Entering the 2010 draft, the Lightning were ranked in the bottom third in the league in Hockey’s Future’s organizational rankings, but with a new general manager in Steve Yzerman comes a fresh perspective, and the Lightning did well to address one of their most pressing prospect needs: high-end talent. Though the Lightning made few picks that can be considered ‘safe,’ this draft was a bold step towards legitimacy for Yzerman and company.
Brett Connolly, LW – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
6’2, 191 lbs
b. May 2nd, 1992
Drafted: 6th overall (1st round)
In Brett Connolly, the Lightning add a top-flight forward with the potential to become a cornerstone offensive player. An intriguing package of skill, speed, and hockey sense, Connolly has the rare ability to dictate the play with the puck, making decisions at high-speed while remaining one step ahead of the defense. He also shows a willingness to go to the tough areas of the ice and outwork defenders, making him much more than a one-trick perimeter pony, but he will still need to put on some more size in order to handle NHL competition. Connolly is equal parts sniper and playmaker and in the 2008-09 season posted well-rounded numbers of 30 goals and 30 assists in 65 games, becoming the first 16-year-old to score 30 goals in a season since Patrick Marleau did so in 1995-96.
Though at first glance Connolly seems like a sure thing, his recurring hip injuries have created an air of skepticism around him. After being named to Canada’s U-18 team for the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, Connolly suffered an injury to his right hip and played through it to finish the competition. He then returned to Prince George for training camp and while he was able to suit up for the season’s first seven games, he aggravated the injury and was sidelined for what looked to be a multi-month rehabilitation. However, during November, Connolly returned to the Cougars’ lineup in an effort to spark his struggling team. Though his leadership was admirable, he ended up injuring his other hip in the process, which sidelined him until March. As a whole, Connolly only suited up for 16 games during the 2009-10 season, posting 19 points. He was also forced to miss the CHL Top Prospects Game and the World Junior Championships, where he may have had a roster spot had he been healthy.
Connolly is one of the purest offensive talents in the draft, but there is still plenty of risk in selecting him. The hope is that his injuries will be limited to this season, rather than long-term concerns, and that he will develop unimpeded into the top-line NHL forward that he is capable of being.
In tracing his lineage to father Jeff Beukeboom, who won four Stanley Cups and established himself as one of the league’s most feared defenseman, analysts have been quick to point to bloodlines as an indicator of Brock’s potential for greatness. For his part, Brock Beukeboom is doing his best to establish himself as capable of standing on his own. Standing a few inches shorter than his 6’5 father, Beukeboom may not be the same intimidating, physical force as his dad, but illustrates much more potential in his all-around game, and does still bring some grit to the table. Though he’s only been a defenseman for two years, Beukeboom is capable of clearing the net and playing a hard-nosed game along the boards. While his positioning needs some work, that’s to be expected, and should improve as he continues to gain experience in the role. Beukeboom intrigues with his ability to join the offense, where he makes use of his cannon shot to contribute. He needs to work on his agility and decision-making ability with the puck in particular, but he’s a hard worker with plenty of room for improvement. He safely projects as a bottom-pairing, two-way defenseman, but there’s plenty of untapped upside in his unfamiliarity with his position and his all around package of skills.
A bruising physical blueliner, Gudas first gained some recognition after performing well at the Kings’ annual prospect development camp last summer. Entering this season, Gudas had played a handful of games in two seasons with Kladno of the Czech Republic and was somewhat of an unknown entity, but having been selected in the import draft by Everett, he chose to come across the pond to try his hand at junior hockey. As a 19-year-old, Gudas was a force on the ice, intimidating and annoying his opponents and establishing himself as one of the hardest hitters in the WHL. He’s not the most creative player, but he’s a capable skater and passer, posting 37 points in 65 games last season. His aggressive approach also helps create space for teammates.
He’s not the biggest player, but plays the game like he’s made of steel. His transition to North American hockey has been successful so far, but being that Gudas is already 20-years-old, he will likely be playing professional hockey next year, and will need to bring the same tenacity and fearless approach to the rink every night in order to continue improving. He has the physical ability to be a solid bottom-pairing contributor, with an outside shot of being a middle-pairing guy should his offensive game continue to develop.
Janosik is a long-term project, but there’s plenty of upside to the young offensive defenseman. His shot lacks intimidating power, but he’s a capable powerplay quarterback nonetheless, adept at rushing the puck up the ice with speed and making concise passes to jumpstart the offense. He has difficulty handling opposing forwards due to his lack of strength and does not have the stick skills to compensate, but should he put on some bulk, he may be serviceable in his own end down the line.
Janosik will not survive professional hockey unless he commits to getting stronger, but being that he’s only 17 and 176 lbs, the 18-year-old has plenty of time to grow and room to add size. Look for the Lightning to take the patient route with the young Slovak, giving him time in both the Q and in minor-professional hockey to develop his defensive game and work on his shot. He’s very much a raw talent, but his skill with the puck is an appealing foundation to work with.
Another slightly-built offensive defenseman, Schemitsch was a diamond-in-the-rough addition for the Attack this year, joining the team as a free agent and finishing the year tops on the squad in scoring amongst defenseman with 40 points in 62 games.
Schemitsch’s main strength is puck distribution. He’s capable of long, quality breakout passes and good puck movement in the offensive zone. He does have a tendency to get overwhelmed by forecheckers, which has much to do with his reluctance to play physically. Though he has a large frame, he does not utilize it. He’s soft in his own zone, playing passive defense along the boards and showing an unwillingness to battle opposing forwards in front of the net. Despite this, he’s not a complete defensive liability, playing well in one-on-one situations thanks to good agility and stick skills. Putting on some muscle would do wonders for his confidence and help to improve his play both with and without the puck. He has the potential to be a middle-pairing two-way defenseman, but that’s only if he gets to a point where he’s willing to take and give body contact, otherwise he risks stagnating in his development.
James Mullin, C – Shattuck-St. Mary’s Sabres (USHS)
5’11, 157 lbs
b. February 24th, 1992
Drafted: 118th overall (4th round)
Mullin is a quick, offensively-gifted forward that, like most players of his stature, has a tough road ahead of him to make it to the NHL. Mullin led the prestigious Shattuck-St. Mary’s Sabres in scoring with 32 goals and 72 points in 55 games during the 2009-10 season. He has quality speed, a hard shot, and good playmaking ability, but he has not been tested against tough competition. The next step for Mullin will be proving himself at the USHL level, as he has committed to play for the Fargo Storm for the next season. He will play his college hockey at the University of Miami (Ohio) starting with the 2011-12 season, and will likely complete all four years there in order to put on size and acclimate himself to playing against larger, older players.
He’s very much a boom-or-bust pick, who with some patience and quality development, he could end up on a scoring line in the NHL.
Brendan O’Donnell, C – Winnipeg South Blues (MJHL)
6’1, 200 lbs
b. June 25th, 1992
Drafted: 156th overall (6th round)
The first of only two MJHL players selected in the 2010 draft, O’Donnell made a name for himself at the World Junior-A Challenge, winning a silver medal with Canada West, and at the CJHL Top Prospects Game, where he scored five points to lead his team to an 8-1 victory. He was named the MJHL rookie of the year after scoring 61 points in 53 games for Winnipeg and leading his team to the playoffs, where they were swept in the first round by the Winnipeg Saints. He’s a well-rounded player who’s capable at both ends of the rink and also shows good agility and strength, but like Mullin, has not been able to play against a high level of competition. His next test will be the BCHL, where he’ll play next year with the Penticton Vees.
Ultimately, he’ll end up at North Dakota, where he’ll likely spend four years developing and attempting to earn a contract. A reasonable expectation, should he reach is potential, is that of a third-line center, but it’s difficult to project what type of player he’ll become until he shows what he’s capable of against tougher opponents.
Formerly drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 draft by Chicago, Zahn is a known commodity. His playing style seems a far cry from first round pick status in any league, but he was selected 14th overall by Saskatoon in the 2005 WHL Bantam Draft. He’s an athletic player who’s solidly built, but aside from getting involved physically, there’s not much to get excited about regarding Zahn’s game. His foot speed leaves much to be desired and although he’s capable of getting the puck out of his zone, he’ll never be mistaken for an offensive defenseman. Being that Zahn is 20-years-old, it seems likely that the Lightning drafted him to provide depth to AHL affiliate Norfolk’s blueline, as he’ll be eligible to play there this season. There’s some untapped potential in his athleticism and formerly high draft status, but it seems like Zahn will have to fight his way to the NHL by working hard and bruising his knuckles on a regular basis.