Lightning 2009 draft review

By Kyle Kujawa

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in a position to make a splash with the second overall pick. Despite some speculation that they might trade the pick depending on who the New York Islanders selected, Tampa Bay kept it and took the hulking Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman.

The Lightning did make some noise later on, when they made a swap with Detroit to land an additional first-round pick. They used this pick on Carter Ashton, a power forward from Canada.

Even outside of Hedman, the Lightning favored size throughout the draft, selecting four players over 6’2. They continued to select very heavily from the CHL, as four of their picks will be seen in the OHL next season, and one in the WHL. The Lightning made seven selections in all. They targeted three wingers, two defensemen, and two goaltenders.

Victor Hedman, D – Modo (SEL)
1st round, 2nd overall
6’6, 220 pounds

After John Tavares went first overall to the New York Islanders, there was very little doubt what the Lightning would do with this pick. Hedman has been a blip on the scouting radar since he was 15, and was considered up until the very moment the first selection was made to have a chance of being the first player selected. He became one of the youngest players in Swedish history to play in the Elite League, establishing himself as a regular before he was 17. He has long been considered the Swedish version of Chris Pronger, a strong comparison for such a young player.

Hedman feels his two full seasons playing against men in the SEL has prepared him for the NHL, but knows he has some work to do.

"I think it helped me a lot playing two years in the men’s league," Hedman, the SEL Rookie of the Year, said at the draft. "But I know what it’s all about but the NHL, it’s another level, and I need to bring my game to another level as well."

Hedman has all the tools to become a top-notch defenseman in the NHL. He has the size and strength to play in the NHL today. His mobility is perhaps his most intriguing attribute, as he’s one of the smoothest skaters in the draft. He has an impressive skill set, highlighted by his puck-moving skills and his willingness to take the puck deep in the offensive zone. Hedman has a hard and accurate shot, and has had no trouble putting up big offensive numbers at any level so far. He’s recently shown more of an edge to his game, mixing it up and elevating his physical game when he needs to.

However, he does not play physical all the time, something that he could do more frequently given his size and strength. He’s also prone to take some risks in the defensive zone, but tends to keep his game simple, using his reach and stick work to break up plays in his own zone.

Hedman is likely to find himself in the NHL next season.

"My goal is to play with the Tampa Bay Lightning next season," he said. "I’m going to work hard this summer to make the team next year. I’m looking forward to helping the team."

Carter Ashton, RW – Lethbridge (WHL)

1st round, 29th overall
6’3, 205 pounds

Tampa Bay swung a trade to trade up for Ashton, a pair of picks to Detroit for No. 29. They used that selection on Ashton, a goal-scoring power forward out of the WHL.

Ashton was one of a handful of players selected at this year’s draft with good bloodlines. Carter is the son of Brent Ashton, who played 998 games in the NHL throughout his career. He brings many of the same characteristics that his father demonstrated — determination, and a big-league shot.

"One thing I like to do is shoot the puck and success has come this year and I’ve worked on it over the years," Ashton said about the shot that helped him score 30 goals this season.

The lanky Ashton has a natural touch around the net and the ability to score from anywhere in the offensive zone. His shot is NHL-caliber right now, but he’s very good using his size and reach in front of net to score from there as well. His instincts in the offensive zone are strong, and he is a capable setup man when he doesn’t have a shot.

Ashton isn’t the greatest skater, but it’s something he’s been working on, as he told Hockey’s Future. "As a bigger guy I was always lanky and not the fastest on my team. So to play at the next level, you have to improve your skating. I’ve been working on it and stuff and I’ve come a long way."

His play in his own zone could also use a little bit more development. But he expects to have more time in the WHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I feel I have to grow into my body," said Ashton. "I’m not going to pinpoint the year but I feel I do have to grow into my body and strengthen it some more."

For the Lightning, who spent many years drafting defensemen with size, Ashton offers the power forward element that is seen less in Tampa Bay’s system.

"With my size, I like to utilize that and I’m definitely kind of see myself as a power forward," Ashton described. "I like the corners and like to drive the puck wider than that. I’m not necessarily going to toe drag but I like to score goals down low."

Richard Panik, RW – Trinec (CZE)
2nd round, 52nd overall
6’2, 203 pounds

Tampa Bay swung for the fences with their second round pick, selecting the first Slovakian of the draft in Panik. Before the season, Panik was considered a first round talent, with some even putting him in the top ten. It’s easy to see why when you look at his raw talent, but his work ethic led to him being taken in the second round.

Panik is an explosive skater with a laser of a shot, drawing some comparisons to fellow Slovakian Marian Hossa. However, Panik grew up idolizing a different play, he said.

"My favorite player is Pavel Bure. Very fast. The Russian Rocket."

Panik shows this kind of flash in his game from time to time. He’s already filled out and he’s tough to separate from the puck. He is most dangerous when he has the puck, as he’s smart and always looking to create. His play without the puck leaves something to be desired. In the offensive zone he is rather opportunistic, gravitating towards scoring areas looking for loose pucks. His defensive play is not always up to snuff, and he’s been criticized in the past for not backchecking.

Scouts took notice of this during the World Junior Championships. Despite a strong performance from his country, Panik was merely used in a secondary role and did not take control like some expected him to. Things didn’t go any better for him back in his own country, where he was used very sparingly in the top Czech league and managed only two points in 15 games.

The Lightning took a risk on Panik here, but it’s still very clear he has the skills to be one of the most offensive players from this draft. He will take his game to North America next season, with the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires. Panik sounds ready to take his game overseas.

"I think I have great shot and skill on offense," he said. "My work is defense."

Alex Hutchings, LW – Barrie (OHL)

4th round, 93rd overall
5’10, 173 pounds

The Lightning continued to focus on offense as they made Hutchings their fourth-round pick. Hutchings is more in the mold of a speedy sniper instead of the power forwards that they had targeted with their previous two picks.

But goal scoring is the emphasis with this pick, for a Tampa Bay team that was bottom five in the league in goals this season. Hutchings led his team in goals each of the past two seasons, and finds that aspect of his game to be a plus for him.

"My strength is just using my speed to my advantage, and my shot off the wing," said Hutchings after being drafted.

Hutchings’ shot makes him dangerous every time he’s on the ice. His wrist shot and snap shot are elite, and he doesn’t miss often, if he’s given the room. Despite being a bit undersized, Hutchings has some grit to his game and doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty. He has the uncanny ability to come out of a scrum with the puck, even if he’s the smallest guy in it.

Hutchings is striving to become a better two-way player.

"Maybe work on the defensive zone coverage, I guess," he said. "I think everyone needs to do that. It’s just something I need to work on to try to complete my game more."

Michael Zador, G – Oshawa (OHL)

5th round, 148th overall
6’2, 172 pounds

Zador made headlines this season when he was one of the key components coming back to Oshawa in the trade that sent John Tavares to London.

Zador was the first goalie selected in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection, and with that comes some pressure on him to perform. He played very sparingly with London , only 11 games in a season and a half. Following his trade to Oshawa, he got more ice time. Despite Oshawa being a weaker team than London, Zador’s numbers actually improved. His GAA stayed roughly the same, but his save percentage rose above 90%.

The native of Toronto had displayed flashes of being able to raise his game to the next level. At 6’2, he has the frame to fill up the net. He displayed above average quickness and athleticism, which allows him some freedom from his technique. He is a butterfly-style goaltender, but could use some more refined training.

He started for Canada at the U-18 World Championship in April. He put up a healthy 93.1% save percentage, but returned from the event with mixed reviews. He had trouble handling shots up high and was guilty of some suspect rebounds.

Zador is a risk right now, but with some confidence and consistency, he could become one of the top goaltenders in the OHL in the next two years.

Jaroslav Janus, G – Erie (OHL)

6th round, 162nd overall
5’11, 192 pounds

The Lightning looked to the OHL for a netminder yet again when they landed the Slovakian import Jaroslav Janus.

A late ’89-born, Janus was eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but was not selected. He was perhaps the victim of bad timing, more than anything else. He came over to North America at the beginning of the season to play for the woeful Erie Otters, and his 4.40 GAA surely did not have scouts lining up to come see him.

However, Janus returned to the OHL this season and improved his numbers significantly in every major category, rising to the top 10 in the league in wins, save percentage, and shutouts. His play was a factor in getting Erie to the playoffs for the first time in several seasons.

It was Janus’ stellar international showing that all but guaranteed his selection his second time through the draft. Janus virtually stole the show for Slovakia at the WJC, playing a large part in Slovakia‘s upsets over Finland and the United States en route to a fourth-place finish. He was named to the media tournament all-star team following his performance.

Janus does not possess great size or quickness, but he is an aggressive goaltender who has no problems coming out of his crease to make himself look bigger. In the WJC, he showed that he will never quit on a shot, making several highlight reel saves in desperation. Perhaps his most outstanding quality is that mental game that scouts try to look for in goalies. He seems to thrive in high-pressure situations and wants nothing more than to play spoiler as the underdog.

Janus can return to Erie next season for an overage campaign, or head to the AHL if Tampa Bay feels the need to fast-track his development.

Kirill Gotovets, D – Shattuck-St. Mary’s (US Prep)

7th round, 175 pounds
5’11, 175 pounds

It’s not hard to figure out how Gotovets was discovered by Tampa Bay. Owner Oren Koules has a son that played alongside Gotovets at Shattuck this past season.

Although, Shattuck St. Mary’s is hardly a remote, unscouted location. The school is famous for its rigorous approach to hockey and academics, and has churned out countless NHL and college stars over the past several seasons. Gotovets was one of three players selected from the school this season — all three of them European.

An undersized defenseman, the native of Minsk, Belarus is a sleek skating offensive defenseman. He shows hockey sense and poise on the ice, as well as an accurate shot from the point. He has strong puck control skills and a crisp outlet pass.

Gotovets recently committed to Cornell University for the upcoming season. He will need to add some bulk during his time there to succeed at the next level.