Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Some Thoughts on the Upcoming Draft

The finals are trickling down to NBC’s preferred money shot of Sidney Crosby raising the Stanley Cup over his head one more time.  Once that happens (which should be sometime in the next three weeks based on the Finals scheduling) it’s time to truly look at the off-season. And what an off-season it will be for the Lightning!  Between free agents, dwindling salary cap space, a possible expansion draft and a couple of restricted free agents that other teams may actually tender a contract to, Steve Yzerman isn’t going to be spending too much time on a golf course this summer.

 First up, live from the First Niagara Center in beautiful Buffalo, New York, the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.  Not only is it the day that hundreds of young Canadians realize their lifelong dream of getting drafted by a NHL team, it’s also one of the last moments for General Managers to meet in one room and talk about swapping each others bad contracts.

If things hold as they are now the Tampa Bay Lightning will be drafting 27th, just after the Washington Capitals and before the St. Louis Blues.  The downside of a successful team is that it’s kind of hard to get excited about the draft. Really, the only thing that I’m looking forward to is if anyone drafted shakes up BoltProspects rankings.

They will most likely draft a kid that will spend at least one more year in junior hockey and then spend a year or two in Syracuse (or maybe Kalamazoo!). By the time they’re ready to crack the NHL squad who knows what the team will look like? Steven Stamkos could be enjoying his third season of missing the playoffs with Toronto.  Nikita Kucherov could be earning tens of millions of mob-related money in the KHL.  Ben Bishop could be backstopping the Las Vegas Aces to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Draft = NHL Combine = Awesome Photos like this. #NeverForget

That’s why, more than any other league, teams should draft the best available player, not for any special needs.  Yes, the Lightning might be light on defensemen in the system right now, but will they be in three years?  Who knows?  Take the best talent and let the cards fall as they may.

Would Mr. Yzerman be tempted to leap up in the draft this year?  He has more reason this year than any other during his regime.  Losing Steven Stamkos in free agency would leave a glaring hole in the top six and he has a pretty lucrative trade chip in his pocket in Jonathan Drouin.  Edmonton is known to be interested in moving down from their spot at number four in the draft.  Would they take the talented, but mercurial Drouin for that spot?  Would Matthew Tkachuk, Alex Nylander or Jesse Puljujarvi be worth it to the Lightning?

In all likelihood Mr. Yzerman will not trade up. In fact, he is more likely to trade down like he did last year. If it looks like their player is going to be available in the second round why not trade down and pick up a couple of assets?  In order to do that, I think he would have to work out a deal with someone who has a top five pick in the second round.  If you look at last season they traded out of the 28th spot for two second round picks.  They then used one of those picks to take Mitchell Stephens third in the second round.  In essence they moved down 5 spots.

Could they have drafted Stephens in the first round?  Of course, but then they wouldn’t have picked up an extra second round draft pick.  Mr. Yzerman likes to acquire assets and if he can get the player he wants AND an extra draft pick, chances are he’s going to do it.

The Lightning have held the 27th pick once before during the Yzerman Era.  In 2011 they drafted a young Russian who had been playing in the OHL by the name of Vladislav Namestnikov.  He was the first of three Russians drafted by Mr. Yzerman that year being followed by Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov.  Oh and he rounded off his day by drafting a Czech kid by the name of Ondrej Palat in the 7th round in what might have been the best draft in team history.

Somehow he looks older in this draft photothan he does now. #RussianBieber

If he does decide to keep the pick, who are they going to draft?  I don’t really know. Once you get past Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine I have no idea how good the rest of the draft is.  So to get a gauge on how the Lightning might go I went to the internet and delved into the wonderful world of mock drafts or as I like to say - it's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

Kid, I've seen drafts from all over the galaxy and there is no way Yzerman is trading up.

Let’s take a look at what some of the sites had to say about who the Lightning might draft:

Allen Mitchell - The Bleacher Report

Nathan Bastian - C/RW Mississauga Steelheads

 A 6’4” 200 lb forward who is a two-way forward?  Well that sounds intriguing.  While he might not light up the scoreboard he sounds like the responsible sort of player that would thrive under Coach Cooper.  A question mark could be his size.  He is one of the bigger forwards in the OHL and uses his size to gain control of the puck.  Will that skill transfer to the NHL when he’s battling people his own size or bigger?

Adam Kimelman -

Vitaly Abramov - Gatineau Olympiques

Russian - check
Undersized - check
Pretty good skill set - check
Sounds like a dream pick for Mr. Yzerman.  A fast skater with a good shot is always worthy of a first round pick.  If he’s available at 27 I think it would be hard for the Lightning to say no.

Consensus - My NHL Draft

Samuel Girard - Shawinigan Cataractes

Keeping with the undersized theme, but switching from offense to defense, Girard is a puck moving defenseman with strong skating skills and “excellent vision”.  At 5’10” he won’t tower over opponents like the rest of the Lightning’s blue liners several report mention his “strong lower” body and willingness to play the body.  After another season of watching the Lightning struggle to pass it out of the defensive zone it would be nice to see someone other than Victor Hedman who can actually skate it out.

Bill Placzek -

Pascal Laberge - Victoriaville Tigers

Laberge sounds like a more traditional offensive player with decent size, shifty skills and an elusive shot. When reading scouting reports the usual draft clichés seem to apply - needs to get stronger, needs to be more responsible in his own end.  His ability to make plays and willingness to get in the corners to dig out pucks could make him an intriguing pick up.  A high-skill grinder could fit in well if paired up with a pure-goal scoring sniper.

Craig Button - TSN

Will Bitten - Flint Firebirds

Another under-6’ tall center who plays a strong two-way game.  It seems that the prognosticators thing Mr. Yzerman has a type of player he likes.  I do enjoy hearing the term “tenacious” when describing a forward playing defense, but do you take someone who sounds like a 3rd line center with a first round, even if it’s late in the first round, pick?  He sounds like someone who will be available in the second round.

It looks like there is absolutely zero consensus on who the Lightning will pick at 27.  Which is normal for a pick that late in the draft.  I’m sure the organization itself is still hammering out their final short list of players that they want.  Personally I would think they lean towards picking up an offensive player in the first round as there seems to be a deeper well of talent than for blue liners.

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