On a night that centred around the NHL's stars of tomorrow, the 2008 entry draft in Ottawa had the added buzz of a flurry of transactions featuring several prominent names.
The Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets were among the busier franchises trading for established NHL talent Friday, but that was merely the appetizer for the selection of 30 picks in what has been pegged as an extremely deep draft class.
In a draft year that will go down in history for its bumper crop of defencemen, the Tampa Bay Lightning surprised no one by selecting centre Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick.
"My goal coming into this season was to get as drafted as high as possible," said Stamkos, 18, who is expected to step immediately into the Tampa Bay lineup as its second-line centre.
"I accomplished my goal. I think I'm a guy who works very hard and if I want something bad enough, I'm going to do anything possible to get it."
Tampa Bay general manager Jay Feaster has rhapsodized about the Unionville, Ont., native, who scored 197 points in two seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League and starred with Canada at the world junior hockey championships.
With a team in the doldrums and new ownership taking over, Stamkos is expected to reignite interest in the Lightning among their fans and around the league.
"I think his potential is that he can be a legitimate star player in the National Hockey League," said Feaster. "That's not what we expect right off the bat but I think when you look 10 years down the road, I think he's going to be really special."
Stamkos becomes the first Canadian drafted first overall since Sidney Crosby and was the first of 17 Canadians drafted in Friday's first round.
The Los Angeles Kings then selected defenceman Drew Doughty with the second pick. The six-foot, 219-pound rearguard from the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm boasts a solid all-around game and, like Stamkos, has the potential to step into the Kings' lineup next season.
"I really have wanted this since I was a little kid," said Doughty.
The Atlanta Thrashers were the third team on the clock, selecting physical defenceman Zach Bogosian from the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. At six-foot-two and 197 pounds, Bogosian will bring a nasty presence and a hard shot to the Atlanta blueline as soon as next season.
With the fourth pick, the St. Louis Blues selected the third consecutive OHL defenceman in Alex Pietrangelo of the Niagara Ice Dogs. The native of King City, Ont., scored 13 goals and added 40 assists in 60 games last season, with 20 points in his last 11 games before he suffered a spleen injury. He's believed to have more offensive potential than any of the other top-ranked prospects on defence.
The Toronto Maple Leafs then traded up two spots with the New York Islanders to become the first Canadian franchise to make a selection with the fifth overall pick. Toronto used that to select Luke Schenn of the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. The six-foot-two, 216-pound Schenn represents the Maple Leafs' highest first-round pick since the 1989 entry draft and he's expected to be a No. 1 rearguard for the franchise.
"The top four defencemen are all special and we knew we had to act," said Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher.
The Columbus Blue Jackets used the sixth overall pick to select diminutive but speedy Russian forward Nikita Filatov. Viewed as the second-best offensive player in the draft, Filatov led Russia in scoring at the World Junior Championship and plays with an aggressive style despite his slender 165-pound frame.
The Islanders then traded down two more spots with the Nashville Predators, acquiring a second-round pick (40th overall) in the process. Nashville then selected six-foot-one, 215-pound centre Colin Wilson out of Boston University. The son of former NHL centre Carey Wilson, he brings a combination of size and skill to a Predators team that needed a solid forward prospect for the future.
Fresh off their trade for Florida captain Olli Jokinen, Phoenix Coyotes general manager Wayne Gretzky received a loud ovation at the podium before announcing that Danish winger Mikkel Boedker was the eighth overall pick. The five-foot-11, 195-pound forward brought speed and grit to the OHL's Kitchener Rangers this season, scoring 29 goals and adding 44 assists in 62 games.
The Islanders finally made their first selection at nine, taking Windsor Spitfires centre Joshua Bailey. The six-foot, 188-pound two-way forward posted 96 points in 67 Games for Windsor and had the second most assists in the Canadian Hockey League last season with 67.
Rounding out the top ten picks was the Vancouver Canucks, who selected centre Cody Hodgson. The 5-11, 185-pound Markham, Ont., native had 40 goals and added five assists for the OHL's Brampton Battalion last season and fills a big need up front for the offence-starved Canucks.
Four centres, four defencemen and two left wingers were selected in the top ten picks. Seven of the picks came from the OHL, while the WHL, Russian Super League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association each boasted one draftee in the top ten.
Senators, Oilers, Flames make selections
The Ottawa Senators then moved up to the 15th pick by sending the 18th pick and a third rounder in 2009 to the Nashville Predators. The crowd roared as Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson stepped up to the podium and announced that fellow Swede Erik Karlsson was the pick. The slick, puck-moving defenceman from the Swedish hockey club Vastra Frolunda could be the Senators power-play quarterback of the future, but he's not expected to join the Ottawa lineup next season.
With the 22nd pick overall, the Edmonton Oilers used their first-round pick to take forward Jordan Eberle from the Regina Pats of the WHL. Eberle scored 42 goals and 33 assists last season for the Pats and projects to be a goal-scoring winger in the NHL. He's expected to need at least one more year of seasoning in Regina before making the leap to the Oilers' lineup.
As a result of two trades, the Calgary Flames dropped from 17th to 25th. Calgary used the pick to select centre Greg Nemisz from the Windsor Spitfires. At six-foot-three and 197 pounds, Nemisz is expected to add weight to his lanky frame and projects to become a power forward in the NHL. He ranked third in scoring for Windsor with 34 goals and 33 assists in 67 games last season.
Several teams make moves
Calgary made a pair of significant moves that affected its current roster and its draft position. The Flames used a three-way deal with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks to acquire Mike Cammalleri from the Los Angeles Kings for their 17th overall pick. The team then shipped winger Alex Tanguay to the Montreal Canadiens along with their fifth-round pick in this year's draft, for the 25th overall selection and a second-round pick in the 2009 draft.
"It's very simple — if Alex is going out, you have to be able to cover that coming back the other way and you're probably not going to be able to do it through free agency so we had to find a way in the first round to do it," said Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
Montreal was also making headlines earlier in the day by requesting and receiving permission from the Maple Leafs to speak with Mats Sundin, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"We have given Montreal the exclusive rights to talk to him up until 12 noon on July 1 when he becomes a free agent," said Fletcher. "I have nothing to say about it at all. That's the only thing I'll say. It's not in my best interest to say anything else, it's not in Montreal's best interest and not in Mats' best interest."
The Coyotes and Florida Panthers also swung a deal that sent disgruntled star centre Olli Joiner to the Coyotes in exchange for defencemen Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard plus a second-round draft pick. R.J. Umberger was also on the move on draft night, as the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired the forward and a fourth-round pick from the Philadelphia Flyers for the 19th overall pick and a third-round selection.
Philadelpia also acquired defenceman Steve Eminger from the Washington Captials for the 27th overall pick and a third-rounder in this year's draft. Wasihngton selected defenceman John Carlson at 27.
Earlier on Friday, the Senators began the process of severing ties with Ray Emery by placing him on waivers, which will eventually lead to a buyout of the controversial goalie. The Senators drew a loud ovation from the hometown crowd during the draft with the announcement that centre Chris Kelly had signed a four-year contract extension with the team worth $8.5 million.
The Nashville Predators also made a move, shipping goaltender Chris Mason to the Blues for a fourth-round pick.