Lightning Draft 2002: Philosophy

By Pete Choquette

A New Philosophy

The media had gotten their digs in. The sharpened knives meant for Jay Feaster were put away. An innocent Ukrainian bystander who goes by the nickname “Rusty” digested an unearned firestorm of criticism brought upon him by much of the hockey world, seemingly out of nowhere. Yes, after the tumult of day one, when the team made only one selection (Adam Henrich) it was time to engage in a much quieter drama. Jake Goertzen and his streamlined scouting staff of twelve sat down to tackle the task at hand, and in a draft panned by many as morbidly shallow, they unearthed twelve selections of which they truly believe they have found a handful of potential NHLers. The impact of these twelve selections and Henrich will probably not be known for some time, but what can be seen is a slight philosophy shift in drafting under General Manager Jay Feaster.

The Shift Back West

Gone are the days of the Rick Dudley run draft when the Lightning would take roughly 75% of their selections from Europe. The team’s scouts, for the most part, have bid a fond adieu to gloomy snowblocked outposts like Omsk and have reapplied themselves to finding players closer to home. On the second day of the draft, seven of twelve Lightning selections came from North America. Four picks went towards Canadian born players in the CHL, with three of the four picks coming from the rugged, and at times brutal, WHL. The other three picks were American born players, all of whom will be playing in NCAA programs next season. That’s not to say, however, the Lightning have abandoned Europe altogether. Three Russians and two Finns were also brought into the organization.

It’s also important to note that some of the underlying principles that have guided the Lightning over that past three years have not been altered under the watch of Jay Feaster. The search for “dimensional speed”, to use Dudley double speak, is alive and well on a staff which brought in only one player under 6’2”, and most of whom show solid skating ability. What is different, though, is that the scouting staff is now charged with finding these types of players who also have a high degree of character and drive. This has led them back to the familiar shores of North America.

Drafting a Big Goalie Late Is Never a Bad Move

Not only did the Lightning look for size at the various skating positions, but they brought in two hulking goaltenders, both 6’5” and above, to flesh out what was somewhat of a weak spot, depth wise, in the organization. The logic is quite simple: big goalies don’t have to be flawless technically or have the reflexes of a cat to be effective. A lot of pucks will hit them, especially in tight where big goaltenders like Sean Burke and Martin Brodeur have frustrated NHL shooters for years. These types of goalies will always have a high measure of utility to an organization, either as solid AHLers like Frederic Cassivi has been over the course of a career, or as NHLers like Daren Puppa .

‘84: A Bad Vintage

The Lightning found a creative way of bypassing the shallowness of the crop of players born in 1984 by drafting a multitude of players who were a year or two older than the 17 and 18 year olds being selected by other teams. Of the lucky thirteen Lightning selections, five were born in 1982, while two more came from the ultra-deep pool of 1983 born talent. Whereas teams like the Carolina Hurricanes were running out of names to select as early as the 6th round, Jake Goertzen and the Lightning put the last vestiges of the past two seasons when the team ran with a lavish $2 million dollar scouting budget to good use by drafting overage players who had slipped through the cracks of previous drafts.

Building Up To Single Affiliation

Rumor has the Phoenix Coyotes organization pulling out of Springfield after this season to set up their own affiliate closer to home in Tuscon, Arizona. If that happens, the Lightning are likely to take over the Springfield Falcons as their own full affiliate, but even if that doesn’t happen Jay Feaster has already promised this year will be the last the Lightning will share an affiliate with anyone. With that in mind, the Lightning needed to draft a crop of North American players who would be potentially be ready to help fill twelve new available roster spots once the team gets its own full affiliation in two years, and did so with at least three of their later round selections. By adding these players to the potential signings of a bevy of European prospects the Lightning currently hold the rights to, they should now easily be able to stock a full farm team with quality talent.