Top 10 Prospects
The Lightning needs will be largely dependent on the moves made this summer. While they possess a deep group of talented scoring forwards signed to long-term deals, the core is aging. Hart Trophy finalist Martin St. Louis will turn 36 this summer, despite having four years remaining on his current contract. Vincent Lecavalier is 31, but is signed until 2018-2019, when he will be 39. Likewise, Ryan Malone is 31 and missed 28 games last season due to injury. Simon Gagne is an unrestricted free agent, and there is a strong possibility he will be let go to preserve cap flexibility the team will need to address more pressing needs. Surprise playoff star Sean Bergenheim is also an unrestricted free agent.
Eric Brewer should be considered one of the top unrestricted free agent defensemen of this year’s class. Likewise, powerplay specialist Marc-Andrew Bergeron will also test the open market this summer. Of the Lightning blueliners under contract, few of them possess a full complement of offensive ability. Victor Hedman, the youngster of the group, offers the best two-way ability and made significant strides this season. Further, the Lightning system is completely bereft of NHL quality prospects. Mark Barberio offers slick passing ability and Radko Gudas brings a consistent, competitive and physical style, but both players lack the refinement necessary to not be a liability next season with the Lightning.
Goaltender is probably the biggest area of concern for the Lightning. Despite catching lightning in a bottle with aging netminder Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning struggled to find a capable starter for most of the regular season. Furthermore, Roloson and backup Mike Smith are both unrestricted free agents. The goaltenders in the system should be considered able NHL backups at this point, particularly Cedrick Desjardins, who impressed in limited time with Tampa Bay this season. Nevertheless, starting goaltender is something that must be addressed by the front office this offseason.
The Lightning system includes a handful of players with the potential to be impact scorers down the road. Namely, Brett Connolly and Richard Panik both have the skill sets necessary to be big time producers down the road in their career. However, both players have significant question marks surrounding their future, injuries for Connolly and attitude for Panik.
Outside of this duo, the system is replete with centers that have promise to be contributors on the third or fourth line in the future. Blair Jones saw a significant amount of time with the Lightning this season as did Detroit acquisition Mattias Ritola. Undrafted signee Tyler Johnson should provide a similar floor to his potential. Better known for his overwhelming point production this year in the WHL, Johnson has all the attributes valued in a good third or fourth line forward, including speed,
The system includes a gaggle of competitive, consistent goaltenders that grade out as potential NHL backups. Dustin Tokarksi, impressive from his junior days, has always been a player who raises his game to the level of his competition.
The organization came into the year with a need for more blue line prospects. Then came the trade of Ty Wishart to the Islanders and Brock Beukeboom to the Blues. Now, the organization is almost completely naked on the back end. Barberio and Gudas will likely contribute in some capacity during their career, but no one in the system grades out to more than a back pairing player.
There is a distinct lack of dependability and depth amongst the organization’s forward. Carter Ashton and 25 year-old Swedish import Johan Harju are really the only forwards with top six potential that have shown any sort of steadiness in their game over the course of the season.
Also, beyond Harju, there is almost nothing at left-wing. Rising Harvard Senior Alex Killorn is creative offensively, but is somewhat of an unknown as to how his game will translate professionally.
The Lightning have a total of five selections in the 2011 entry draft, their lowest total since they had four selections in 2006. The Lightning have picks in the first (No. 27), second, (No. 58) fifth (No. 147), sixth (No. 177) and seventh rounds (No. 207).
This will be the first draft that GM Steve Yzerman has hockey operations people in place, namely Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray. Murray has spent the last three years working for Hockey Canada as head scout for the men’s national teams. Before that, he spent 12 years as the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Los Angeles Kings. Unsurprisingly, Murray’s drafts with the Kings had a distinctly Canadian flavor. But, he is not married to drafting only North Americans, drafting star center Anze Kopitar (LAK) 11th overall in the 2005 draft, the most productive player from that draft not named Sidney Crosby.
Yzerman’s background could also factor into the Lightning’s selection. For five years, prior to joining the Lightning, Yzerman studied under GM Ken Holland of the Red Wings. The Red Wings have been one of the more successful teams in the NHL in discovering and cultivating top European talent. In 2010, Yzerman was a recent hire and decided to let the incumbent staff run most of the draft. At the same time, signing off on the selection of Brett Connolly shows Yzerman is not a GM afraid to gamble on elite talent.
The Lightning, as team, made all of their selections out of North American juniors or high school leagues in 2010. After a disastrous binge on Russian players, 11 selections, in 2000 and 2001, the Lightning have backed off significantly on prospects from this region. Denis Kazionov was the last Russian drafted by the Lightning, in the 7th round of the 2006 Draft. Despite a proven willingness out of both Yzerman and Murray to go after the best player available, the noticeable lack of depth on the blue line makes it likely the Lightning will target a two-way defenseman at the end of the first round. Either Scott Mayfield, Oscar Klefbom, and Jonas Brodin would be all good fits here.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:
No. 27: Jonas Brodin, D
The lack of a bonafide top-four puck-mover was evident this season as the Lightning tried a lot of different options on the blue line. While Brodin is would not bring that to the organization right away, he would provide a long-term solution for the problem.