PHILADELPHIA – When it comes to drafting players in the National Hockey League, it is all about patience and development, two ideals that run parallel with the Tampa Bay Lightning organizational philosophy.
It was seen first hand last year when Jonathan Drouin worked to further improve his game with his junior team the Halifax Mooseheads, and while the Lightning may not be drafting as early as they did in 2013, director of amateur scouting Al Murray said that he and the rest of the scouting staff are still preparing the same way.
“There’s a little more waiting,” Murray said. “But no change in the process.”
With that in mind, there is also a possibility for vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman to trade up for an earlier pick or for a player that is considered elite falling to the Lightning at No. 19 or 28.
TYPE OF PLAYERS AVAILABLE
One area of the draft where the Lightning will see change however is the type of players available. The 2013 draft bred many potential No. 1 forwards and defensemen and the same is expected in 2015, whereas this time around players are predicted to fill out the middle of the lineup.
“Overall you’re seeing more support players that’ll be good second and third line guys,” Murray said. “Some will have the ability to become first line players too.”
Of course drafting a high-end player is always exciting for an organization, however the importance of filling out the middle lines is something the Bolts will not overlook.
“You need that strength from top to bottom in your lineup,” Murray said. “We’ll be very happy with the guys we get at No. 19 and No. 28.”
After its past campaign came to a close, it was evident that Tampa Bay still has work to do when it comes to defense. Yet Murray said that does not mean they will necessarily be looking for blueliners at the draft this weekend.
“People keep telling me we need defensemen,” Murray said. “I’m looking at all the young defensemen we have and I’m not necessarily agreeing with that.”
With Victor Hedman, who is turning just 24 this year, continuing to move toward the upper echelon of defensemen and with a number of young blueliners on the Bolts getting their first NHL season under their belts, Murray feels the Lightning do not need blueliners at the prospect level.
“We need veteran defensemen,” Murray said. “We think we have a lot of good young prospects on defense and it's not what we perceive as a major organizational need.”
In addition to the Lightning’s young blueliners, three Bolts prospects - Luke Witkowksi, Nikita Nesterov and Artem Sergev – went pro in 2013-14 with AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch. Dylan Blujus, Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek are also expected to go pro this coming year.
OPPORTUNITIES A PLENTY
Mark Barberio, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are all evidence of the confidence the Lightning have in their development system and that is expected to continue in the future.
“We’ve shown a lot of opportunities for players once they show they’re ready,” Murray said. “We give them the opportunity to show what they can do at the NHL level.”
A main reason for their success is attributed to the Bolts director of player development Stacy Roest.
“As much as we think we’re pretty important in the process, once you draft the player it’s whether you develop them properly or not, as to whether they become NHL players,” Murray said.
From the moment Bolts prospects are drafted, Roest plays an integral role in preparing them for the future. Taking them under his wing, Roest stays in close contact with them through juniors and helps them make the transition to the AHL and/or NHL. He also runs Tampa Bay’s development camp, which is being held from July 2 to 6 this year in Brandon.
OTHER ODDS ‘N ENDS
Round 1 of the 2014 NHL Draft starts at 7 p.m. Friday from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (NBCSN). Rounds 2-7 starts at 10 a.m. Saturday (NHL Network).
The Lightning have two draft picks in the first round (19th, 28th). It also holds six more picks in the second (50th), third (80th), fifth (140th, 142nd), sixth (170th) and seventh (200th).