for all of us.”

The expansion Islanders chose Billy Harris No. 1 in 1972 and followed that a year later by selecting Denis Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenseman who captained the team to four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983.

“We were focused as a group on getting the best available player, a player that’s going to fit in well with the other building blocks that we have in the locker room,” Snow said. “I’m happy that our fans are happy because that was a player that we had identified early on.”

Snow also made a pair of deals with Columbus and Minnesota, packaging draft picks to trade up from a second first-round pick at 26th to the 12th choice overall, where he selected Oshawa Generals defenseman Calvin de Haan.

Meanwhile, Hedman joins a Lightning squad that drafted center Steven Stamkos first overall last season.

“My goal is to play with the Tampa Bay Lightning next season,” Hedman said. “I’m going to work hard this summer to make the team next year.”

After Duchene was picked third by Colorado, his favorite team growing up, Atlanta selected center Evander Kane of the Vancouver Giants, followed by Los Angeles, which chose Brandon Wheat Kings center Brayden Schenn, the younger brother of Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn, who went fifth overall to the Leafs last year in Ottawa.

The embattled Phoenix Coyotes delivered the first surprise of the first round when they drafted Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson with the sixth pick.

Toronto GM Brian Burke was subjected to a chorus of boos from the Montreal Canadiens fans filling the upper reaches of the arena before he announced center Nazim Kadri, a teammate of Tavares’ on the Knights, with the seventh selection.

Right wing Scott Glennie, Brayden Schenn’s Brandon linemate, was chosen eighth by Dallas. Ottawa drafted 6-5, 220-pound defenseman Jared Cowen of the Spokane Chiefs with the ninth pick, followed by Edmonton, which took Swedish center Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson.

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