Wow, what a night. Things went to plan for three picks and then everything descended into slow moving chaos. The Blue Jackets took the guy I, personally, thought the Lightning would end up with at the fourth pick, the Islanders took the guy half the internet thought was going to the Lightning with the fifth pick, and then the Lightning decided not to take the guy everyone thought they would take with the sixth pick, as Brandon Gormley and Cam Fowler spiraled down the draft board in the mild hockey equivalent of an Aaron Rodgers/Brady Quinn draft free fall.
What to make of Brett Connolly, though? There's absolutely no doubt his athleticism and skill are world class, or at least they were prior to his injuries. Connolly's agent wouldn't allow teams to perform an MRI on prior to the draft to verify its soundness, so one wonders how the Lightning made an informed decision about it. Between his hips and some talk of structural weakness in his hand, I seriously wonder if the Lightning have drafted a guy who will end up being a part time player like Buffalo's Tim Connolly. Adding to my fears was a post-draft interview on TSN that did nothing to disspell whispers I've heard about Connolly's attitude. He looked annoyed and bored, all at the same time, and I'm wondering what is going on in his head. Is he going to carry a chip on his shoulder into the rest of the offseason and training camp to show the world that not only are his hips healthy, but that he was indeed the best player in this draft class? Or is Connolly already a little burned out by the scrutiny that comes with being a premiere prospect? Seriously, after watching the interview and after my making a big deal of how badly Connolly came across, the BoltProspects staff reviewed several pieces of interview footage, and we've come to the unnerving conclusion Connolly may be incapable of emoting genuine happiness.
Smile, man. You just were selected in the top ten of the NHL draft.
Best case scenario: the Lightning just drafted a Patrick Marleau clone who will have no lingering effects from the hips and will become a legitimate 30-40 goal a year scorer. He doesn't have to be the captain of this team. The Lightning have a natural born leader in Steven Stamkos. He just has to put up numbers, and Connolly is thoroughly capable of doing that. If Connolly pans out and Vincent Lecavalier resurrects his career, the Lightning would have an unfair amount of scoring ability to let loose on the NHL. Worst case scenario: the Lightning just drafted a guy who will put up 40-50 points a year because he can only play around 50 games a season, and who won't contribute much else to team chemistry in the process. We'll see. I'm holding my breath. It's a far cry from the past two drafts when the Lightning walked away with sure things.
What's left to do tomorrow? The Lightning currently don't have any second round picks, but they have the assets to move in if they want to. They have two high third round picks and a later third round pick to package to move up. If you run the numbers, about seven in ten successful draft picks come from the top sixty picks in the draft, and currently the Lightning have two picks just outside the top sixty. The priorities will likely be on defense and, in particular, one would hope the Lightning could nab a righty defenseman or two. The organization doesn't have many in the pipeline (one), and there are a handful still on the board. Here's a few guys who are still available who might still fit the bill. Justin Faulk out of the USNTDP is a smallish righthanded defenseman who is mobile and also has a big, booming point shot. He also plays angry, and I love smallish d-men who play with chips on their shoulders a la Dan Boyle. If you look at the team Guy Boucher had in Hamilton last year, there were quite a few undersized, mobile, offensive guys, so Faulk would fit the 1-3-1 system mold. Out of high school in Minnesota, there's big Mark Alt, son of the former Kansas City Chiefs tackle. Think Pavel Kubina, with quicker feet. Also out of the Minnesota high school ranks, there's fleet footed offensive defenseman Justin Holl. Holl's got a good sized frame and loves to push the play; sometimes to the detriment of his defensive play. He might be a perfect fit for the 1-3-1, though.
At forward, there's left wing Brad Ross, who was a linemate of Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter at Portland in the WHL. He's a rusty, rolling ball of barbed wire in the classic Steve Downie tradition. There's also smallish centerman Ryan Spooner out of Peterborough, who has good wheels and playmaking ability. There's tiny center Calle Jarnkrok out of the Brynas junior program in Sweden. He weighs 165 pounds soaken wet, but he's incredibly smart and has hockey sense that's off the charts. For a pure sniper, try little right winger Teemu Pulkkinen out of Jokerit in Finland, the man who buried just about every chance Mikael Granlund gave him at the U18 WJC's. There's also the ultra pesky Jason Zucker out of the USNTDP. Zucker is human itching power for opposing players. And, for those not looking to draft character, there's always some bargains on the petulent-but-talented forward aisle. There's Sudbury's John McFarland, who has a lot of speed and puck skills, but fell out of the first round because of his attitude. And, the main event, Kirill Kabanov, who was kicked out of Moncton of the QMJHL in the middle of a playoff run. He's got Alexander Semin upside, with equally world class selfishness. You know it's bad when the "Russian Factor" is less of a factor with a prospect because clubs in the KHL may not want to deal with the headaches either.