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Lightning Draft Preparation Underway

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning
From Moose Jaw to Moscow, Boston to Fargo, Quebec to Stockholm, the Lightning scouting staff will see it all before the NHL Entry Draft June 26-27 in Montreal.

Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton said his staff has blanketed the world to evaluate and identify players they would like to help take the Lightning into the future and help reach the goal of being a contender for a Stanley Cup year in and year out.

Drafting well has always been a key in building a strong organization. But since the salary cap was installed for the 2005-06 season, Lawton said it is even more important.

“I think now you’re starting to see the draft really coming up to what its true value is in the league,” said Lawton. “It’s the wave of the future.”

The Lightning own the second pick in the draft and four selections in the top 74, along with three in the final four rounds. Lawton said it’s possible they could add picks and move up or down.

A preliminary rating list was put together early on and Lawton said it is refined as time goes on. Playoffs are still in progress, the Under-18 World Championships were just contested in North Dakota, won by the United States, and the scouting combine for the draft is slated for later this month.

“We’ll have a series of higher-level meetings as we get closer to the draft,” Lawton said. “We’re not done with that process.”

It has been a concerted effort from east to west, with added emphasis in the areas where there are more prospects. Lawton said he thinks it’s important to move some scouts from region to region so they are not pigeon-holed in a particular league.

“We’re trying to have a very lean, but mean staff,” Lawton said.

Jim Hammett, the Lightning’s Director of Player Personnel, is Lawton’s point man for this deep draft.

Hammett started out as a junior coach in British Columbia, worked as a scout for the Canadian National Team and was Head Scout for the Colorado Avalanche for eight years, including 2001 when they won the Stanley Cup. He spent the 2007-08 season as Head Amateur Scout for the New York Rangers.

“He’s got a great track record,” Lawton said. “This is an enormous time for him and his staff to shine.”

Like every other sport, the draft has become more sophisticated with testing and analysis. The players are bigger, stronger and faster.

Lawton said the Lightning are looking for players with more than speed, skill and size.

“With our scouts, hockey IQ is the No. 1 trait we’re looking for in players,” Lawton said. “We’re looking for players that will do whatever it takes to win, that understand the game and are interchangeable in their abilities. We’re not just looking for big guys, not just looking for fast little guys, we’re looking for intelligent hockey players.”

Lightning assistant GM Claude Loiselle said the players will be evaluated for their emotional stability, maturity level, overall intelligence and awareness.

“You try and gauge their ability to learn, develop and adapt,” Loiselle said. “It’s hard to do in a small environment, but add it all together and you can get a book on a kid.

“Throughout the year, we ask our scouts to really dig in to the kids – talk to their coaches, find out how they behave outside the hockey realm to make sure we get great kids like Steven Stamkos.”

There seems to be a new scouting service every year. The Central Scouting Bureau, the Red Line Report and The Hockey News ratings are three of the most prominent. A consensus is difficult to come to at times.

Loiselle said face to face interviews help make things clearer.

“The book is never 100 percent,” Loiselle said. “There is a lot of different information out there, but is it accurate information? Where is it coming from? That’s why you lean heavily on your scouting staff to decipher what is real and what is not. I like knowing what’s out there, but I want to know exactly. By having these interviews you can address those issues straight on. There are a lot of rumors that circulate around some of these kids and having that interview process is a good way to identify them.”

There is still a lot of work to do. No stone will be left unturned. Lawton was headed to Europe Tuesday.

Lawton said the Lightning will look at all options before June 26. He had one prediction about draft day: “It’ll be fast, action-packed and a little bit wild.”

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