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This week's topic: The NHL Draft is this weekend. The Lightning have the No. 19 and No. 28 picks in the first round. What will you be watching for the Lightning to do at the draft? Are there any prospects you have an eye out for the Lightning to draft?
While the Tampa Bay Lightning have had a tendency in the Steve Yzerman/Al Murray era to value their first round draft picks highly, the thing everyone should (correctly) be looking for is whether the Lightning will use some of their assets to make a trade for NHL-ready help on the blue line.
Following the Martin St. Louis trade (and the New York Rangers reaching the Stanley Cup Final), the Bolts have two 1st round picks in each of the next two years, with the 2015 draft generally considered the stronger of the two. That means if you're going to move a 1st, you'd be more keen on moving one now than next summer.
If Tampa Bay holds on to both picks, look for them to follow the model they have for the past several years, drafting the best player available on their board when their pick comes up regardless of position. The strength of this draft is, according to Al Murray and many others, at forward (particularly wing), but with two late 1sts, don't be surprised to see an overlooked European skill forward (like Jakub Vrana or Vladislav Kamenev) and one of the defenseman ranked behind Aaron Ekblad (Haydn Fleury, Julius Honka, or Travis Sanheim) picked as the Bolts have the luxury of filling out the system with top prospects at multiple positions.
When it comes to this year's NHL Draft, I'd like to see the Lightning pick mainly defensemen. A goaltender or two-way forward might also be a good pickup.
Some names that jump out at me, and likely will still be available when the team picks, are Red Deer Rebels defenseman Haydn Fleury, Moncton Wildcats left winger Ivan Barbashev, Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko and Kingston Frontenacs defenseman Roland McKeown.
For the Lightning, Fleury would be an asset on the power play, and his size makes him a physical presence that isn't afraid to go into dirty areas near the front of opposing nets.
Barbashev, meanwhile, is a smart player with good instincts that can find teammates without much trouble. He would complement guys like Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and others well in the Lightning organization.
Demko is far-and-away the best netminder in this year's draft. His big size fits the mold general manager Steve Yzerman's been looking for, plus he's able to track the puck and move exceptionally well.
Finally, there's McKeown. While a work in progress, this young prospect has the ability to develop into an elite NHL defender a few years down the road because he can pretty much do everything on the back end.
To me, any of these prospects would complement the pieces already in place to help the Lightning win a Stanley Cup sooner rather than later.
With the two later round picks, it's not just tough to judge who will be available at No. 19 and No 28 respectively, but also to gauge who the Bolts feel is best-on-the-board at that point. I'll trust Steve Yzerman and Al Murray with their selections.
That doesn't mean I expect selections. What I'm watching for with the draft, in general among NHL teams, is player movement/transactions. I've seen mixed judgement of the draft class, heard plenty about the mixed/weak impending free-agent class, and rumors that some teams are overvaluing the No. 1 overall pick and making a very serious push for it.
The Lightning and the Anaheim Ducks are the only teams heading into this weekend's draft with two first round picks. There's always some risk involved with draftees, no matter what round they are taken in. While there aren't as many stand out names who have been dubbed the next savior of hockey in this year's class, there are quite a few solid players that could impact the Lightning's roster in the near future.
Experts seem to think that the strength in this year's draft will be wingers. If the Bolts look to take advantage of this position with their pick in the No. 19 spot, a good candidate that may still be available is RW Alex Tuch out of the US National Program. Already 6'3" and 222 pounds, he uses his size and strength to wear down opponents. He may not be as flashy as some, but Tuch has the potential to be a power forward in the NHL. The Lightning have plenty of finesse in their lineup and in their system. Tuch could bring a toughness that they need.
If the Bolts keep both first round picks and are willing to roll the dice a bit, Finnish defenseman Julius Honka is an interesting prospect. Standing at 5'11" and 174 pounds, Honka makes up for any lack of size with his offensive playmaking ability. He has agility, speed, and led all WHL defensemen in scoring last season. He's also a coveted right-handed shot. The offensive abilities overshadow his D play so far, but he has the potential to mature into a power play quarterback.
This draft could be an interesting one for the Lightning.
There’s a lot of speculation floating out there that the team might be interested in trading for some help on the blue line. I won’t go as far as saying that I expect Steve Yzerman will package one of the picks to acquire another defenseman, but the possibility certainly exists.
With so much young talent loaded throughout the roster, I’m of the belief that shipping off a late first rounder wouldn’t set the team back in any measurable way. If a deal for the right player presents itself, there’s really no reason not to pull the trigger.
With that said, there is also the very real possibility that Yzerman & Co. will elect to make selections with both the No. 19 and No. 28 picks. One name that has me particularly intrigued is Ivan Barbashev, the winger from Moncton in the QMJHL. Billed as an offensively gifted, defensively responsible winger with good hockey instincts, Barbashev sounds like a solid fit for the Lightning system.
If the Bolts do decide to draft a forward (like Barbashev) at 19, I do hope that a defenseman is taken at 28. With two picks in the first round, the team can afford to draft based on position with one of the selections. Getting two quality players who play two different positions in the same first round would be fantastic.
With the upcoming draft, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has many options ahead of him. Some have considered this draft to be weak so in all likelihood, Yzerman will probably package one of the draft picks along with his young forwards to deal for a top-4 D that would lean more towards a top-2 D to play with Victor Hedman.
Although with Al Murray leading the way in terms of scouting there is also a good chance that the Bolts will keep both picks and draft some players depending on what Murray has seen. Either way, expect Tampa to be apart of the news as Yzerman has shown to be willing to make a splash at the draft.