The Tampa Bay Lightning were light on selections at the 2017 NHL Draft compared to recent drafts.
The players the Bolts chose, however, they feel confident can develop into quality regulars in the National Hockey League.
The Lightning selected five players on Saturday during the final day of the draft at Chicago's United Center, taking a trio of centers, a right wing and a defenseman to add to their draft haul. The Bolts picked Cal Foote, a sizable, right-handed-shot defenseman with their selection at No. 14 in the first round on Friday.
"We were able to fill some needs and get some players that we liked and identified before the draft," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said from the draft floor following his eighth draft with the Bolts. "When it comes to that spot in the draft, which player do we really really want, and we were able to get some of the guys that we really wanted."
The Lightning took a pair of Russian forwards with their first two picks on Saturday. In the second round, the Bolts grabbed Alexander Volkov, a responsible two-way player.
"He handles the puck well and has really good hockey sense," Yzerman said of the 48th overall pick. "We really like the way he plays the game. He's a big, strong kid, and he's 19 years old. We believe he fits into the style of play that we play."
Volkov might have slipped on some teams' draft boards after breaking his foot, preventing him from playing for Russia at the World Junior Championships and missing part of his junior season in Russia. In 16 games for SKA-1946 St. Petersburg of the Russian MHL junior league, Volkov netted six goals and added five assists in 16 regular season games.
"He's coming to our development camp next week," Lightning director of scouting Al Murray said. "We're hopeful that we can work out a contract and he's got a chance to play in Syracuse this year."
Murray added that the Bolts might have been able to wait to grab Volkov in the third round but didn't want to risk potentially losing him to another team.
"There are certain players you say what round can we get them in or where do you expect them to go, and we thought he'll probably go in the third round so if we take him in the second round we're going to be ahead of the curve and we get that player," Murray said.
Video: Recap: NHL Draft Day 2The Lightning continued with the Russian forward theme in the third round and were delighted to see 17-year-old Alexey Lipanov, a 6-foot, 169-pound center from Moscow still available with the 76th overall selection. Lipanov will come to North America next season to play for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League.
"Lipanov was higher on our list than where we (got) him," Yzerman said. "There was a group of players with our second pick under consideration, and he was one of them. And he was still there in the third and we felt he was too good of a value at that spot to pass over."
Lipanov was the only player Tampa Bay selected on Saturday that was in attendance at the draft in Chicago and said is excited about joining an organization with so much talent. He's also friends with recently-acquired Russian defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.
"He thinks it's a team that will repeat the success of 2004 [Stanley Cup] soon," Lipanov said through a translator. "He understands that they have a very bright future."
Video: 76th-overall pick Alexey LipanovMurray said Lipanov will be at the Lightning's development camp next week and was the one player he was most surprised to see still available at his draft spot.
"There's still some bias somewhere with some Russian players," Murray said. "We don't have that bias in our organization. We want the best players. You don't want a whole team of Russian players, but you don't want a whole team of Swedish players or French-Canadian players. You want a mix and you want the players to merge and blend together, and we think we've got good people. Both of the Russian kids speak English. In Lipanov's case, he's coming over and going to Barrie and in the case of Volkov, he purposely did not re-sign a contract because he's interested in trying to work out a contract to come to the American Hockey League next year. So, if you find people that want to come play in the league and show themselves to be good people and motivated, then those are the guys we want but it doesn't matter where they come from."
With two picks in the sixth round and one more in the seventh, the Lightning chose three high school players still very young in their development.
At pick No. 169, Tampa Bay went after Nick Perbix, a 6-foot-4 defenseman from Elk River High School. Perbix will play next season with Omaha in the USHL and then is off to St. Cloud State University on a scholarship according to Murray.
With its second choice in the sixth round (No. 180 overall), the Lightning targeted Cole Guttman, a center who averaged over a point a game in the USHL with Dubuque.
"He's going back to Dubuque this year where he'll be the captain, and then he's also going to St. Cloud State," Murray said. "He's a skilled center, right shot, 5'10", about 170 pounds, high energy, good skater with skill…A point a game in the USHL is a real good total."
With its final selection of the 2017 Draft, Tampa Bay took Sam Walker, a product of Edina High School and a University of Minnesota commit.
"He's got a choice next year. He can go back to Edina High School or he can go to Lincoln of the USHL," Murray said. "He's another right-shot center, good skater, good skill. He's a little thinner than Cole. He's 5'10", probably 160 pounds."
Murray was pleased all three high schoolers were still available when the Lightning were selecting.
"All three of them have real good development paths," Murray said, adding that the organization is currently securing travel arrangements for the three high schoolers to attend Lightning development camp, meaning all six 2017 draft picks should be in Brandon next week. "They're all good skaters. In the case of Perbix, he's a big player. The other two are smaller, skilled guys."
Murray said the Lightning were able to take the best available prospect with each one of their six selections at the draft.
"I tell everybody this every year, and I keep my draft list; one day I'm going to put them on Ebay so everybody can believe me," he said. "We go by our list, and the best player that we feel is going to be the best NHL player is the guy we take. We're not worried about positioning. We just continue to try to get the best prospect, so real happy (with the draft overall). We had all three of the first three picks ranked very highly. And then the other guys are kids that we liked that are going to have more time to go away to college and continue to develop.