MONTREAL - John Tavares is a New York Islander. Let that sink in for a moment.
A franchise that seemingly has been lost in the wilderness for the better part of two decades now has the kind of high-profile goal scorer it hasn't had since the days of Ziggy Palffy or Pierre Turgeon.
Maybe even all the way back to Pat LaFontaine and Mike Bossy. Tavares has been a legend in Canada since he scored 72 goals at the age of 16. He brings his own star with him to a team that is desperate for the boost at the box office.
The only question now is why the Islanders waited so long to do the obvious. General manager Garth Snow played a three-card monte game of misdirection, indicating the pick could be either Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, who went No. 2 to Tampa Bay, or Brampton center Matt Du chene, who was selected No. 3 by Colorado, a club whose officials were under the impression in the final minutes before the draft began that Tavares was going to fall to them.
Tavares was as much in the dark as anyone until Snow looked down from the Belle Centre podium to where the three top prospects were standing and said the words Islanders fans had been demanding to hear: "The Islanders select John Tavares."
Reaction at the Coliseum, where the team's draft party drew a crowd of more than 10,000, was an explosion of excitement as soon as the fans heard the word "John ... "
Asked for his reaction to the moment, Tavares said, "I had no idea. I was just like everybody else, wondering what the decision would be. It was obviously a great moment for me and a special feeling. All the hard work and things I've gone through in my life and all of the support I've had from my family is just a great moment for everybody to be sharing it, my parents and my sister.
"So, I couldn't be more happy right now and excited about the opportunity to play for Long Island and the Islanders ... This is a really humbling moment, and it's really special for myself."
As wonderful as that moment was for Islanders fans, it wasn't the end of the excitement. Holding the No. 26 pick in the first round, Snow traded that one plus the No. 37, No. 62 and No. 92 to Columbus in exchange for the Blue Jackets' first-round pick at No. 16 and their third-rounder at No. 77. Snow then sent those two picks plus the first pick of the seventh round (No. 182) to Minnesota to move up to No. 12.
Snow then selected puck-moving defenseman Calvin de Haan of Oshawa. De Haan had eight goals and 55 assists, and the bonus is that he is very familiar with Tavares, having played with him in Oshawa until Tavares was traded to London in a midseason deal.
In the two months between the time the Islanders won the draft lottery and made the actual No. 1 pick, Snow declined to simply name Tavares and let the marketing effort begin. It certainly heightened the suspense of a process many thought should be a foregone conclusion.
"We wanted to reaffirm that he was our guy," Snow said. "He's a winner."
After weeks of wondering and worry among the Islanders' fan base, Snow undoubtedly gained more credibility with his doubters. "I think our fans will be happy we went through the process of selecting the best player," Snow said. "The bottom line is he was the best player in the draft."