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HELENE ELLIOTT

Kings have early move in NHL draft

They will select fifth but have discussed moving up to fourth. John Tavares is pegged to go first, to the New York Islanders.

June 26, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

With today's NHL entry draft hours away, the Kings were holding on to the fifth pick, the Ducks' plans were on hold while Scott Niedermayer decided his future, and New York Islanders fans held on to hope their downtrodden team could rebuild around consensus No. 1 pick John Tavares.

Tavares, a prolific center from the Ontario Hockey League, has long been projected as the top choice in this year's draft, which begins today in Montreal and continues Saturday with the second through seventh rounds.

He's a pure scorer and a sure pick for anyone but the Islanders, who haven't drafted well in decades.

They might take Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, a commanding presence at 6 feet 6, and center Matt Duchene of Brampton of the OHL has gained traction because of his leadership, strength and hockey sense.

All three will be gone when the Kings' turn comes at No. 5, but they've talked about moving up to No. 4, a spot that now belongs to Atlanta.

That would allow the Kings to take center Brayden Schenn, coveted by the Maple Leafs to play alongside his brother, Luke.

The Kings could trade Schenn to Toronto or keep the gritty playmaker.

"Although there could be one surprise, maybe, I think most people got the top three guys," Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said by phone.

"I think we have a pretty good idea how many guys we've got in there. We're just fine-tuning. Before we got here we zeroed in on the guys we liked. It still comes to the best player."

Lombardi denied rumors that he's the top suitor for disgruntled Ottawa left wing Dany Heatley with a package consisting of winger Alexander Frolov, an unspecified top-notch defenseman, and the No. 5 pick.

"I have a little bit of concern when it's the second time the way this has happened. If we're going to bring in a guy like that we've got to look at it closely, positive and negative," Lombardi said, referring to Heatley's requests to be traded by Atlanta and, more recently, Ottawa.

"The second part of that, don't forget this is very different than a free agent. In terms of what their version of what it would take to move him, that was fairly steep in my mind. . . . They're not going to give this guy away, nor should they."

He also said he has "nothing going on" with Tampa Bay for Vincent Lecavalier, whose 11-year, $85-million extension kicks in next season.

"If you made a deal for Heatley or Lecavalier, that basically takes you out of free agency," Lombardi said.

The Kings are expected to make a pitch for soon-to-be free agent Marian Hossa, though they're probably too far from Stanley Cup contention to attract his interest. They might have a shot at productive but injury-prone winger Marian Gaborik but could be reluctant to do anything but a short deal.

The Ducks have the 15th pick today, and they're hoping that before their name is called Niedermayer will tell them whether he plans to return, retire, or leave as a free agent.

His decision will affect their strategy in the draft, trade talks and in the free agency period that begins July 1.

If he returns -- the answer they're hoping for -- economics and a need to get younger might lead them to trade Chris Pronger, who has one season left at a salary cap hit of $6.25 million.

They want to keep restricted free agent James Wisniewski, who's in line for a big raise over the $900,000 he earned last season, but they might not be able to afford Wisniewski, Pronger and defenseman Francois Beauchemin.

The hard-hitting Beauchemin, who made an impressive comeback from knee surgery to be an impact player during the playoffs, has said he will explore free agency.

His muscle and offensive skills should attract lots of big offers.

Another payroll-cutting option for the Ducks would be to get goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere to waive his no-trade clause, which he might do if he were again consigned to back up Jonas Hiller.

Giguere's cap hit of $6 million for each of the next two seasons is another potential obstacle to any move.

General Manager Bob Murray said he was "a fair ways apart" on a deal with Wisniewski but wasn't concerned.

He also said he had talked to Niedermayer a couple of times and had the sense the 35-year-old defenseman was undecided about next season.

"I'm not in limbo. I don't feel any of that at the moment," Murray said. "I'm fine. I'm going forward with the things I've got to do."

And he'll start doing them today.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Top prospects

Top five prospects for today's NHL draft (4 p.m. PDT, Versus):

John Tavares, center, London, Ontario Hockey League

Has a great knack around the net and in the slot and was the most valuable player in Canada's world junior championship triumph. Had 58 goals and 104 points in 56 games last season. Not huge, at 6-0 and 200 pounds, but has good hands and is considered ready to step in and become an impact player.

Victor Hedman, defense, Modo, Swedish Elite League

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