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 on Friday night and announced the Lightning's selection of center Steven Stamkos with the No. 1 pick.
"I can't think of a better way to start things off," Koules said, his voice suddenly cracking as if he was 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 who's 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-foot and 183 pounds, he produced 197 points (100 goals and 97 assists) in 124 games over two seasons with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, and 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."
On Saturday, Florida selected Swedish junior Jacob Markstrom, the top-ranked European goalie prospect, with the 31st pick to open the second-round of the seven-round draft.
Other notable players selected in the second round include 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 has 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.
Center Philip McRae (OHL London), the son of former NHL player Basil McRae, was selected 33rd by St. Louis. The elder McRae spent 16 seasons in the league playing for numerous teams, including Quebec, Toronto and Chicago. Philip's uncle Chris McRae also played in the NHL with Detroit and Toronto.
On Friday, there were several teams besides Tampa Bay that appeared to improve their stock.
Atlanta, at No. 3, landed the young defensemen it desired by selecting Zach Bogosian, who played for OHL Peterborough. Earlier in the day, the Thrashers also hired a coach, John Anderson, who had won five championships in 13 seasons in the minors. That included winning the American Hockey League title this year and coaching the Thrashers' top affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
|Steven Stamkos will use the stick to score goals next season. (AP)|
The Flames replaced Tanguay by acquiring Los Angeles Kings center Mike Cammalleri in a trade involving three teams.
Toronto made a deal, moving up two spots in the draft following a trade with the New York Islanders, to select Western Hockey League defenseman Luke Schenn with the No. 5 pick.
"The top four defensemen are all special and we knew we had to act," Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher said.
In all, 10 of the first 20 players selected were defensemen, and 12 overall.
The run on defense was expected in what was considered one of the deepest group of blue-liners to enter the same draft.
The Kings started it by selecting Drew Doughty (OHL Guelph) with the No. 2 pick. St. Louis, at No. 4, drafted defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (OHL Niagara).
Columbus, with the sixth pick, took a chance and chose top-ranked European prospect Nikita Filatov. NHL teams have shied away from Russians in fear they might not play in North America because of the lack of a transfer agreement.
Filatov, however, has vowed he'll play in the NHL, and even committed to joining the Canadian Junior Hockey League if he doesn't make a big league roster.
"I'm prepared to do whatever Columbus asks me to do, and if that means playing juniors for a year, I will do that," Filatov said. The most emotional moment occurred when the Vancouver Canucks paid tribute to rookie defenseman Luc Bourdon, who died in a motorcycle crash last month. Then they selected center Cody Hodgson (OHL Brampton) with the No. 10 pick.
The hometown Senators earned a rousing cheer when it traded up three spots in a deal with Nashville. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson announced the team's selection of fellow Swede, defenseman Erik Karlsson.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland believes only three or four of the top picks are ready to step right into the NHL. The numerous trades got his attention, including the deal in which the Florida Panthers traded captain Olli Jokinen to the Phoenix Coyotes for two young defensemen.
"Obviously, today, you look at the established players that were moved," Holland said. "It wouldn't surprise me if there's the odd move again tomorrow."