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Lightning have high hopes for Lecavalier
Posted: Saturday June 27, 1998 06:09 PM
BUFFALO, New York (CNN/SI) -- High expectations.
Vincent Lecavalier, the first player take in Saturday's NHL Entry Draft, has already been labeled as future superstar.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are counting on Lecavalier to turn things around. He's even been compared to Mario Lemieux, the former star of the Pittsburgh Penguins who's about the same size and played a similar style as Lecavalier.
Somehow, Michael Jordan's name popped up. Yes, that Michael Jordan.
Lecavalier was a member of the Lightning for about 30 minutes Saturday when new team owner Arthur Williams said the baby-faced, 18-year-old center could become the Michael Jordan of hockey.
Talk about pressure.
"It's good pressure," Lecavalier said. "He just drafted me, and he likes me very much. I think he's a very good man. I'm just going to go to Tampa Bay and do my best and see what happens."
Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. The Lightning have been in the NHL for only six seasons. So maybe draft day is a little early for anyone to start thinking about Lecavalier's name on the Stanley Cup.
"He's absolutely our future," Williams said. "He's the poster boy. He's the person that we sort of build around. He has that kind of talent and that kind of ability. Thank the Lord we had the No. 1 pick."
Lecavalier dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season and was considered the No. 1 prospect by most teams. Last season, he had 44 goals and 71 assists while playing for the Rimouski Oceanic.
The 6-foot-4 Lecavalier needs to add muscle to his 180-pound frame, but he's a good skater and considered a great playmaker. Whether he can make an immediate impact with the Lightning won't be decided until training camp.
"He has to work like everybody else," said his agent, Bob Sauve. "He's going to be a great player just being himself and getting to the top of his game. I don't want to compare him to the big guns. I don't think it's fair."
One thing is certain: He'll become very wealthy in the coming months after signing an NHL contract. Lecavalier's first chore will be finding a spot on the Lightning's roster. If he's not ready, he'll probably return for another season in the QMJHL.
"I had a meeting with them [Friday]," Lecavalier said. "They guaranteed me nothing. ... I never went against guys in the NHL. I'm going to do my best. If I feel I'm not good enough, then I think I would be better off to play junior."
Joe Thornton, the first pick overall last year of the Boston Bruins, struggled through his first season. He had three goals and four assists in 55 games last year after signing a base salary of $925,000.
Tampa Bay was in shambles under an unstable ownership group for the last several seasons. Last year, the Lightning finished last in the Atlantic Division with a 17-55-10 record, 19 points from leaving the basement.
Williams, a retired insurance magnate, took control of a team in May and promised to make it a winner. The Lightning traded for Washington Capitals backup goaltender Bill Ranford last week and began building a foundation.
The fresh start now includes Lecavalier.
"He's an 18-year-old who has good maturity," Lightning coach Jacques Demers said. "But he's still a boy -- with tremendous talent. We have to make sure as an organization that we don't screw up. And we won't."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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