Isles looking out for No. 1

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Top prospects John Tavares and Victor Hedman sat beside each other on a podium yesterday. Side by side. Much hype has following them, but they're being tabbed as the No. 1 and 2 picks, not necessarily in that order, in tonight's NHL draft.

Or maybe they'll be second and third, if you believe Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.

While New York Islanders GM Garth Snow isn't saying what he'll do, Burke predicted last night on TSN's Off the Record that Brampton's Matt Duchene will be tops.

"I think they will take a forward, until recently I thought they were going to take Hedman," said Burke. "But I think they will pick a forward and it will be Duchene."

A winter of intrigue and speculation will finally come to a close when the Isles announce who they're going to take with the top pick just after 7 p.m. But the NHL's director of central scouting E.J. McGuire doesn't hesitate when it comes to who Snow should select.

"John Tavares," said McGuire, when asked who he would take. "I like the offence. I like the forwards. It's not a knock on (Hedman). I was just saying that (Tavares) is a rock around which you build a franchise. He can bring offence to the game as well.

"(Tavares) proved this year in junior that he is deserving of the No. 1 selection. He is probably better than any other player in the draft from the top of circle down at being a threat to score."

Tavares said he isn't bothered by the debate.

"There are a lot of great players in this draft," said Tavares, 18, who set a career OHL goal-scoring record with 215 goals in 247 games. "Especially a guy like Victor. Guys with his size (6-foot-6) and his speed for a defenceman are very rare. He brings a lot to the table.

'IT'S AN HONOUR'

"A lot of the other guys are very good players as well. It's just a great year for the draft and it's an honour to be at the top of the list with a lot of these guys."

The decision is going to come down to whether the Islanders want to build around a franchise forward who had 104 points with London and Oshawa last season or a blueliner who many scouts call "tough, smart" and in the mould of Boston's Zdeno Chara.

Hedman said he knows who he would select.

"Of course, I'm going to be cheering for the defenceman," Hedman said with a smile. "Teams need different kinds of players. You can build around a centre or a defenceman. It's up to the team. I obviously feel it's good to have an alert defence and it's good to build the team around that area."

While Burke has been aggressive in trying to move up from his No. 7 selection in the draft, he hasn't found any takers. There is a sense the Tampa Bay Lightning might be willing to move the No. 2 pick.

The Leafs and San Jose Sharks have talked about 26-year-old Ryan Clowe, the hard-charging power forward who had 22 goals and 30 assists for the Sharks last season. The Leafs rejected the Sharks' offer of Clowe for the No. 7 pick. The Leafs also got what they called a "significant offer for Tomas Kaberle.


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