A trip to the Stanley Cup Finals guaranteed the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s first round pick would be either 29th or 30th overall, but that pick was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Braydon Coburn trade prior to the deadline. Fortunately, the Lightning also owned the New York Rangers’ first round pick, acquired in last year’s Martin St. Louis/Ryan Callahan swap.
The Lightning organization is one of the most stable in the NHL right now in terms of being set up for long-term success. Aside from captain Steven Stamkos, the 2015 playoffs showcased the team’s growing young core as Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov all rose to the forefront. Beyond that, there’s also Jonathan Drouin, a 2013 3rd overall pick who played sporadically but has an immense amount of speed and skill. The organization is deep at all positions and should simply be looking to find the best player available with each of its nine draft picks.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Andrey Vasilevskiy, G
2. Anthony DeAngelo, D
3. Vladislav Namestnikov, C
4. Adam Erne, RW
5. Brayden Point, C
6. Dominik Masin, D
7. Johnathan MacLeod, D
8. Kristers Gudlevskis, G
9. Slater Koekkoek, D
10. Nikita Nesterov, D
The 2014-15 version of the Lightning will be, for the most part, intact for next season. The lone loss to free agency up front is Brendan Morrow, while defensemen Andrej Sustr and Mark Barberio will need new contracts. A top four of Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison and Coburn is a strong group on the blue line, and there are a number of intriguing young defensemen in the organization. It might be prudent for the team to seek out another veteran blueliner at the draft or through free agency.
The Lightning are flush with goaltending and defense. Andrey Vasilevskiy, the team’s top prospect, will back up Ben Bishop next season, but is a future franchise goaltender by most accounts. The former 1st round pick had a tremendous first season in North America, eventually pushing Evgeny Nabokov off into retirement and assuming the back-up role. Behind Vasilevskiy, the organization has two other intriguing goaltender prospects in Latvian Kristers Gudlevskis and Adam Wilcox, who recently turned pro.
Aside from DeAngelo on the backend, the team has no standout defensive prospects, rather a wealthy stock of strong, adept skaters. Both Dominik Masin and Johnathan MacLeod are still young with room to grow, while Slater Koekkoek and Nikita Nesterov look primed for NHL competition next season.
Even with the graduation of Drouin, the Lightning don’t have a particularly glaring need to fill in this draft. While the team’s forward core is still relatively young, drafting quality forwards with some level of grit might be a need for the team. Vladislav Namestnikov should lose his prospect status next season, and there’s a belief Adam Erne might be able to make the jump directly from junior. Should both of those players play next season, Brayden Point will become the Lightning’s top forward prospect, many of which are—like the big league team—undersized.
Al Murray came on board as the Lightning’s director of amateur scouting after General Manager Steve Yzerman’s first draft in 2010. Consequently, in 2011 the team had its best draft since 1998 when it nabbed Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards. The following three drafts look just as promising, and a lot of that can be attributed to Murray and the Lightning’s willingness to take both Russians and smaller, high-end skilled players regardless of the pick. Two of the team’s five first pick round in the last four drafts have been Russians—Vasilevskiy and Namestnikov—and the team took a chance on Nikita Kucherov, a smaller but skilled Russian, in the second round of 2011.
Tampa Bay has not been a team that plays it safe at the draft in recent years, and it certainly paid off. Rather than taking perceived “safe” picks, the team swings for the fences. A prime example of that is last year’s first round pick, Anthony DeAngelo, who had some off-ice concerns heading into the draft. Despite that, he was recently named CHL Defenseman of the Year.
Since the 2011 draft, the Lightning have selected eight players from the OHL, five from the QMJHL, two from the WHL, four players heading to college and 10 Europeans.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
28. Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
Though the Lightning have shown a propensity to take chances on highly-skilled Russians in this slot in years past, with Thomas Chabot still on the board, the team would be more than willing to take the smooth-skating offensive defenseman.
Chabot’s game turned the corner early in the 2014-15 season, as his defensive awareness and ability to shield opponents from prime scoring areas improved quite a bit. Offensively, he was a feature on the Sea Dogs’ top power-play unit and finished the season with 41 points in 66 games, including 12 goals (an 11-goal increase over his rookie season in 2013-14).