"Last night I was thinking about playing with the big stars," says Jovanovski. "I was thinking of Sergei Fedorov coming down one-on-one on me. I was thinking of Bob Probert and all the tough guys I'll be playing against." Jovanovski exhales. "But I'm going to have to get used to it."
Jovanovski should have time. Almost all NHL draft choices do, returning to their junior, college or European-club teams for seasoning. The 1993 draft class was an exception. Six of its No. 1's played regularly last season, but that was due as much to the league's rapid expansion—five teams have been added since the 1991-92 season—as to the players' skill.
Jovanovski can score and move the puck to his forwards, he craves the rough stuff, and he has good straightaway speed, but his balance and his turning need work. Torrey rates Jovanovski's chances of going directly to the Panthers, who will be playing their second season in 1994-95, at 50-50. "I've got to make sure there's not too big a burden on him," says Torrey, who built the New York Islander dynasty of the early 1980s around defenseman Denis Potvin, whom he chose with the first pick in 1973. "He doesn't have that much experience. He didn't play hockey until he was 11."
Jovanovski had been a soccer player like his father, Kostadin, who played semipro in Macedonia. He and Liljana immigrated to Canada in 1973. Kostadin had no difficulty getting away for this year's draft; he has been laid off from his job on a General Motors assembly line in Windsor, across the border from Detroit, since last August. Liljana took a week's vacation from her job as a machine operator in a plastics shop.
Jovanovski has spent his entire hockey career in Windsor. With the hometown Spitfires last season he earned the standard OHL stipend of $40 a week. Another $60 for room and board went to pay for his billets, which happened to be provided by his parents. "Ed eats five meals a day," says Kostadin.
Ed has traveled little. He was floored by the number of taxis he saw in New York City during the Stanley Cup finals when he and other top prospects were brought in by the NHL. "New York—the place is a zoo," says Jovanovski, tearing at his steak in Max on Main. "All you hear are people yelling, 'Taxi! Taxi!' " He saw a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, but his big thrill before the draft was appearing en masse with other probable first-round picks on Don Cherry's "Coach's Corner" segment on Hockey Night in Canada. Jovanovski said, "Hi, Mom."
"Hey, Ed's on SportsCenter," a voice calls from the bar, and the family—besides his parents, an aunt, an uncle, a younger brother and a cousin accompanied him to Hartford—troops around the corner to catch a glimpse of the TV in the bar.
This is Jovanovski's SportsCenter moment. Last winter, when Robinson was scoring 30.3 points per game for the Boilermakers, Big Dog had more SportsCenter moments than Chris Berman. For his part, Jovanovski wasn't even invited to try out for the Canadian world junior team in December. But he threw some ferocious checks during the Chrysler Cup Challenge All-Star Game a month later, and suddenly his name was on the tip of hockey men's lips, even if they couldn't pronounce it. (It's Zhoh-van-AHV-skee.)
Torrey wanted "a wheelhorse" on the blue line, but the Panthers also liked Radek Bonk, the prospect top-rated by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. A precocious 18-year-old center from the Czech Republic, Bonk scored 42 goals last season for the Las Vegas Thunder of the International Hockey League. Torrey, however, opted for defense over offense. "Putting on the [Florida] sweater was the greatest birthday present," Jovanovski says. "This is a day I'll never forget. I like being recognized as the No. 1 pick."
"Have you heard of Glenn Robinson?" he is asked.