The most sleep-deprived summer of John Tavares’s life came immediately after the New York Islanders selected him with the first overall pick in the NHL draft.
If the reigning No. 1 has any advice for the next No. 1, it’s to remember to make some time for himself. There is a hockey season to be played after all.
“The most important thing is just to make sure you get your rest,” Tavares said in a recent interview. “There’s a lot that comes during the draft, after the draft—all the experiences you have and all the demands. Just make sure you’re physically ready for the season because it can take a lot out of you.
“You really don’t have a real summer.”
There’s always plenty of focus on the top draft pick but that seems especially true heading into Friday’s first round in Los Angeles.
Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin have been the top-rated prospects all season and only the Edmonton Oilers brass knows which player’s name will be called first at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Friday.
Once that happens, it will set off a head-spinning series of events—a gauntlet of interviews, introductions to members of the organization and eventually a chance to celebrate with family and friends. Tavares went through it last June in Montreal.
“You just have to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s such a great experience and it only happens once. (And it means) you’re going to get a great opportunity to play for hockey for a living.”
Steven Stamkos looks back fondly on the weekend in Ottawa when the Tampa Bay Lightning made him the No. 1 pick in 2008.
If Hall or Seguin were to ask him for advice, he’d recommend trying to stay grounded. He figures there’s a reason why the team has made you a No. 1 selection.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Stamkos. “You’re going to get a lot attention and there’s going to be a lot of expectations and pressure put on you by the media, but at the end of the day it’s up to you what you do. Just work hard, you’ll be given an opportunity to succeed from where you’re taken.
“Try not to change who you are as a person and who you are as a player. Just do what you do best and have fun with it.”
Recent No. 1 picks have made a significant impact on the organization’s that drafted them. Of the seven players selected first since 2003, five have already won major individual awards and three have lifted the Stanley Cup: Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane.
Stamkos struggled in the first half of his rookie campaign before bouncing back in a big way this year, tying Crosby for the NHL lead in goals as sophomore with 51.
One advantage he enjoyed while making the transition from junior won’t be afforded to this year’s No. 1—playing in relative anonymity. He was a healthy scratch as a rookie and figures the early struggles ended up benefiting him.
“I think going to Tampa helped ease the pressure a little bit,” said Stamkos. “It’s a non-traditional hockey market. For me, I think I put more pressure on myself (than anyone else) to perform. It was a tough go at the beginning but looking back on it now, it helped build character.
“It was kind of the first adversity test I had in my career. I just used it as a motivation and got better.”
For any player that gets drafted, few things are better than the combination of relief and excitement that comes with hearing your name called.
TheNo. 1 pick is not exempt from those emotion. Even though Tavares seemed destined for the NHL since before he was a teenager, he still felt some uneasiness on draft day.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” he said. “Obviously, I remember when (Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke) made his statements about trying to trade up (to draft him) and knowing that teams may want to move up, you just never know what can happen. We’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen on the day of the draft before.
“It was just a wait and see. When it happened, I think I was just really happy to finally be a part of an organization and get my chance to play in the National Hockey League.”
Stamkos had a similar experience.
Even though the Lightning made no secret of their interest in him ahead of the 2008 draft—famously starting a “Seen Stamkos?” marketing campaign—he still felt jitters while sitting in the stands at Scotiabank Place.
“They can tell you that they’re taking you all they want, but they could get a great trade offer right before they pick,” he said. “I was still a little nervous and it was definitely nice to hear my name called.
“It’s something I’ll remember forever.”