Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman addressed the short term needs of his team with his first three picks, selecting two defenders and a goaltender. True to form for the third year Lightning GM, there was no shying away from riskier picks and the "KHL factor" was largely ignored.
Yzerman called the names of a defender coming off major shoulder surgery and a Russian goaltender with his first round selections and added another Russian winger in the seventh round. He also opted for players who were passed over in their first year of eligibility with four of his eight picks, proving once again that he is not afraid to try and second-guess his GM counterparts when it comes to identifying talent.
A few eyebrows were raised when Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman called the name of Slater Koekkoek at 10th overall. The man from Mountain, Ontario had slipped down the draft rankings after a severe shoulder injury caused him to miss all but 26 games of the season. A year ago he was considered the best blue line prospect from the OHL after a rookie season in Peterborough where he logged 30 minutes a night when needed and played well in all situations. A strong performance at the 2012 NHL Combine went a long way to alleviating any fears of long-term effects of the shoulder surgery and Koekkoek showed resolve and determination in interviews, character traits that Yzerman prizes highly in his prospects.
Koekkoek's greatest strength lies in his versatility and well-rounded approach. There are very few flaws in his game and he can help his team compete in any situation. His superior skating and awareness, combined with size and strength, make it very hard for opposing forwards to get past him and his offensive game is polished. While another full year of OHL hockey seems like the logical next step, Koekkoek could make it hard for the Lightning to send him back.
Andrei Vasilevski, Ufa (KHL)
1st round, 19th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 210 lbs
The first goalie selected in 2012, Vasilevski has the ideal combination of size, skill, and mental strength that NHL teams are looking for. The big Russian made his name at the WJC where he was virtually unbeatable throughout the tournament, barring the third period of the semi-final against Canada when he was pulled after giving up four quick goals.
Technically speaking, Vasilevski is nearly perfect in his posture and has few weaknesses other than a tendency to stay too deep in the net, a common problem for young goalies. Displaying amazing quickness and lateral mobility, Vasilevski is very difficult to beat down low and with his immense size and quick glove, is even tougher to get pucks past up top. One of a growing number of Russian prospects selected by Tampa Bay in recent drafts, Vasilevski has indicated a willingness to come over to the CHL and was selected by the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL in this year's import draft.
Dylan Blujus, D, Brampton Battalion (OHL)
2nd round, 40th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 190 lbs
A big workhorse of a defender, Blujus anchored the top-pairing for the Battalion and played in all situations. A raw project with exciting upside, the Buffalo, NY product came into the OHL as a hard-shooting offensive dynamo and is learning how to play in his own end. Still prone to turnovers when exiting the zone, Blujus has passing instincts that need to be refined. With the man-advantage his main weapon is a heavy slapshot that he can get through to the net and he also has good awareness and soft hands.
Extra work on his agility and first step quickness is needed in order for him to maximize his effectiveness walking the line and closing the gaps. In his own end, Blujus has shown the kind of progress that suggests he is coachable and able to improve the decision-making and defensive awareness that have been a weak point for him. Although blessed with a large frame, Blujus is not overly physical and needs to add strength and confidence to become a more effective shutdown player.
Brian Hart, RW, Exeter Academy (USHS)
2nd round, 53rd overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 203 lbs
One of the most athletic prospects in the draft, Hart was a two-sport star for Exeter Academy. The Cumberland, Maine native set scoring records for the school soccer team last summer while scoring 32 goals in 29 games for the hockey squad. Hart was an unstoppable force at the high school level, with his combination of size, straight-ahead speed, and booming shot proving too much for his peers, however he could use some added dimensions to his game as he matures. Set to take the ice for the Harvard Crimson next year, Hart needs to work on his east-west game and add some unpredictability to his approach as he takes on bigger and older defenders next year. A dedicated student off the ice, Hart maintains top marks academically and shows a commitment to improvement on the ice, a combination that Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman was glad to add to his prospect pool on draft day.
Tanner Richard, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)
3rd round, 71st overall
Height: 5'11 Weight: 176 lbs
One of the most underrated prospects in the draft, Richard slipped under the radar in his OHL rookie season due to injuries. The Swiss-born son of a Canadian hockey journeyman, Richard went undrafted in his first year of eligibility despite starring in Switzerland's junior circuits. Richard joined the Guelph Storm of the OHL in 2011-12 and though he was limited to 43 games due to nagging injuries, the smooth-skating playmaker racked up 48 points, including 35 assists.
Possessing superior breakaway speed and elite vision, Richard has the skills needed to play in the top-six at the next level. With another year in the OHL to continue adding size and toughness, he could be the type of prospect other teams will regret passing on.
Cedric Paquette, C, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL)
4th round, 101st overall
Height: 6' Weight: 198 lbs
Paquette was drafted by the Bolts in his second year of eligibility and shows every sign of being a late-bloomer. A rookie in the QMJHL at the ripe age of 18, Paquette was one of the key players for the Armada this year. A hard-driving forward who creates opportunities through an aggressive forecheck and tenacious puck-pursuit, Paquette is not much of a playmaker, his 31 goals nearly doubled his 17 assists in 63 games, and his style may be more easily projected to the wing. From the hardscrabble fishing region of Gaspe, Quebec, Paquette is a humble and focused character and someone who appreciates the value of hard work. With his mix of skills and personal attributes, he could yet be a prize catch in the Tampa Bay draft day haul.
Jake Dotchin, D, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
6th round, 161st overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 207 lbs
One of the fastest rising prospects of the draft, Dotchin was an OHL rookie who has shown dramatic improvement over the last year. Dotchin plays to his strengths, clearing the crease and being a physical presence in his own end, but has shown he is a very coachable project. He has improved his mobility, steadily increased his percentage of pass completion on the outlet, and can get a heavy shot through to the net. While he will likely never project to be an offensive dynamo, Dotchin is the type of tough, physical, shot-blocking defenseman that every team needs to win with and has shown great commitment to becoming a well-rounded player.
Nikita Gusev, LW, CSKA Moskva (KHL)
7th round, 202nd overall
Height: 5'9 Weight: 163 lbs
Nikita Gusev is a winger with dazzling offensive talent who already has shown familiarity and chemistry with fellow Lightning prospect Nikita Kucherov. Gusev shot to notoriety with a two goal and five assist performance against the helpless Latvians in the group stage of the 2012 U20 WJC. Gusev has a lot of similarities to Kucherov in his approach to the game, relying on elite hockey sense and clever stick-work to get around opposing defenders and create chances. He has already outgrown the Russian junior circuit, scoring 30 goals and 76 points in 34 games, and is expected to play against men in the KHL next year.