The New York Islanders kept John Tavares and everyone else in the hockey world wondering whether he would become the team's fourth No. 1 overall pick in NHL draft history.
For the high-scoring junior star, a dream came true Friday night when Islanders general manager Garth Snow finally revealed that Tavares had in fact been his top choice all along.
"It's a special moment," said Tavares, an 18-year-old center with the London Knights. "It's been talked about and I've been in the spotlight for a long time and I understand it's only going to get even bigger. Leaving home at 14 years old, away from my family, I knew this is what I really wanted. And to achieve this is a special honor and a great accomplishment for myself."
Snow chose Tavares ahead of 6-foot-6, 220-pound Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, the top-ranked European prospect.
The Tampa Bay Lightning took Hedman and the Colorado Avalanche followed with forward Matt Duchene, the first three selections going as expected.
The Philadelphia Flyers made the biggest trade of the night by acquiring All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger from Anaheim in a multiplayer deal.
Tavares, a 6-foot, 185-pound native of Oakville, Ontario, led the Ontario Hockey League with 58 goals this season and broke Peter Lee's 33-year-old league record of 213 goals.
"He's an offensively gifted hockey player," said Snow, who kept the team's draft intentions a closely guarded secret right until he announced Tavares' name to the Bell Centre crowd.
"Whether it's shooting the puck or distributing it, he sees the puck at a different level than any other young player that I've seen in this draft."
Tavares' selection was immediately celebrated by Islanders fans, who were shown on the Bell Centre video scoreboard as they gathered for a team draft party at the Nassau Coliseum.
"I didn't see it but I heard things and obviously they are really interested in having me, and I definitely have the support of the fans and the community _ that's huge," Tavares said. "I'm very thankful to be going there and I appreciate the opportunity to be part of Long Island. It's going to be great and I can't wait to get things going knowing where it's headed. It's going to be a great future for all of us."
Tavares was the Islanders' first No. 1 pick since they made Rick DiPietro the first goalie selected first overall in 2000.
The expansion Islanders chose Billy Harris No. 1 overall in 1972 and followed that one year later by selecting Denis Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenseman who captained the team to four straight Stanley Cups.
"We were focused as a group on getting the best available player, a player that's going to fit in well with the other building blocks that we have in the locker room," Snow said. "I'm happy that our fans are happy because that was a player that we had identified early on."
Snow also made a pair of deals with Columbus and Minnesota, packaging draft picks to trade up from a second first-round pick at 26th to the 12th choice overall, where he selected Oshawa Generals defenseman Calvin de Haan.
Hedman joins a Lightning team that drafted center Steven Stamkos first overall last season.
"I'm just happy to become an NHL player," said Hedman, whose playing style has been compared to Pronger, originally chosen second overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1993. "It became Tampa and I'm just as happy as I can be. Tampa is a great team and a great organization as well, in my thoughts, so I'm really looking forward to help the team next year."
In exchange for Pronger and center Ryan Dingle, the Ducks reacquired right wing Joffrey Lupul and received defenseman Luca Sbisa along with two first-round draft picks and another conditional pick.
After Duchene was picked third by Colorado, his favorite team growing up, Atlanta selected center Evander Kane of the Vancouver Giants, followed by Los Angeles, which chose Brandon Wheat Kings center Brayden Schenn, the younger brother of Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn, who went fifth overall to the Leafs last year.
The embattled Phoenix Coyotes delivered the first surprise of the first round when they drafted Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson with the sixth pick.
Toronto GM Brian Burke was subjected to a chorus of boos from the Montreal Canadiens fans filling the upper reaches of the arena before he announced center Nazim Kadri, Tavares' Knights teammate, with the seventh selection.
Right wing Scott Glennie, Brayden Schenn's Brandon linemate, was chosen eighth by Dallas. Ottawa drafted 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenseman Jared Cowen of the Spokane Chiefs with the ninth pick, followed by Edmonton, which took Swedish center Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson to complete the top 10.
The Minnesota Wild, which dealt the No. 12 pick to the Islanders, made defenseman Nick Leddy of Eden Prairie, Minn., the top American drafted with the No. 16 selection.
"You never really know what can happen but I'm just happy that they picked me and I can be one of the hometown guys," said Leddy, whose parents, Mike and Vicky, were on hand to share the moment as part of a group of about 10 family and friends.