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Are the Lightning tipping their hand on draft intentions?

Posted Jun 2, 2009 by Erik Erlendsson

Updated Jun 2, 2009 at 09:49 PM

There has been much speculation in recent weeks about the Toronto Maple Leafs looking to move up in the draft and the Tampa Bay Lightning being a willing partner. There have been conversations between Toronto GM Brian Burke and Lightning GM Brian Lawton, as several media outlets reported during the NHL draft combine last week. Burke has made it known he covets OHL scoring sensation John Tavares, who has been the projected top pick in the draft since he was 15 years old. Since the Islanders are unlikely to move their top overall pick, and Garth Snow isn’t exactly on good terms with Burk, the Lightning have become a hot topic in regards to dealing with Burke, especially with the “trade’’ the two made at the deadline in which Burke essentially bought a third-round draft pick from the Lightning while taking salary off Tampa Bay’s hands.

But have the Lightning basically made it known they intend to keep the pick and select second overall, no matter the situation?

Well, Tampa Bay is bringing the top three rated prospects to Tampa on Wednesday for a private workout with Lightning strength and conditioning coach Chuck Lobe. After meeting with the media at Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final on Tuesday, John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene will board a plane on Wednesday morning bound for Tampa.

When I spoke to Brian Lawton last week, he implied pretty strongly that he intends to make a selection, but was not closing the door on listening to offers.

But by bringing Hedman, Tavares and Duchene down for a private workout - and putting out the expense to bring them down and put them up in a hotel for a night - has Lawton pretty much indicated to the othe 28 teams looking to move up into the top 2 that it will have to take a massive package to pry the second spot out of Tampa Bay?

I fully expect Tampa Bay to pick in the second spot when their turn comes on June 26, but who they might end up with is not clear right now. The Islanders are not tipping their hand at all as to who they will select, although conventional wisdom says that a team in need of a top line center and somebody they can market to help push their new arena project points toward selecting Tavares, who is a household name already before he ever laces up his skates in an NHL game. And while Victor Hedman, who stands 6-foot-6 and skates exceptionally well, is considered a rock solid defensive prospect who can anchor a blue line for a decade, he won’t sell tickets or suites as well as Tavares could. Duchene, meanwhile, has jumped into the conversation with a strong playoff run and some draft analysts have even moved him ahead of Tavares with some considering him the most complete all-around player available.

My guess, Tampa Bay winds up with Hedman, who is probably who they would like given a choice.

But by bringing the top three guys down to Tampa for a meet and greet with the media and with team brass, I think it pretty much assures you that the team will indeed be making a choice come draft day.

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