Vincent Lecavalier: in the shoes of a first choice

Kent Hughes may have wanted to slow down the ardor of the supporters by arguing that the organization was going to be patient with its first choice, but the external pressure will be strong on whoever will be the lucky one.

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Chosen first by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 1998 auction, Vincent Lecavalier knows a lot about the issue. At the time, Art Williams, the owner of the Florida team, declared that the Quebecer would become neither more nor less than the Michael Jordan of hockey.

“I was lucky to have Jacques [Demers] with me after that comment. He protected me, he didn’t put any pressure on me,” Lecavalier said of his first NHL head coach.

“It has been an exceptional year. I was playing on the third line. Jacques told me to continue to develop and improve, that he would make me play with good veterans,” continued the athlete from the L’Île-Bizard district in Montreal.

For this first of 14 seasons in the Lightning uniform, Lecavalier had collected 28 points, including 13 goals. A seemingly small harvest, but acquired within a formation which had finished the season at 27e and last in the NHL with a record of 19-54-9.

Vincent Lecavalier, special adviser to hockey operations at the Canadiens, spoke with journalists on Monday, a few days before the draft.

Photo Pierre-Paul Poulin

Vincent Lecavalier, special adviser to hockey operations at the Canadiens, spoke with journalists on Monday, a few days before the draft.

At the time of drafting the former Océanic de Rimouski, the Lightning was in its sixth season of activity. The formation had participated in only one elimination round. And the Tampa-area hockey market was far from developed as it is today.

Therefore, the reflectors weren’t on him like they would have been on Shane Wright, Juraj Salfkovsky or Logan Cooley in Montreal.

“I found myself in an organization that was not too winning. It allowed them to be patient with me the first year, said Lecavalier. It’s not easy being number one and having outsiders asking you questions every day, but you have to live with it and grow with it. »

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A call to the Ontarian

Like Wright, Lecavalier had been tipped to be the top of the class for several months when the auction began on the floor of Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo on June 27, 1998.

In his capacity as special advisor to hockey operations for the Canadiens, Lecavalier made a phone call to the Kingston Frontenacs forward to share his experience.

“I wanted to understand the young man more and how he handled this situation during the year. I think he did it well, he said. I learned a lot about him. He is a good person with high standards. »

The work begins

Stanley Cup champion, scorer of 421 goals, including 52 which earned him the Maurice-Richard trophy at the end of the 2006-2007 campaign, Lecavalier offered the following advice to the young Ontarian.

“Whether you’re the first or the 200e, the goal of all drafted players is to one day carve out a position in the NHL. Being a first-round pick just gives you the advantage of possibly having a quicker opportunity to do it,” he said.

“So savor the moment, but the very next day you have to get to work,” he continued.

A piece of advice that applies to all those who will hear their name, Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, at the Bell Centre.

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