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Lightning hopes to win NHL draft lottery

If Vinny Lecavalier is near a television at 8 o'clock tonight, the Lightning's star center said he will be sure to click on the draft lottery.

After finishing last in the 30-team league, Tampa Bay has a 48.2 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, with which it almost certainly would select center Steve Stamkos, this year's most highly regarded prospect.

"You don't want to finish last. But the season is over now, and we have a great chance to get a franchise player," Lecavalier said. "I'm excited."

The lottery, televised in the United States on Versus and the NHL Network, was a hot topic in the locker room before Saturday's finale with the Thrashers.

With the draft considered deep, there was a sense Tampa Bay could pick up an NHL-ready player even without the first pick.

But Stamkos, with 58 goals, 105 points and 88 penalty minutes in 61 games for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, is the prize; not only for his potential, but because he fits the profile for a Lightning team desperate for scoring depth.

Drew Doughty of OHL Guelph and Zach Bogosian of OHL Peterborough are the second- and third-ranked North American prospects after Stamkos, but both are defensemen. Kyle Beach, a center from Everett of the Western Hockey League is next, but he has well-documented issues controlling his on-ice emotions.

Nikita Filatov, a left wing for Russia's Central Army team, is the top European prospect. But the lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and Russian Hockey Federation makes drafting him problematic.

Which brings us back to Stamkos, 18, a 6-foot, 170-pound, right-handed shot from Unionville, Ontario, near Toronto.

"He sounds like he's a stud," Lightning center Jeff Halpern said. "These kids are so good right now, so early, they can make an impact right away."

Because general manager Jay Feaster is busy with today's player meetings, Dave Andreychuk will represent the Lightning at the lottery in Toronto.

Feaster joked (we think) about the pressure on the former Lightning captain.

"If we were successful in having the No. 1 pick, it would be huge," Feaster said.

Said goaltender Mike Smith: "It's bigger now than it used to be because your draft picks make the team. Hopefully, we'll get an impact player."

Exactly why Lecavalier said he will be watching.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

>>draft lottery

When: 8 tonight

TV: Versus

Who: 14 nonplayoff teams

Lightning wins top pick if: Its balls come up. But because teams can move up only four spots, it also gets the top pick if a team not among the worst five wins. That's the: Blue Jackets, Coyotes, Leafs, Panthers, Blackhawks, Oilers, Canucks, Sabres and Hurricanes.

Lightning hopes to win NHL draft lottery 04/06/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 1:45pm]
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