Lightning 2009 draft preview

By Vic Alvira

Top 10 Prospects

1. Matt Smaby, D
2. Steve Downie, C
3. Karri Ramo, G
4. Dana Tyrell, C
5. Ty Wishart, D
6. Dustin Tokarski, G
7. Paul Szczechura, C
8. Vladimir Mihalik, D
9. Mitch Fadden, C
10. Radek Smolenak, LW

Team Needs

Since the departure of Dan Boyle, Tampa Bay is in desperate need of an offensive defenseman who can still be responsible. A veteran presence on the blue line would be another area of need. Tampa’s projected starting defensive corps currently comes in with an average age of 24.

A respectable scoring winger is another team need for Tampa Bay. Near the end of the 2008-09 season, the line of Ryan Malone-Steven Stamkos-Martin St.Louis proved to be a formidable force. Vincent Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal, however, saw a revolving door of wingers in that same time span to try and form a legitimate scoring line threat.

A final area that needs to be addressed is the improvement in scoring from the third and fourth lines. Secondary scoring has proved to be essential in the post-lockout NHL, and Tampa Bay needs to find a way to establish that on a more consistent basis.

With the No. 2 overall pick, at least one of these needs should be able to be met.

Organizational Strengths

Goaltending has become an asset to the Tampa Bay organization over the past few years. The development of Karri Ramo is coming along nicely, as he is progressively gaining more games in Tampa and should start the 2009-10 season as Mike Smith’s backup. Tampa Bay’s 2008 fifth rounder Dustin Tokarski should begin his professional career in Norfolk for the 2009-10 season. And Riku Helenius should be back in Norfolk this year, where he finally started to display the talent that made him a first-round pick in the 2006 draft.

Defense is still a strong point for Tampa Bay, though more in quality than quantity. Matt Lashoff is on the cusp of being an NHL regular. Smaby appears to have made the jump to the NHL with his strong 2008-09 season for the Lightning. He brought a smart and simple, physical stay-at-home defensive approach to Tampa Bay. Smaby should be a part of the defensive corps for the Lightning in the start of the 2009-10 season. Wishart struggled to find that offensive spark he displayed in juniors in his first full season of AHL play with Norfolk. However, the young defenseman looked sharp on the defensive side of the game for Norfolk. He even saw five games with Tampa in the 2008-09 season. Rounding out a formidable defensive corps for the Lightning organization are Vladimir Mihalik and Mark Barberio.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Lightning organization needs more top-six forwards, especially at the wing position, who can score with regularity. Most forwards they do have — Dana Tyrell, Steve Downie, and Paul Szczechura — tend more towards checking and energy duty, with occasional spotting on the top lines. Tyrell and Mitch Fadden should make their professional debuts with Norfolk for the 2009-10 season. Downie and Szczechura appear to be in the mix for the checking lines in Tampa Bay for the 2009-10 season.

Tampa Bay lacks offensive defensemen prospects beyond Lashoff. Quick and Wishart haven’t shown the offensive ability in the pros as of yet. Barberio had a nice 2008-09 with 15 goals and 45 points in 66 games for Moncton of the QMJHL, but the question mark will be if he can continue that production when he turns pro.

Draft tendencies

This will be the new ownership group’s first draft with all of their own personnel in place. Some parts were in place for the 2008 NHL entry draft, so although one draft is a small sample size, it can serve as a moderate predicator of what to expect next weekend.

The WHL and OHL were where Tampa Bay selected the most players from in 2008. The Lightning selected fourth rounder James Wright, and fifth rounder Dustin Tokarski from the WHL. Tampa Bay chose first-round pick Steve Stamkos and fifth round pick Kyle DeCoste from the OHL. Tampa Bay’s new ownership group appears to lean more heavily toward the Canadian junior leagues, but did make draft selections from the Finnish Jr. League and USHL as well.

Notably, owner Len Barrie’s son Tyson Barrie is eligible for the 2009 draft. The defender plays for the WHL Kelowna Rockets and is expected to be taken in the second or third round.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Result: 2nd pick, John Tavares, C – London (OHL)

The Lightning will take either of Victor Hedman or John Tavares, whoever the Islanders don’t select — but don’t count out trading the pick if the right deal comes along.