In the midst of a franchise-record scoring binge, Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier was paid probably the ultimate compliment recently.
Pat Burns, the former NHL coach who is battling back from cancer and is now a pro scout for the Devils, said, "If I was to start a hockey franchise and I had the first pick overall, I'd take Vinny."
With 21 points during an eight-game streak completely consisting of multi-point outings, Lecavalier overtook Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg for the early-season scoring lead. He was recognized by the league, which awards the week's top three stars each Monday. Lecavalier has been the No. 1 selection two weeks running.
The Quebec native is no stranger to the spotlight. As the first overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1998, he was highly scrutinized like all No. 1 choices early in his career. He became the youngest captain in league history at the time at age 19 years and 11 months, but it got rocky between he and his coach, John Tortorella, who eventually stripped the captaincy when Lecavalier held out over a contract dispute at the start of the 2001-02 season.
Moving past the very public spat, Lecavalier hushed critics by helping to lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004. He scored nine goals and 16 points in 23 postseason games while teammate Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and veteran Dave Andreychuk captained the team.
Lecavalier was just getting started. He was named MVP of Team Canada in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, which his country won. He was on the Team Canada roster for the 2006 Olympics, set a Lightning record for points last year with 108 and won the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy by leading the league in goals with a career-high 52.
And the 27-year-old, already with almost 650 games under his belt, just now is moving into the prime years of his career.
Besides being very talented and fulfilling the projections that made him a No. 1 choice, Lecavalier is aided by his size (6-feet-4, 222 pounds), the crackdown on obstruction and the fact his coach gives him tons of ice time. Assuming he remains healthy, Lecavalier should be a dominant force in the league for at least the next seven or eight years, if not more.
Now back to Burns' statement – the No. 1 choice to start a franchise from scratch.
Really, it comes down to making a choice not so much about the player, but rather what position is most important in starting a team. The three most important positions on the ice are goalie, No. 1 center and No. 1 defense.
And with all due respect to defensemen, it comes down to going with your head – No. 1 goalie – or going with your heart – No. 1 centerman.
In goal, it's hard to argue that Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils still is the goalie you'd want if you had to win one game. But that's not the question here. Again, no disrespect, but Brodeur is 35 years old. He'll probably play until at least age 40, but if we are starting a franchise and are going with a goalie, he has to be younger.
The group of young goalies who have shined so far at some point in their early NHL careers includes, in no particular order, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward, Niklas Backstrom, Pascal Leclaire, Kari Lehtonen and Ryan Miller.
There is another group of goalies that wouldn't necessarily be classified as young, but these names, too, would have to be considered in starting a new team: Roberto Luongo, Miikka Kiprusoff, Rick DiPietro, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marty Turco, Evgeni Nabokov and Tomas Vokoun.
On defense, you might get an argument from Anaheim in favor of Chris Pronger or likely-returning Scott Niedermayer, but Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings is still the minister of defense, especially under the new rules that accentuate skating and skill over punishing hits from the backline.
With age again being a factor, however, Lidstrom takes a back seat to possible franchise starters in Dion Phaneuf, Jack Johnson, Andrej Meszaros. A player in his prime to consider, too, is Zdeno Chara.
At forward, you've got some tough choices. The obvious one is Sidney Crosby. He replaced Lecavalier as the youngest NHL captain (19 years, 8 months) when bestowed as the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins in May. He already has won a scoring title and a league MVP award. And he's just 20 years old.
Others for consideration include Rick Nash, Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny, Jason Spezza, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Radulov and Patrick Kane. Off the board? How about current Canadian junior star John Tavares?
With those names on the board, it's time for a final decision. Burns goes with Lecavalier. For me, throw out the defense, and the goalies are too close to call. So that means starting the franchise with a forward. Crosby is the choice.