For a second consecutive day, the Lightning management team led by general manager Steve Yzerman and director of amateur scouting Al Murray spearheaded an effort to improve the club in the future by acquiring a number of prospects they expect to make a significant impact in the NHL.
Yzerman and Murray proved to be extremely busy Saturday, selecting four forwards (Brian Hart, Tanner Richard, Cedric Paquette and Nikita Gusev), along with two defensemen (Dylan Blujus and Jake Dotchin), for a total of six picks in rounds two through seven. Yzerman even addressed one of the team’s current needs, acquiring left wing Benoit Pouliot from the Boston Bruins in a trade.
“Our focus on this draft was to address some of the needs for our team, including goaltending and defensemen,” Yzerman said. “We weren’t going to take D just to take D, but we liked certain guys who were big and who had good skating ability.”
As far as Pouliot is concerned, the trade was made with the goal of helping the team improve now, while the draft picks are expected to pay big dividends for the club sometime soon down the road.
Pouliot is expected to make an immediate impact, as he is a high-skilled forward who is likely to play on the third line, but who can also contribute on the power play and with his size, can serve as a big body in front of the net. The draft picks of this past weekend, eight in total, are perceived to add depth to the organization as it continues to develop prospects within its own system, allowing Yzerman to chart their progress to ultimately determine where each individual fits in.
Blujus, selected in the second round with the 40th overall pick, possesses a heavy right shot for a defenseman, and served on the top pair this past season in Brampton of the OHL. He also earned time on both the power play and the penalty kill for the Battalion, with whom he registered seven goals and 34 points in 66 games in 2011-12.
“He has a really good reach, he gets his stick on pucks, and he has really good defensive positioning,” Murray said. “He needs to get stronger and he’ll need to mature physically, but all parts of his game are similar to Slater [Koekkoek] in that he is a good two-way player.”
With the 53rd overall pick, the Bolts selected forward Brian Hart, a former soccer player who plans to attend Harvard this fall. While Murray said he is not an elite skater, he is a pure goal scorer who has a good right-handed shot and also possesses a big body. Hart even has some ties to the Tampa Bay community, as his grandparents live nearby in the area.
“He loves to score goals,” Murray said. “He’s a tremendous athlete who broke several state records in soccer, so now that he’s chosen hockey, we hope he can continue to do that.”
The Lightning then chose another forward, Tanner Richard, with the 71st overall pick. Richard hails from the same city as Steven Stamkos (Markham, Ontario) and appeared in 43 games with Guelph of the OHL this past season, recording 13 goals and 48 points. Richard admitted that after attending a Lightning playoff game in 2004, the Bolts have earned a special place in his heart as his favorite NHL team.
After suffering a concussion this past season, Richard, the son of former Swiss League standout Mike Richard, stated among his most significant attributes are his versatility to be used on both the power play and the penalty kill, although he classifies himself as a power forward who is willing to fill any role asked of him. Born in Switzerland, Richard speaks a number of languages and has previously represented Switzerland on the international stage.
“He’s a two-way center ice man with good hockey sense and skill, but he also has a real solid defensive game and has some grit to his game as well,” Murray said. “We’re excited about his potential.”
The most interesting pick of the day, however, belonged to forward Cedric Paquette, who was taken in the fourth round with the 101st overall pick. Paquette was not listed in the Top 200 of the NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings, and had not even spoken to the Lightning since November, he said at his post-selection press conference.
But according to Murray, the current QMJHLer is a competitor who is hard-nosed, tough and scores goals because of his willingness to go to the tough areas.
“He has some work to do on his feet to get quicker,” Murray added, “but we’re excited about the grit and competitiveness he brings, along with some skill.”
As for Murray’s take on the NHL Central Scouting Rankings with regard to Paquette, “we place zero significance on that. None,” he said. “We look at those lists as a double-check to see where they have them on their list, but we always ask ourselves if we’ve seen him or if we know him, so in relation to where we pick players, it has zero effect.”
After the Lightning traded their fifth-round pick as part of the Pouliot deal, the 161st overall pick in the sixth round was used to snatch up Dotchin, a defenseman from the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL who recorded three goals and 19 points in 64 games. Dotchin is a big, hard-nosed defenseman who is also classified as a good skater, and for what it’s worth, had one of the larger fan clubs in the stands to cheer him on among all the Lightning’s 2012 draft picks.
“His team last season wasn’t very strong, so they used him as a shutdown player to go against all the best lines on the other teams,” Murray said. “We liked the way he approaches the game. He goes out against the top lines of the others teams and tries to make their life miserable. He’s physical and in your face, but he skates well enough that he can play against anyone. He’s somewhat of a junior version of Adam McQuaid from the Boston Bruins.”
Lastly, in the seventh round, the Bolts received somewhat of a steal in selecting highly-skilled Russian forward Nikita Gusev.
Gusev shined on the international stage at the 2012 World Juniors where he helped his native country capture a silver medal after depositing three goals and nine points in seven games during the tournament.
While at the tournament, he played alongside Bolts’ 2011 draft pick Nikita Kucherov (and has actually been a long-time linemate of Kucherov dating back to even before the 2012 World Juniors), and recorded seven points in a single game. He is small is stature, perhaps yielding reason to why he was previously passed over in the draft twice prior to 2012, but has great hands and great finesse.
“He’s terrifically skilled and is competitive,” Murray said. “He sees the ice real well and has a lot of talent. At that spot in the seventh round, there was just no question. He was the most talented player left on our list.”