Steve Yzerman’s second draft with the Lightning, the first with his hockey operations people in place, furthered the perception that Yzerman is a bold, unpredictable General Manager. In a somewhat surprising move, Yzerman selected three Russians and a Czech with four of his six selections. This may reflect on the popular notion that this draft was significantly weaker than other years, encouraging General Managers to reach for riskier, high potential players that may have slid in year’s past.
The Lightning added four forwards, one goaltender and most surprisingly, only one defenseman to the team’s prospect pool.
Vladislav Namestnikov, C – London Knights (OHL)
1st round, 27th overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 166 lbs
With his first selection in the 2011 draft, Steve Yzerman kept it in the family so to speak, acquiring Vlad Namestnikov, the nephew of former teammate Slava Kozlov, and son of former NHLer Evgeny Namestnikov.
Namestnikov indicated he had some idea the Lightning were interested in him. When talking at the draft Namestnikov said, “I had an interview with them (the Lightning) yesterday, I’ve had thoughts, but didn’t know what was going to happen but really happy how it turned out.”
Growing up in Michigan, Namestnikov was a Detroit fan, in particular, he liked watching the Russian five and Captain Steve Yzerman. On being drafted by Steve Yzerman, “It’s unbelievable, I’m so happy right now. It’s great.”
Namestnikov is expected to return to London next year for more seasoning. The youngster needs to add a little more muscle to his frame, although he noted the bench press was his least favorite testing activity at the combine.
Selected out of Russian Juniors, Kucherov had a solid season in Russia, including an eight game stint in the KHL. Where Kucherov really made his mark was in the 2011 U-18 World Junior Championship, where he led the tournament with 11 goals and 21 points and was named the Best Forward.
Unlike Namestnikov, there is no clear date when Kucherov will plan on heading over to North America to play. Kucherov has a contract and presumably a spot with CSKA Moscow, one of the top KHL teams. Kucherov has indicated there is a provision in his contract that would allow him to leave when he is ready to make the move to North America.
The back to back selections of Russians Kucherov and Namestnikov at the top of the draft is not something entirely foreign to the Lightning Organization. In both 2000 and 2001, the Lightning used their first and second choices on Russians, selecting Alexandr Svitov and Alexander Polushin in 2001, and Nikita Alexeev and Ruslan Zaynullin in 2000.
After trading away third and fourth rounds picks to bolster the team this season, GM Steve Yzerman had to wait until the fifth round for his third selection, and complete his Russian hat trick. Nesterov, the first Russian blueliner selected, also played Russian Juniors this past season for Chelyabinsk.
There was some work done to try and get Nesterov to the Tri-City Americans of the WHL last year. Despite this failure, he is expected to come over this season and play in North America. Nesterov has a nice edge to his game and shows promise of a strong offensive game as well.
The Lightning finished with three of the eight Russians selected in this year’s draft, reinforcing the notion Yzerman will act aggressively and unpredictably to acquire who he and his staff believe to be the best players available.
The Lightning added to the their goaltending depth with the selection of Minnesota native Adam Wilcox.
At 6’0”, 171 pounds, Wilcox likes to play a quick athletic style, patterning his game after cousin and San Jose Shark prospect Alex Stalock. “I’ve been watching him my whole life, revolving my game around him,” Wilcox said.
The future for Wilcox includes another year of seasoning in the USHL before he continues on to the University of Minnesota. On what he needs to do next year, Wilcox felt he needed to get comfortable with more playing time, “I got like 20 something games in last year, so this year I hoping for the upper 40s, and then I can move on to the U.”
Matthew Peca, C – Pembroke Lumber Kings (CCHL)
7th round, 201st overall
Height: 5’8 Weight: 155 lbs
The Lightning shipped out Norfolk Admiral Benoit Pouliot on draft day in exchange for the 201st overall pick, which they used to grab diminutive Matt Peca, center for the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the CHL. Coincidentally, the Lumber Kings are owned and coached by former Lightning Sheldon Keefe.
Peca, who registered 26 goals and 46 assists, was an instrumental part on the Lumber Kings run to the 2011 Royal Bank Cup, given to Canada’s national Junior A Champions. Peca, the only player drafted out of the CHL this year, has committed to play for Quinnipiac University in the ECAC next season. Should he decide to return to Juniors in Canada, his rights are owned by the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL.
20 years old at the time of the draft, Palat was one of the older players selected this year, but his performance this past season certainly merited the selection. Playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL, Palat increased his offensive output from 40 to 96 points in 2010-11. He led his team with 39 goals and 96 points, playing on a line with this year’s eighth overall selection Sean Couturier (PHI).
Originally from the Czech Republic, Palat came to Canada last year to adjust to the North American game, but after a mediocre season, was passed up at the draft table. Though it may have taken him a bit longer to adjust to the North American game, Palat was sensational this year, and may turn out to be a steal down the road.