Vincent Lecavalier evolves in the shadows with the Canadian, but he is not idle for all that.

Since January, the special adviser to Kent Hughes has been preparing for the important draft that awaits the Canadian in a few months, during which the organization could choose twice among the first 15 hopefuls.

The former glory of the Tampa Bay Lightning analyzes the game of the fifty best hopes, from his home in Florida, by keeping well away from any outside opinion, so as to form his own opinion.

“There are always little things that you can miss on video, but with my experience of last year’s draft, you still see 95% of the behavior of the player on the ice without moving and you can see more matches and situations,” he told La Presse over the phone in recent days, between two family ski sessions in Colorado during spring break.

Lecavalier, inducted Friday into the Lightning Hall of Fame along with Phil Esposito and Martin St-Louis after amassing 874 points in 1,037 games in Tampa, isn’t content to watch one or two games from each prospect.

“The hardest part is making comparisons between players from different leagues,” he said. You have to know how to evaluate the youngster who plays in Europe with men in Europe compared to those in the junior ranks here, for example. »

After analyzing the game of these 50 players, Lecavalier will travel to Basel, Switzerland next month to attend the World Under-18 Championship.

“I’m going to spend the ten days of the tournament with Kent,” explained Lecavalier. Most of the guys we are interested in will be there. The evaluation will be more precise because they will all be together on the same ice, at the same age, in a similar level. There might be small changes to our listings. »

Lecavalier had an active role to play in the 2022 draft in Montreal. The Canadian picked up Juraj Slafkovsky (1st), Filip Mesar (26th), Owen Beck (33rd) and Lane Hutson (62nd), among others. Our man already knew them inside out.

“Kent [Hughes] started last year by sending me names. Not just prospects, but also potential players to acquire in trades, says Lecavalier. He was content to give me the names, without telling me anything else so as not to influence me. [For the draft], I started with five or six guys, but the more I saw, the more I wanted to see more. I took a liking to it. I showed up at meetings, I felt prepared. »

The main qualities that Vincent Lecavalier looks for in young players? “There are some differences from organization to organization, but for me determination is important. Will he look for the puck in the corners? Does he stay on the periphery where he carries the puck inside where it hurts to make things work? Does it fade in sets? But intelligence on the ice remains paramount. He has to make the right decisions with and without the puck. »

Vincent Lecavalier also does not want his judgment to be altered by the statistics put forward in the first phase of his analysis.

“I can use them later, but I want to keep a fresh look at the beginning. I will still ask for some information from time to time though: how many number one centers under 6′ are there in the NHL? How many defensive backs under 6’1”? I want to at least have some general tendencies. »

The Canadiens’ first overall pick in 2022 probably wasn’t aware of it, but he was being watched closely by Lecavalier in the first half of the season. It was one of the main projects of the special adviser to Kent Hughes.

Lecavalier is well placed to understand Slafkovsky and his challenges. First overall choice of the NHL in 1998 with a physique comparable to that of the Slovak, although a little less beefy, the Quebecer amassed only 28 points, including 13 goals, in 82 games in his first season in the National League, at 18 years old. He went through ups and downs for the next three seasons, before taking off in earnest at 22, after a modest season of just 37 points.

“The first year is not easy. People can tell he’s 6’4 and weighs 240 lbs, he’s 18 the same. He has an apprenticeship to do. In addition, he was switching from Europe to North American style. He had to learn to follow the right lines on the ice, with and without the puck. He had a lot to take in at once. »

Lecavalier admits he sometimes felt like a dog bowling with the Lightning at age 18. “I had no idea what it was like, playing in the NHL. Constancy can take six, seven or eight years to obtain. At 18, I wasn’t making the right decisions with the puck. I used to in the junior ranks try to outmaneuver everyone at the blue lines. »

Our man did not take long to be lectured. “At one point, in my fifth game, I think, my winger Sandy McCarthy got mad and he told me pretty curtly to ship the puck to him faster. It surprised me. I almost had tears in my eyes. »

Slafkovsky, 10 points in 39 games at the time of the injury, and also the only full-time 2022 player in the NHL, sometimes felt like he was thinking on the ice. With reason. He had instructions to follow while waiting for the automatisms to be acquired.

“Where do you stand in the neutral zone when you don’t have the puck? And when you come out of the corner, what space do you place yourself in after giving the puck to one of your players? There are a lot of gray areas in hockey. Kent and Adam give her specific things to do to learn. »

The injury allows Slafkovsky to learn with some hindsight. “He analyzes every game on video to learn exactly what to do on the ice. He has talent, he’s big, he’s strong, he skates, but it takes time. »

We ask Vincent Lecavalier to name the first CH hope that comes to mind. “[Lane] Hutson,” he replies spontaneously. He’s so smart, he’s gifted. It was absolutely crazy at the three-on-three development camp last summer. You would have put anyone in the National League on the ice and they would have dominated. His brain works differently.

“What he is doing at 18 in the NCAA [44 points in 34 games, finalist for the Hobey-Baker Trophy awarded to the most valuable player] is incredible, continues Lecavalier. Besides, he still has a teenage body. He’s not a man yet, that’s what’s exciting. He will become physically stronger. »

Lecavalier saw many of his games on video before the draft and loved the young man, but we almost waited two rounds before choosing him. We even bet on Filip Mesar and Owen Beck before him.

“At the end of the day, we made an incredible decision, we all loved him a lot, but how many 5’8” 150lb defensemen are there in the National League? It’s scary. You can’t have four like that on a team. But he’s so smart he can make a difference. He would probably come out in the top 15 if the repechage was to be redone. »

The former Lightning captain realized through working there that the draft was an inexact science. “There are guys I loved before the draft, we missed them because other clubs picked them before and it’s not going well for them at all this year. It is very difficult to assess, especially at 17 years old. »

Lecavalier enjoys his duties and resists the temptation to project himself into the future. “My kids are still at an age where I don’t want to look too far ahead. I have a role that I enjoy and I love my regular conversations with Kent and Jeff. »