The undisputed strength of the Lightning organization going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has to be the wing positions, and particularly right wing. At that position, the Lightning have not less than three bona fide, blue chip NHL prospects in Brett Connolly, Carter Ashton, and Richard Panik. Those are three players that have drawn serious comparisons to current NHL players like Patrick Marleau, Ryan Malone, and Marian Hossa, respectively. Additional depth is provided by left winger Mattias Ritola, who spent much of last season with the big club in Tampa Bay, and versatile centermen Alex Killorn and Jimmy Mullin, who can also play left wing and right wing, respectively. As a consequence, Bolt Prospects ranks the wing positions as the least pressing need heading into the draft.
Murphy's Law, of course, dictates that the wing positions might be the deepest of all in the waters the Lightning will be drafting in at 27th overall in the 1st round. We have identified not less than 16 players we feel might be legitimate options for the Lightning to select at that pick, reflecting a fascinating cross section of options: snipers, slick puck handlers, hard working heart-and-soulers, and physical, nasty experts in the fistic arts:
When your team has Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier up the middle on your roster at the NHL level, it's hard to classify the center position as a dire need. Indeed, should Steve Yzerman succeed in locking Stamkos up to a long-term deal, the Lightning should have their scoring line centerman spots well taken care of for the next half a decade. However, the Lightning need depth, particularly for future postseason campaigns when lower-liners can often be the difference between advancing and going home, and right now the Lightning organization doesn't possess that depth.
The Lightning do have some prospects of note in Harvard pivotman Alex Killorn, who can play both left wing and center, WHL scoring title runner-up Tyler Johnson, and Miami of Ohio incoming freshman Jimmy Mullin, who can play both right wing and center. But, like the Lightning's defense, there are no blue chippers in the crop that appear to be sure-fire NHLers. For that reason, we rate center as the third most pressing need for the Lightning organization going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Here are 7 players we feel might be available and attractive to the Lightning at their 1st round pick on draft night:
The scouting community's general consensus for the whole draft class is that it is not top heavy, but it is incredibly deep. Nowhere is that more evident than on the blueline, where Skelleftea's Adam Larsson, Kitchener's Ryan Murphy, and Niagara's Dougie Hamilton look like the only locks to go in the lottery picks. However, beyond those three blue chippers, the list of quality defenseman prospects is long enough that teams picking in the 3rd round may still have access to some quality talent. Most interestingly, there's not a draft in the last decade that's had as many quality, mobile, puck-moving defensemen as this one, which may be a particular benefit for the Lightning.
As we discussed in yesterday's Introduction and Goaltenders posting, the Tampa Bay Lightning's biggest hole, prospect-wise, is probably on defense. And, there's probably a little more urgency to fill that hole given there are some aging veterans on defense on the big club like Pavel Kubina, Mattias Ohlund, and Brett Clark. There's also the matter of the Lightning's switch to the 1-3-1, which is predicated on having mobile puck moving blueliners and doesn't have as much use for the big redwoods like Andy Rogers or Vladimir Mihalik that the Lightning used to pick. The organization does boast a couple of quality defenseman prospects in heady two-way defender Mark Barberio and rough-and-tumble Radko Gudas, both of whom had very respectable rookie seasons with Norfolk in the AHL this year. Behind them, the Lightning have already started to add to their depth by adding mobile puck movers Adam Janosik, Charles Landry, Geoffrey Schemitsch. But there are no blue chippers in the organization that seem like locks for the NHL, and the team could definitely use prospects of that nature for future salary cap purposes. Toward that end, here are 10 prospects that might be viable alternatives for the Lightning at pick 27 on Friday night:
The 2011 NHL Entry Draft is going to bring several changes for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Success on the ice means sitting a long way from the front row at the NHL Entry Draft. With the team advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals this season, the Lightning moved from picking 6th overall last year to picking 27th overall this year. That means the Lightning won't have the top talent in the draft available to them in 2011 the same way it was in the past 3 drafts when the team selected Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Brett Connolly. That's not to say that the Lightning won't have the opportunity to draft some very good players, though. Since 1980, the 27th overall pick has yielded many high caliber players like Scott Mellanby, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tie Domi, Boris Mironov, Rhett Warrener, and Scott Gomez, as well as former Lightning fan favorites Ben Clymer and Cory Sarich. Picking in the 20's sometimes allows playoff caliber teams to have access to lottery pick caliber talent that slips either due to being small in stature, late bloomers, or having other issues that make other teams leery to take a chance on them (see: Downie, Steve).
Let me start by saying, the 2010 NHL Entry Draft afterglow really puts into focus just how amazing a job Jim Hammett and Darryl Plandowski did in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. To put it bluntly, they spoiled us. When you walk out of a draft with four guys who were probably among the top forty or fifty picks in the draft, it's exhilerating. But, not every year can be like 2009 or even like the 2006 draft when the Lightning used their first four picks on four pretty solidly touted prospects.
By the time the Lightning got to their second pick at sixty-third overall, the large majority of the quality known talent was off the board. That's the difference between a draft where you have three top sixty picks and another where you have just one, I suppose. So, the Lightning were going off the beaten path for much of day two to try to find potential NHLers and fill organizational needs. As a consequence, the quality of this draft class isn't going to be as immediately apparent, and right now it feels like the draft will live and die on the shoulders, or hips, of Brett Connolly.