Isles first up for Tavares

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

John Tavares has yet to take a bite out of the Big Apple.

"I've never been to the Island," the London Knights sniper said. "I've never been to New York (Manhattan) before. It would be a new thing for me."

The New York Islanders hold the key to Tavares' hockey future after winning the NHL's draft lottery last night. The league's last-place franchise, which had a 48.2% chance of landing the top selection, has the right to pick first overall on June 26 in Montreal.

Tavares is the consensus No. 1 prospect. Sweden's Victor Hedman is second.

"Historic franchise, great tradition," Tavares told TSN from London's A-Channel TV studio last night. "To get the opportunity to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup would be amazing."

Tampa Bay, Colorado, Atlanta and Los Angeles were the only other teams with a shot at landing the No. 1 pick.

From the bouncing lottery balls to renewed wooing by his hometown team, Tavares had a head-spinning day. The Toronto Maple Leafs weren't in the running for the top selection but GM Brian Burke said he's going to do what he can to trade up for it and get Tavares.

"I think he's a hell of a hockey player," said Burke, whose Leafs have the No. 7 pick. "He's excelled at every level. He pays an awful price to score goals.

"We'll immediately attempt to move up. We're going to talk to everyone between us and the first pick and see what the landscape is. We're gong to see what it costs and we're going to try and move up."

Not much takes Tavares by surprise. Those comments did.

"I was shocked," he said. "It's nice to know the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs thinks that highly of me. But we'll have to wait to see how it plays out.

"I'm just looking forward to be picked by an NHL team. That's been my dream."

The Islanders don't know what they're going to do with the top selection yet. GM Garth Snow told the New York Post he hasn't ruled out trading down or decided who he'll pick.

But Tavares knows he can make cement his status this week. The 18-year-old travels with his Knights teammates today to Windsor to start the OHL's highly-anticipated Western Conference final against the league champion Spitfires.

The OHL's reigning scoring champ doesn't think this NHL draft business will take away from his performance in the most important playoff series of his career. He has 14 points in nine games so far in the post-season.

"I've dealt with distractions before and I think I've handled them pretty well over the years," he said. "It's just another thing you have to manage and make sure you're ready to play."

Before playing in gold-medal final of the world juniors January in Ottawa, word leaked out Tavares would be dealt from the Oshawa Generals to the Knights in a blockbuster deal. He shrugged it off and still led Canada to gold. He was named MVP of the tournament.

"This isn't the ideal time to have the draft lottery right before a series like this," Knights teammate Michael Del Zotto, a New York Rangers first rounder from last year said. "But it is what it is and John has always been able to overcome these kinds of things.

"Last year, I had a real interest in the lottery and the No. 1 pick because of being close to Steve Stamkos (the former Sarnia Sting forward who went first overall to Tampa Bay last summer).

All I told John and the others was don't worry about it and enjoy it because you're going to end up where you end up.""

Burke isn't the first Leafs GM to try getting Tavares into a blue-and-white jersey. His predecessor John Ferguson, Jr., offered Tavares a spot with Toronto's American Hockey League affiliate Marlies, but the AHL refused to change its league by-laws to admit him.

Two years ago, Tavares' London-based agency Siskinds Sports Management asked the NHL to consider changing its rules to allow the youngster into the draft early. The league decided he had to wait.

Now, Tavares is represented by agent Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, whose client list includes former Knight Pat Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. Both players went first overall in their respective NHL drafts.

If Tavares' name is called first in Montreal, he'll be the fifth Knight to be No. 1 -- a record for a junior team.

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NHL draft order

1. N.Y. Islanders; 2. Tampa Bay;

3. Colorado; 4. Atlanta; 5. Los Angeles; 6. Phoenix; 7. Toronto; 8. Dallas;

9. Ottawa; 10. Edmonton

11. Nashville; 12. Minnesota; 13. Buffalo; 14. Florida

Note: Remaining drafting positions will be determined at the conclusion of Stanley Cup playoffs.


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