Bill Torrey didn’t have a Draft Lottery to deal with. When the Islanders finished last overall in their inaugural season of 1972-73, the general manager knew he had the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft. He had another advantage.
“Back then we were drafting 20-year olds,” Torrey said over the phone today. “My scouts and I were evaluating players based on four full years of junior hockey. That’s a big difference from drafting 18-year olds who are still growing.”
The conversation continued…
I wanted to catch up with you to get the truth behind this legend of “The Architect built around a top defenseman first”! My point is, you had Denis Potvin staring at you with that pick. Maybe if you had a stud forward and not an all-world defenseman as the clear-cut first pick, you would have taken the forward.
That’s not entirely true. Denny Potvin was special, no doubt. But Tom Lysiak was the best forward available, and there was plenty of sentiment at the time for him to be taken first overall. Of course, Denny went on to have a Hall of Fame career, while Tommy was an excellent player, a 25-30 goal scorer for Atlanta and later Chicago. To put it in perspective, Denny was dominant in junior and Tommy Lysiak was coming off two big seasons in Medicine Hat (143 and 154 points). Potvin and Lysiak were 1-2 in no particular order in the eyes of many people.
Sounds kind of familiar.
Yup. They’ll be talking about John Tavares and Victor Hedman for years.
What swayed your decision toward Potvin?
We figured the great defenseman, especially in the big games, was going to play every other shift, play more than half the game. Even the best forwards don’t match that time on ice. We went with the defenseman because we knew he’d be out there all the time for us. Look at Anaheim when they got Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
So are you saying the team that gets the first pick should take Victor Hedman?
No. When you’re picking first overall and you have two kids of this magnitude, it’s okay to assess what your needs are.
What if you need everything?
Now you’re trying to get me to make the first pick for a team! (Laughs) I’m not going to do that. I’ve met Tavares and Hedman each once. I’ve watched them play. It’s a very close call. They’re both going to be impact players. They are supremely talented and have played on the world stage. Tavares has dominated junior. Hedman has been excellent as an 18-year old playing against men in one of the best pro leagues in the world.
Do any other prospects in this draft compare?
Tavares is clearly the best 18-year old forward in the world. Hedman is clearly the best 18-year old defenseman in the world. That’s all there is to know.
But all things being equal, seems you’re saying teams should go with the defenseman.
It’s just not that simple, kid! Okay, I’ll give you this: it’s harder most years to get that great defenseman. There are usually more forwards who can put the puck in the net. But defensemen take more time to develop. And now with the CBA, by the time they mature and have got it all figured out, they’re free agents!
Look, this is why you have a scouting staff and testing and one-on-one interviews. You have to put everything into the equation: maturity, personality, toughness, strength. If the GM and his scouts determine one of the kids has clearly got it over the other, you go with him. You don’t get caught up in defense vs. forward. Sometimes you have to go by feel. Take the player who best fits your team.
Sounds like you feel the Islanders can’t go wrong whether they win or lose the lottery tonight.
No one’s going to feel sorry for them if they get the No. 2 pick in the lottery. They’re still going to get a hell of a player. If they get the first pick, it will be a difficult decision but it’s a problem they won’t mind having. No matter what happens, they’ll get a franchise player and they will be on their way.
Comments. Guidelines. Point Blank will be on NHL Home Ice on XM Radio tonight at 6:00 pm and on News 12 Long Island immediately after the lottery winner is announced around 8:20. The segment will be replayed at 9:20 pm. We’ll join you in the discussion on the blog all night.