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Lightning Ready to Make the Most of Picks

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning

There are very few sure things in the NHL Draft.

The pressure is on to pick that perfect franchise player in the top three or that all-star potential athlete in the next 10. Mistakes with an 18-year old can cost an organization for years.

Best late picks since '00

  • 2000 Justin Williams (28th) – Philadelphia
    Niklas Kronwall (29th) – Detroit
  • 2001 David Steckel (30th) – Los Angeles
    (Note: Derek Roy, Buffalo, was second pick of the second round)
  • 2002 Jim Slater (30th) – Atlanta
    (Note: Duncan Keith, Chicago, went 54th overall)
  • 2003 Corey Perry (28th) – Anaheim
    (Note: Loui Eriksson, Dallas, was third pick of second round)
  • 2004 Jeff Schultz (27th) – Washington
    Mark Fistric (28th) – Dallas
    Mike Green (29th) – Washington
    (Note: Dave Bolland, Chicago, was second pick of second round)
  • 2005 Matt Niskanen (28th) – Dallas
    Steve Downie (29th) – Philadelphia
    (Note: James Neal, Dallas, was third pick of second round)
  • 2006 Nick Foligno (28th) – Ottawa
    (Note: Milan Lucic, Boston, went 50th overall)
  • 2007 None
    (Note: David Perron, St. Louis, went 26th overall)
  • 2008 John Carlson (27th) – Washington
    (Note: Tyler Ennis, Buffalo, went 26th overall)
  • 2009 Carter Ashton (29th) – Tampa Bay
    (Note: Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado, was third pick of second round)
  • 2010 Emerson Etem (29th) – Anaheim
    (Note: Etem had 45 goals for Medicine Hat of the WHL)

Best 27th picks in '90s

(Note: from 1997 back, the 27th pick was in the second round)

  • 1998 Scott Gomez- New Jersey
  • 1997 Ben Clymer- Boston
  • 1996 Cory Sarich- Buffalo
  • 1994 Rhett Warrener- Florida
  • 1992 Boris Mironov- Winnipeg
  • 1991 Steve Staios- St. Louis

Making the smart choices is just as important near the close of the first round, where the NHL’s top teams who don’t trade their picks attempt to remain a Cup contender by stocking the future with assets.

That’s just where the Lightning stands after reaping the rewards of picking first, second and sixth, respectively, the last three years. The Bolts’ magical playoff run gave them the 27th selection on the first day of the Entry Draft Friday night in St. Paul, Minnesota, fourth from the bottom.

Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray will run the show for the Lightning, rating a draft class that is projected as being very solid through at least 60 picks.

“There’s uncertainty with every pick,” Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman said. “But we believe that we’re going to get a good prospect at No. 27. How good that player turns out to be we will know in two, three, four years. So many things can happen.

“I know that [Murray] and his staff have worked very hard all year, studied the players, watched them over and over and we’ll make the best possible decisions at the draft table.”

History has shown drafting late in the first round is like baseball. There are home runs, singles and plenty of strikeouts. For every defenseman like Mike Green (28th in 2004), there is a Joe Finley (27th in 2005), who has never played in the NHL. For every forward like Corey Perry (picked 28th in 2003), there is a Mike Morris (27th in 2002), who never played in the NHL mostly due to post concussion syndrome.

After Scott Gomez went 27th in 1998, for the next eight years that pick produced three middle-of-the-road NHL players in Jeff Woywitka, Jeff Schultz and Jeff Tambellini, five who played 14 or less NHL games – including three who have played none. John Carlson, Washington’s 27th pick in 2008, might end up being the best since Gomez.

“That’s where teams really have to be sharp,” NHL Network and TSN analyst Craig Button said. “They have to think, that’s the guy we covet and we’re going to go get him.”

Yzerman will set the guidelines, be involved in all the discussions and make the call on whether to trade up or down, but he will allow the scouting staff to make the decisions on who to select. He watched the Detroit Red Wings use that structure with success while he was a player and in management.

Sixteen players who made at least one appearance for the Red Wings last season were drafted 29th or lower by them. You can look at the bottom of the standings for teams that don’t add enough solid players to their organization.

“If you don’t select a good player that can contribute, you’re going to squeeze in the middle of the tooth paste,” Button said. “At some point in time, it’s going to come out of both sides and you’re going to be in trouble.”

Murray said he is confident this draft will offer plenty of good options.

Button said the 2012 class is chock full of defensemen near the top, but this year’s group has a lot of variety. There are some players with high upside that may be a bit of a gamble and players who are safe bets with lower upside. There is an abundance of smaller players with speed and skill, both offensive and defensive-minded defensemen and a few goalies.

It’s a long wait. Trying to predict what will happen is the toughest thing for those picking late on the first day of the draft.

“You can’t go in with any set idea,” Murray said. “But you need to be ready for whatever might come your way.

“We’ve got about a half dozen players that we think have a chance to be there when we pick. They run the range of all positions, all shapes and all sizes. It’s really difficult to know what’s going to be there at 27, because we’re at the mercy of the teams ahead of us.”

Yzerman said he is open to trading up or down. Eight teams in the second round currently have multiple picks.

“If there’s one player who is clearly above the next group, then we’ll likely keep the pick,” Yzerman said. “If we feel we’re looking at a group of players of which we’d be happy with anyone in that group, we’d consider moving that pick to acquire two seconds and increase our odds by getting two kicks at the can. But that can’t be decided until we’re at the table and about to pick.”

The many mock drafts, whether well researched or guesswork, have predicted the Lightning to take several different players. Maybe even more so than previous years, the consensus on who is going 12-25 is varied.

There are always going to be good players available. The biggest question to answer for each team is which ones have the traits that will make them successful five years down the road.

“They’re so young that it’s tough,” Lightning Head Amateur Scout Darryl Plandowski said. “You need to have a little luck. You need to have a guy you really like still there and you’ve got to be right about that guy.”

Late-Round Possibles
(Some of the top players who could be around late in the first round, according to various projections)

Player  HT WT Pos. 2010-11 Team
Nicklas Jensen 6-2 188 RW Oshawa (OHL)
Tyler Biggs  6-2 210   RW U.S. National Team
Matt Puempel 6-0 198 LW Peterborough (OHL)
Dimitri Jaskin 6-2 197 RW Slavia (Rus.)
Rocco Grimaldi  5-6 163 C U.S. National Team
J.T. Miller 6-1 198 LW U.S. National Team
Richard Rakell 6-0 191 RW Plymouth (OHL)
Jonas Brodin  6-1 165 D Farjestad, (Swe.)
David Musil  6-4 200 D Vancouver (WHL)
Scott Mayfield    6-4 197 D Youngstown (USHL)
Joe Morrow 6-1   197 D Portland (WHL)
Oscar Klefbom  6-4 200 D Farjestad  (Swe.)
Connor Murphy   6-3 185 D U.S. National Team
Stuart Percy  6-1   184 D Mississauga (OHL)
Ryan Sproul   6-4 185 D Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
John Gibson 6-3 205 G U.S. National Team
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