Each summer for the past three years Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman has added an extra prospect – or “bonus draft pick” – to his prospect pool. A player the organization considers worthy of a pro contract but slips through the draft is signed and the player development process begins.
In 2010, Yzerman’s first year on the job, it was free agent defenseman Charles Landry. Tampa Bay signed the righty two-way defenseman to a standard rookie contract and sent him back to QMJHL Montreal.
If NHL dynasties are built from the ground up and within, scouts may be the most underrated pieces of the process. Sure, they get their hat-tips at the draft, and some get to share the stage with the recognizable faces of the franchise, but for the most part they go about their work watching 200 games a year and writing countless player reports without fanfare.
As prospect followers, we’re big fans of these unrecognizable faces.
Brad Whelen, an amateur scout for the Lightning in western Canada, was featured on The Pipeline Show this week, giving us a chance to at least put a voice with a name.
A former head scout with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, Whelen is one of four amateur scouts with the Lightning and covers the Western Hockey League, as well as the four Junior A leagues in western Canada (BCHL, AJHL, SJHL, MJHL), and some Canadian university hockey.
The golden age of the Lightning farm system continues. Despite the Syracuse Crunch's loss in the AHL's Calder Cup Finals, the Lightning organization can still boast arguably the finest prospect depth in the NHL. That depth is further bolstered by a 2013 NHL Entry Draft that saw the Lightning add a potential franchise player and also a player who was ranked by several scouting services in their top 15 prospects in the draft class. As of right now, it truly appears the Lightning may be set for a generation at the forward and goaltending positions. And, while there's still much work to be done on defense, it's no exaggeration to say the future has never been brighter. Indeed, Hockey Prospectus has even gone so far as to name the Lightning the top prospect system in the league, which is a true feather in the cap of an organization that was universally panned by the hockey media for player development just a half decade ago.
Bolt Prospects' 2013-2014 Final/Supplemental Rankings follow our websites rules for eligibility for prospects. Players 24 years or older on opening night of the Lightning's season (or what was supposed to be opening night prior to its cancellation due to the NHL lockout, in the case of this season) are considered overage prospects and are not eligible for the rankings. For that reason, a prospect like Riku Helenius isn't in the list. Additionally, skating prospects that have appeared in 41 NHL games in a single season or 82 career NHL games are no longer eligible for the list, which is why Brett Connolly is considered graduated and no longer in the rankings. For goaltenders, the bar is a little lower with 30 NHL decisions in a single season necessary for graduation and 41 NHL decisions in a career being the threshold to become a Bolt Prospects Alumni. Finally, all NCAA-based players remain eligible for the rankings regardless of age for the full duration of their college careers. There will be a quiz later.
Until then, please enjoy Bolt Prospects' 2013-2014 Final/Supplemental Rankings...
Name: Jonathan Drouin
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 186 lbs
Club: Halifax (QMJHL)
Tampa Bay elects to forego selecting perhaps the best need pick in favor of the player who might be the best prospect in this draft in slick winger Jonathan Drouin out of Halifax. Drouin starred on a line with top overall pick Nathan MacKinnon as Halifax swarmed to QMJHL and Memorial Cup titles.
Drouin mixes some of the best hockey sense and passing ability to be seen in the draft in quite some time with world class stickhandling ability and lateral quickness and skating. He truly appears to have the puck tied to the blade of his stick with a string. Add to that a solid shot and you have a player who is equally adept at shooting, passing, or making you look foolish by carrying it past you in the offensive third. As an added intangible, Drouin might also be one of the fiercest competitors in the draft, and while he may not be a bone cruncher he will go to the high traffic areas to make plays.
Drouin is not the ideal NHL size and he doesn't have a top level gear in terms of straight line speed. Those knocks should be tempered by saying he does have excellent lower body strength and really just needs to get his upper body strength to the same point, and his straight line speed may be compensated for by his lateral agility and advanced ability to read the play. Also, like many young forwards, he needs to continue to work on his play in the defensive third.
Top Line Left Winger and Top-20 NHL Scorer
Names That Have Been Floated: Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis, Denis Savard, Gilbert Perrault
For the Syracuse Crunch, it’s all about setting the tempo.
With the Grand Rapids Griffins visiting the Onondaga County War Memorial for Games 1 and 2 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday and Sunday, the Crunch are focused on their own play more than the Griffins’ talented forwards.
"What we really have to focus on isn't what they're going to bring at us," said Syracuse defensemen Jean-Philippe Cote. "We've got to set the tone, and play as high-tempo as we can."
"We don't want them to dictate the pace of play…We don't want them to play their game; we want them to play our game," said Crunch forward JT Wyman.
That game plan has worked for Syracuse.
After sweeping the Portland Pirates in the first round and the Springfield Falcons in the second, the Crunch topped the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in five games. Ondrej Palat is tied for the league lead in postseason points (20), and Tyler Johnson, the league’s most valuable player, is just three points behind.