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Bolts leave no stone unturned in putting together 2018 draft class

Without a first round pick, Tampa Bay's scouting staff dug deep to find value in this year's draft

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning didn't hold a high selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft at Dallas' American Airlines Center.

In fact, without a First Round pick, the Lightning had nothing to do on day one Friday. They had to wait around a little bit day two Saturday as well, the Bolts not selecting until near the end of the Second Round at No. 59 overall.

When it was finally their turn on the clock, the Lightning took Gabriel Fortier, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound left winger from Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL with their first selection. Tampa Bay made a pick in each of rounds two through seven and had two in the final round, choosing three defensemen, two forwards and two goaltenders with their seven selections in all.

"We got players in every round that we thought would be there or could be there," Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray said. "And they were guys that we really wanted. They fit our criteria exactly the type of player, the type of person, the background, their situation going forward to develop. They all had all those attributes. It was a really good day for us."

Murray said the Lightning scouting staff utilized all their assets to find players all over the world, sometimes opting for players that might not have been on the radar of other teams but were heavily scouted by Tampa Bay.

Video: 2018 NHL Draft Recap

"Our staff takes a lot of pride in making sure we turn over every stone and look behind every fence post and try to find the guys that are the best players," Murray said. "Sometimes the best players aren't clearly the best players. There's no doubt (2018 Draft first overall pick Rasmus) Dahlin is the top player in the draft and everybody sees him. There's a lot of good players that people don't always get a chance to look at as much, and our scouts do a fantastic job of looking at them and finding them."

Fortier wasn't one of those players. He scored 26 goals and added 33 assists in 66 games, ranking third on Baie-Comeau for goals in 2017-18. He also played for Canada's Gold Medal-winning Under-18 team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in 2017 and netted two goals in five games.

"When I was like 5 years old, I started playing hockey," said Fortier, who was at American Airlines Center in Dallas waiting for his name to be called with his parents, his older brother Maxime, who signed a three-year entry-level contract with Columbus in 2017, and his girlfriend. "I wanted this moment, so it's a great deal for my family and me. It's amazing."

Fortier follows in the long list of undersized but skilled Lightning draftees at forward. The 18 year old said he models his game after the similarly smallish Brendan Gallagher from Montreal and watched intently as Yanni Gourde had success in the NHL this season with the Lightning.

"We've seen him be a goal scorer, we've seen him be a playmaker and we've seen him be an energy forward," Murray said. "So I think he gives himself 12 chances to make your team because he can play all three forward positions and he can play on any of your four lines. I'm not saying he's Yanni Gourde. But he's Yanni Gourde-like, so he has those kind of intangibles and that ability to move up and down the lineup and contribute in a lot of different ways."

Video: 2nd Round Pick Fortier celebrates with his parents

With their selection in the third round, the Lightning picked the first of three defensemen they would draft, taking 6-foot-3, 201-pound, right-shot defenseman Dmitry Semykin from Stupino 2 of the Russian Jr. League, where he racked up eight goals and seven assists in 2017-18. Semykin was one of the draftees Murray and his staff had to dig a little deeper to find.

"Big, mobile, good skill, competes hard, plays a hard-nosed style; he has all the attributes that we want," Murray said of Semykin. "He's off the beaten path a little bit, and our guys who saw him a lot really feel he was the best Russian defenseman in that age group and had he been a little better known and a little more exposure would have been on their U-18 teams. Had he been on the U-18 teams, we don't probably get him if he's as good as we think he's going to be."

The Lightning continued in the right-shot defenseman theme in Round Four, taking Alexander Green, who recently completed his freshman season at Cornell, where he was plus-nine with two goals and eight assists in 29 games. Prior to entering Cornell, Green played parts of two seasons with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, posting a goal and 14 assists in 15 games in 2016-17.

The 6-foot-2, 187-pound Green won a Gold Medal with the U.S. Select team at the 2016 World Junior 'A' Challenge and was selected to the CCM/USA Hockey All American Prospects Game in 2015.

"He's got a really bomb of a shot," said Brian Putnam, who scouted Green for the Lightning. "His offensive game's coming along every year. He gets a lot of responsibility playing power play now. He had a great freshman year at Cornell, and he's got nothing but upside to him. We're real happy to have him on."

Tampa Bay picked up its first of two goaltenders in the Fifth Round, grabbing Swedish netminder Magnus Chrona with pick No. 152.

Chrona stands 6-foot-4, weighs 194 pounds and catches left. He plays for Nacka HK of Sweden's Jr. U-18 league. For Nacka's Jr. Elite team, Chrona played in 15 games, posting a 2.13 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 2017-18.

"He's off the beaten path," Murray said. "You still can find certain players in Europe and we took a couple of them this year in Semykin and Chrona who are not in every tournament, not well known to everybody, you have to do some digging and you have to spend the extra time to watch their teams play and our guys did that this year and they came back very excited about these players. Then we send some other scouts in to watch, and we put all the information together. He's big. He's athletic. He wants to be a NHL player and he's in a good situation for developing."

Tampa Bay selected its second forward with its Sixth Round pick (No. 183), taking Cole Koepke, a 6-foot-1, 196-pound left wing who scored 28 goals and registered 39 points in 60 games for Sioux City of the USHL. Koepke was a teammate of Sammy Walker, Tampa Bay's Seventh Round draft pick (No. 200 overall) in 2017, at Sioux City this season.

"The feeling is pretty hard to describe," Koepke said about getting drafted. "It's something I've dreamed about my entire life growing up as a kid. Just to be here and go through the experience with my family is something we'll all remember."

Koepke signed a letter of intent with defending NCAA national champion University of Minnesota-Duluth in November. He's a 20-year-old, left-handed shot from Hermantown, Minnesota, who describes himself as a power forward.

Video: Al Murray on the 2018 NHL Draft

"I'm going to do things around the net and on the penalty kill and forechecking and getting pucks to the net and getting out front and using my size to my advantage," he said.

In the Seventh Round, Tampa Bay grabbed Radim Salda, a six-foot, left-shot defenseman who registered 10 goals and 41 points in 62 games for Saint John of the QMJHL in 2017-18, at pick No. 206.

"He plays at full competitiveness," said Anton Routa, who scouted Salda for Tampa Bay. "He's got a good first pass and skates well."

Eight selections later, the Lightning took goaltender Ty Taylor from the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League with their final pick of the draft.

Taylor, who will play at the University of New Hampshire next season, won the BCHL top goaltender award in 2017-18 after posting a 23-5-3 record with a 1.87 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and seven shutouts in 31 games.

"We went into every round with a group of players that we hoped would be there, and in every case they were there, players from that group or players from the previous group, players from the fifth or sixth round were still there at a later spot in the draft," Murray said. "Everybody gets players that you sometimes don't expect to be there. We thought the guys had a chance to be there and we were going to be really happy with them and some of them were still there that we thought would go earlier."

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