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Despite unknown, Lightning remain both prepared and optimistic heading into first round of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

There is so much left to chance regarding the first round of this year’s NHL Entry Draft, the Lightning’s director of amateur scouting Al Murray says, that it has potential to go down as “one of the most unpredictable” he has ever been involved with.

Still, with two picks secured at spots 10 and 19 heading into tonight’s opening round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman is remaining steadfast in sticking to his initial plan of drafting the best player available. But while holding a strong draft stock certainly provides a level of comfort going in, however, Yzerman also appears prepared to take on anything depending on how selections in the first round go.

“As we’re heading into those picks, things might change,” Yzerman said. “Depending on how things look, you start exploring different options or maybe your phone starts ringing, but right now we intend to go in with [picks] 10 and 19.”

Because there is so little consensus among which prospects’ stocks will increase and fall while at the draft table, there is simply no telling who the Lightning might choose. Murray, however, did say the team does have a list of about “15 players that we really like.”

The scene is set at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center for the 2012 NHL Draft.

“There are some rumors out there from people who think this isn’t a very strong draft, but those are probably teams that don’t have two first-round picks,” Murray said. “We’re very happy to have two first-round picks, and we feel there are a lot of good players with potential to be solid NHL players.”

Among those included in the talent pool are a large number of defensive prospects, who in the future, could help the Lightning in an area that is still considered to be deficient. But, with nearly as many talented forward and goaltending prospects, it is reasonable to think the team could look to other positions to attempt to patch up an organizational hole.

“We have needs, but these kids are 18 years old, and it won't be two or three years before they are ready to play for us,” Yzerman said. “So, your needs may change by then, and so we’re going to select the best available player.”

“If there was a tie, we might go that way [with a defenseman], but we don't have any ties right now,” Murray added. “We have our list in a certain order and whichever player comes up when it's time for us to pick at 10 and 19, we'll be pretty happy.”

If the Lightning retain both of their two first-round picks, it would be just the second time in team history that two picks were made in the opening round. The first occurred three years ago, at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, where Tampa Bay selected Victor Hedman with the second overall pick, and Carter Ashton with the 29th overall choice.

However, if a more attractive offer becomes available that is perceived to improve the hockey club, Yzerman is open to examining other scenarios.

“Depending on how the first round goes, we might be more flexible with the 19th [pick],” Yzerman said. “But as of now, we’re going to go into the draft with great optimism and hope that every player you pick turns into something that helps you. We feel good about this draft, particularly the first round, and we feel there is quality there. There is a lot of uncertainty, but with what we have, we feel good about it.”

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