The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the 2011-12 season with a 38-36-8 record and eight points out of the eighth playoff spot. The biggest issue for the Lightning during the regular season was keeping the puck out of their net and winning on the road, as the Lightning finished with the league's worst goals against average and a 13-22-6 record on the road.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Richard Panik, RW
2. Vlad Namestnikov, C
3. Alex Killorn, C
4. Nikita Kucherov, RW
5. Mark Barberio, D
6. J.T. Brown, RW
7. Cory Conacher, RW
8. Tyler Johnson,C
9. Dustin Tokarski, G
10. Radko Gudas, D
Goaltending is an urgent short-term need, although long-term depth is good with Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus forming a fearsome duo in the AHL. There is some high-end skill amongst the forwards but a serious lack of size. The defense corps has been bolstered in recent years but adding further high-quality defenseman who can play in all situations should be a priority.
The Lightning will have a group of high-end prospects entering training camp full of confidence from a Calder Cup win and a record winning streak with the Norfolk Admirals. Amongst those prospects are astute free-agent signings J.T. Brown, Cory Conacher and Tyler Johnson and mid-to-late-round draft selections Richard Panik, Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio. Identifying talent others have overlooked and developing it have become the main strengths of a revamped Lightning scouting and development staff under GM Steve Yzerman and they now have a deep pool of talent at all positions.
The focus in recent recruitment drives has been on skill, which leaves the organization short on size. The preference for European players may also leave the Lightning short-handed if the lure of KHL dollars prevents the likes of Nikita Nesterov and Nikita Kucherov from passing through the grind of AHL duty, while top prospects Vladislav Namestnikov and Richard Panik are somewhat erratic in their approach to the game compared with their North American-trained counterparts.
Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman has shown a tendency to be daring and take risks in his two years at the draft table. In 2010 he gambled on the health of Brett Connolly and last year on the import status of highly-skilled Russian Namestnikov. Yzerman does not pay the "Russian Factor" any heed, drafting three Russian-born or trained players last year, and is not afraid to invest in a long-term project player. In his free-agent pursuits he has also gone where others have feared and signed smaller players with high-end skills.
The Lightning own the 10th, 19th, 37th, 40th, 50th, 71st, 101st, 131st, and 161st picks in the 2012 NHL Draft.
Rielly is one of several elite prospects who suffered a serious injury and missed most of his draft year. Returning to the Warriors blue line in the playoffs, Rielly was unable to turn around a semi-final loss to eventual WHL champions Edmonton, but he did perform well under the watchful gaze of Yzerman and his top scouts. A smooth skater with impressive poise and calm, Rielly draws comparisons to Duncan Keith in his style of play. He defends well enough with solid positioning and an active stick, however he excels in going forward. Able to skate the puck out of danger, Rielly may have the best set of wheels in the draft and reaches top speed in just a few strides. Returning to the Warriors next season, the blueliner will look to play a full season in the WHL before adding an exciting offensive element to the Lightning's blueline.
No.19: Pontus Aberg, RW, Djurgarden (SEL)
With several picks in the second round, the Lightning can go for the best player available with their second pick of the first round. Using the selection acquired from Detroit, Red Wings legend Yzerman opts for a player that fits his previous team's draft tendencies: smart, skilled, and determined. He has great straight-line speed and agility, and is as good a finisher as he is a playmaker.