Less than two weeks after his team lost in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman went back to work at maintaining a strong foundation for his team through the draft. With a young roster on the rise that perhaps arrived as a legitimate contender a year early, Yzerman didn’t have any particular needs to fill at the 2015 NHL Draft. Instead, he replenished his team’s system with players of quality character and skill.
The Lightning acquired the first round pick of the New York Rangers in last year’s Martin St. Louis/Ryan Callahan trade, but opted to drop down when approached by the New York Islanders, who chose Anthony Beauvillier. In return, the Lightning received the 33rd and 72nd overall picks. The team’s own first round pick belonged to Philadelphia as a result of the Braydon Coburn trade. Yzerman also dealt a seventh round selection to the Edmonton Oilers for a seventh round pick in 2016.
With the picks, Yzerman added skilled players in the top three rounds in Mitchell Stephens, defenseman Matthew Spencer, and Memorial Cup hero Anthony Cirelli. In the later rounds, the team made safer selections, opting for grit and goaltending with players like Mathieu Joseph, Bokondji Imama and Alaskan netminder Kris Oldham.
Mitchell Stephens, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
2nd round, 33rd overall
Height: 6-0, Weight: 187 lbs
Stephens isn’t flashy, but he is a safe second round pick who projects at best as a second-line center, but should at least find his way onto the Lightning’s bottom six. He’s a smart defender in his own zone and has an improving offensive game; he finished second in scoring on a subpar Saginaw team with 48 points in 62 games.
He was ranked as a late second to early third round pick by most scouting outlets, but his stock rose quickly with an impressive performance for Canada at the U18 World Junior Championships. Stephens finished 7th in tournament scoring and second on team Canada with 10 points in seven games, and his 10 penalty minutes were the most among the tournament’s top 40 scorers. He was also named the team’s captain.
The Peterborough native is a strong candidate to represent Canada at the World Juniors next season. He has two more years of junior eligibility and will return to Saginaw next season, where he is already an alternate captain.
Stephens spoke with the media following his selection by the Lightning, with some of his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
Matthew Spencer, D, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
2nd round, 44th overall
Height: 6-2, Weight; 203 lbs
A supremely talented skater with decent size, Matt Spencer led Peterborough defensemen in scoring with 30 points (six goals, 24 assists). He has good vision and hockey sense and can be depended upon in all situations.
The Lightning’s scouts would have watched Spencer quite a bit this past season, as his defense partner for most of the year was Dominik Masin, who Tampa selected in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft. Spencer and Masin were a combined minus-28, but the Petes were a rebuilding team.
Spencer also played for the Canadian team at the U18 World Championships, picking up two assists in seven games. The strength of the Lightning’s prospect base is its quality and quantity of defensemen, and the addition of Spencer solidifies that notion. He’ll return to Peterborough next season as an alternate captain after he earned the ‘A’ following last year’s trade deadline.
Dennis Yan, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
3rd round, 64th overall
Height: 6-2, Weight: 184 lbs
Tampa got great value out of its first of two third round picks in American forward Dennis Yan. A number of scouting outlets projected Yan as a second round pick, including TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who had him ranked 38.
He finished second in scoring on Shawinigan—behind Islanders first round pick Anthony Beauvillier—with 33 goals and 31 assists. He might have slipped a little due to the belief that he benefitted from playing alongside Beauvillier, but Yan is a skilled, physical prospect in his own right. He finished fifth on the team in penalty minutes with 71, and is not known to back down from any physical confrontation.
Most impressive about Yan’s season were his seven goals in seven playoff games. The rest of his team combined to score 16 goals in their first round upset loss to the Halifax Mooseheads. Yan has two years of junior eligibility remaining and the Cataractes should boast one of the league’s most dangerous 1-2 punches next season.
Anthony Cirelli, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
3rd round, 72nd overall
Height: 6-0, Weight; 160 lbs
The prevailing hope with the Lightning’s second third round pick is that Anthony Cirelli puts on muscle. In the post-lockout NHL, size isn’t essential, but Cirelli’s lanky frame likely won’t be able to handle the rough-and-tumble grind of an 82-game NHL schedule.
That said, the thought is he will continue to grow; Cirelli is a classic late-bloomer, having made the Generals as an undrafted free agent invite. Months later, he became one of the team’s most celebrated players after a two-goal performance in the championship game of the Memorial Cup. He showcased a combination of skill and determination in that game, scoring on an impressively-placed wrist shot and getting to the net in overtime for the golden goal.
Oshawa will lose a number of quality veteran players next season, including Cole Cassels, Hunter Smith and Michael McCarron. Cirelli will certainly be relied upon more to produce offensively and it will be interesting to see how he responds.
Jonne Tammela, RW, KalPa Kuopio (Liiga)
4th round, 118th overall
Height: 5-10, Weight: 180 lbs
After recording 27 points in 26 games with KalPa’s U20 team at the start of the 2014-15 season, Jonne Tammela played 32 games with the pro team, finishing the season with four goals during that span.
Tammela is not the most skilled winger, but he owns a strong shot and is a battler. He effectively uses what size he has to create space for himself in the offensive zone and is a smart defensive player.
He was selected by the Peterborough Petes 15th overall in the CHL Import Draft, but he has said he is likely to continue his development in Finland. That could change over the course of the summer, however. If he were to join the Petes, he would be third Lightning prospect on that team, joining Dominik Masin and Matthew Spencer.