EL SEGUNDO, Calif.
The future of two NHL teams depended on one small piece of paper, which had been inscribed with the name Trevor Lewis, then folded, initialed and placed in the pocket of one team's general manager.
Lewis, a Murray resident, figured to be among the players chosen in the first two rounds of the league's entry draft on June 24, but he ultimately turned into the linchpin of a blockbuster trade.
It was unusual for Lewis, a lightly regarded prospect until recently, to be considered the major player in a big-time draft deal. And it was also strange considering that Lewis is from Utah, which traditionally does not have strong ties to the NHL.
That could change soon. The Los Angeles Kings drafted Lewis in the first round, and on Friday made the unexpected move of signing him to a three-year, entry-level contract. He had been expected to play at least one year at the University of Michigan before turning pro.
"I am very excited about the opportunity to begin my professional hockey career," Lewis said in a statement released by the Kings. "It has been my lifelong dream since I laced up my first pair of skates."
As draft day approached, Kings general
manager Dean Lombardi mulled a proposed deal with the Minnesota Wild, one in which the Kings would give up Pavol Demitra, arguably their most talented forward, in exchange for Minnesota prospect Patrick O'Sullivan and the Wild's No. 17 overall pick.
After much deliberation, Lombardi decided that he would make the controversial move, but only if Lewis, a 19-year-old center and the most valuable player of the junior-level United States Hockey League, was still available at No. 17.
"That's how highly we thought of him,'' Lombardi said. "We weren't going to make that trade for just any player in that [draft] spot. [Lewis] was a guy we had at the top of our list."
Before the draft, Lombardi told Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough that he had a specific player in mind for the No. 17 spot, and tentatively agreed to the trade, pending that the player - Lewis - was still available.
"[Risebrough] didn't really like that,'' Lombardi said. "I didn't want to tell him who we wanted to select, and he said, 'How do I know you're not just going to back out?' So I told him I had an idea.''
Lombardi tore off a piece of paper, wrote down Lewis' name, folded it and told Risebrough to initial it.
"I said, 'If I call off the trade, I'll show you the name of the kid who got picked,' " Lombardi said.
With the tentative deal in place, Lombardi waited anxiously, and when San Jose chose defenseman Ty Wishart with the 16th pick, the deal went down and Kings management celebrated.
"When they called my name, it was kind of a shock and a thrill at the same time,'' Lewis said. "I was just focusing on walking onto the stage, because I didn't want to fall down the stairs.''
Until Friday, however, Lewis' short-term plans didn't involve the franchise that coveted him so much.
As late as Tuesday, Lewis said he expected to enroll at Michigan in the fall.
His rights would have remained with the Kings throughout his college career because the NHL, unlike Major League Baseball, allows teams to maintain the rights to draft picks that attend college instead of signing. That the Kings chose to sign Lewis speaks to how much progress he made in the last year.
That's mostly because Lewis came onto the NHL's radar late. A coaching change at Lewis' USHL team in Des Moines, Iowa, led to increased playing time, and an improved workout regimen allowed Lewis to pack on an extra 10 to 12 pounds. Last season, Lewis finished second in the league with 75 points in 56 games.
"We'd seen him play the year before in the USHL and he really hadn't caught many people's attention,'' said Al Murray, the Kings' director of amateur scouting. "He was an average player on a poor team. But right from the beginning of this year . . . he caught everyone's eye as a guy who had really matured as a player.
"When we watched their games, he was the best player on the ice on a lot of nights. Night after night, with and without the puck, he was an elite player.''
Lewis, along with 30 of the Kings' other top prospects, spent this week in Los Angeles at the team's development camp, and, with proper progress, he might have a chance to crack the NHL in two or three years.
The development camp was a big step for Lewis. He fared well among the pool of players that will be competing for roster sports in the NHL in coming years and well enough to earn a contract from the Kings instead of heading to college.
"It's an honor just to be here,'' Lewis said. "It's a great chance to show people in the organization what I can do and try to make a good impression. It's a privilege to be here. After the first couple of skates, I felt like I was right there with the rest of the guys, so I have pretty good confidence right now.''
Lewis impressed the Kings with his strong skating and mature game, particularly on defense, and team officials raved about his strong character and his potential as a team leader.
"If you know hockey, and you appreciate the defensive side as well as offense, he's going to stand out for you. He's a tremendous two-way player,'' said Murray, who added that Lewis compares favorably with Rod Brind'Amour, the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes.
"We've heard nothing but positives as far as his competitiveness, character and leadership skills,'' Murray said.
Just as important to Lombardi, Lewis also seems to be a quality person. He won the USHL's Curt Hammer Award, for the player who shows the best citizenship. Character is important to Lombardi, the Kings' first-year GM, and after the Demitra trade, he has staked a big part of his future on Lewis.
"I'm excited,'' Lewis said, "but I know I'll have some big shoes to fill.''
Of Note: Utah Native Trevor Lewis
A piece of paper containing only the secretly scribbled name of the fast-rising prospect from Murray was the key to a blockbuster trade on the day of the NHL draft
* Signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings on Friday and is expected to begin his pro career in the junior-level Ontario Hockey League this fall.
* Participated this week in the Kings' summer development camp, a showcase for 31 of the top prospects in the
* Drafted, with the 17th overall pick, by the Kings after a draft-day trade last month. The Kings acquired the pick, and forward Patrick O'Sullivan, from Minnesota for forward Pavol Demitra.