Lightning take Stamkos No. 1; fourth Staal (Jared) picked in 2nd round
OTTAWA -- Maybe it was emotion. Perhaps it was for effect. Oren Koules, who heads the new ownership group approved to take over the Tampa Bay Lightning, is a Hollywood producer, after all.
Koules stepped to the podium at the NHL draft Friday night and announced the Lightning's selection of center Steven Stamkos with the No. 1 overall pick.
"I can't think of a better way to start things off," Koules said, his voice suddenly cracking as if he were going to tear up.
The Lightning came away big winners in selecting Stamkos during a first round that featured numerous trades and a major run on what's projected to be a talented crop of defensemen.
Stamkos, the consensus top prospect, is already penciled in to be the team's second-line center this season.
It's far better than where the Lightning were last year, when they won a league-worst 31 games and lacked direction after Koules was part of a group whose first attempt to buy the team unraveled.
"Yeah, I think it's nice to bring some closure to everything," general manager Jay Feaster said. "First, from the standpoint of ownership ... and finally to have this day here and be able to get Stamkos in the fold. It's a good time for us."
The Lightning made no secret how much they liked the speedy, offensive-minded 18-year-old forward from suburban Toronto. Listed at 6-0 and 183 pounds, he produced 197 points (100 goals and 97 assists) in 124 games in two seasons with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League.
He arrives in Tampa Bay 10 years after the team selected star Vincent Lecavalier with the No. 1 pick.
"I think that's the best situation for me to have, having a guy like Vincent Lecavalier," Stamkos said. "I'm putting the pressure on myself to make it to the NHL next year."
Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens are suddenly looking like the Habs -- and not the "Hab Nots" -- of old. The transition is coming just in time to celebrate their 100th anniversary, too.
Strengthened by a resurgent Canadian dollar, and after patiently allowing a talented young core to develop, the Canadiens caused a stir during the NHL's two-day draft that ended Saturday.
Besides trading their first-round pick to acquire center Alex Tanguay from Calgary, the Canadiens were given permission to negotiate with soon-to-be free agent Mats Sundin, the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Those are bold moves made by a team that's encouraged after a season in which it won its first conference title since 1989. That was a huge jump for a franchise that had missed the playoffs six times since winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. By comparison, Montreal had only missed the playoffs eight times in its history prior to that year.
"We've been a franchise that over a few years out of necessity has been patient," general manager Bob Gainey said. "In the last year, I think we can see that our role needs to change and there's only a place for so many new and young players on a team that needs to be complemented by older players."
This philosophy was what led Gainey to give up the 25th pick to acquire Tanguay.
"It's the time to be more aggressive," Gainey said. "We were aggressive in developing, now we're aggressive in doing different things."
Montreal's Eastern Conference rivals have taken notice.
"I think they proved last year that they were back," Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said. "They're trying to add to their hockey club, and time will tell."
On Saturday, there were numerous players selected in the second round with notable connections, including right wing Jared Staal, who was picked 49th overall by Phoenix. Staal, who plays for OHL Sudbury, is the youngest member of the Thunder Bay, Ontario, family that's produced three first-round picks: Eric (selected No. 2 by Carolina in 2003), Marc (12th overall by the Rangers in 2005) and Jordan (selected No. 2 by Pittsburgh in 2006).
Should Jared Staal make it to the NHL, the family would become the first to have four players in the league since the Sutter family had six.
The Islanders, in the third round, selected center David Toews, the brother of last season's NHL Rookie of the Year finalist, Chicago's Jonathan Toews.
The Canadiens used their seventh-round pick (206th) on U.S. high school center Patrick Johnson, the grandson of Penguins Stanley Cup-winning coach "Badger" Bob Johnson, and son of Mark Johnson, a member of the U.S. "Miracle on Ice" 1980 Olympic team.
Besides draft picks, much talk Saturday centered on how teams will approach free agency, which opens July 1.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had only four picks in the draft, and had to wait until the fourth round to make their first selection when they took OHL Kingston center Nathan Moon.
Then again, the Penguins have other issues to address. They're attempting to retain Marian Hossa, who's eligible to become a free agent, and also likely to lose center Ryan Malone, while hoping to sign forward Evgeni Malkin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to contract extensions this summer.
GM Ray Shero said he's made Hossa an offer, but expects the player to test the market.
The Phoenix Coyotes used two first-round selections -- left wing Mikkel Boedker (with the No. 8 pick) and Russian forward Viktor Tikhonov -- on players projected to have a shot at playing in the NHL immediately. The Coyotes then acquired forward Olli Jokinen in a trade with Florida. Phoenix gave up two defensemen, including stalwart Keith Ballard, but are confident they added a necessary veteran presence and established offensive threat.
"With the strength of the West, we needed someone to really step in and play a role for us," Coyotes coach and managing partner Wayne Gretzky said, referring to Jokinen. "We like where we're going. It's an exciting time for the entire organization."
The Los Angeles Kings also made moves to improve their young core, even though they traded center Mike Cammalleri to Calgary. The Kings used four of their nine draft picks on defensemen, starting with Drew Doughty, who was selected No. 2 overall.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi said it was unlikely the team would have been able to afford to re-sign Cammalleri when he was to become a free agent next year.
"He was a one-year asset to us," Lombardi said. "Our chances of signing him were probably negligible."
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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