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Potential to find 'Hidden Gems' in Late Rounds of NHL Entry Draft

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning

If the Tampa Bay Lightning scouting department had its way, the NHL Draft would probably last until no one else wanted to make another selection.

Director of amateur scouting Al Murray and his staff grabbed under-appreciated Ondrej Palat and Matthew Peca in the seventh round in 2011 and both have blossomed into much higher-rated prospects. The Lightning has two more picks in the final round of the draft, June 30 at Newark, N.J., and they are intent on finding GM Steve Yzerman more hidden jewels to work with.

“We’ve told Steve to get us two more 6s and three more 7s,” Murray said. “There are lots of guys we like that we think are late bloomers. Hopefully, we can find another Ondrej Palat. Those guys don’t come along every year. But you strive to get a player like that every draft.”

Murray said the regional structure of the Lightning’s scouting plan produces more chances to find late-round gems. Unlike many other teams around the league, each scout stays in his own area and gets as many as 15-20 views of each player. That breeds more confidence in projections.

Murray said the regional structure of the Lightning’s scouting plan produces more chances to find late-round gems. 

There are always players left on the list when the draft ends and the Lightning has not stopped there, signing several free agents such as American Hockey League MVP Tyler Johnson, Andrej Sustr and J.T. Brown. Tampa Bay also picked goalie Adam Wilcox in the sixth round in 2011 and he produced an outstanding freshman season at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s our area scouts that give us an opportunity to be more successful in the later rounds,” Murray said. “They are not the guys up on the stage very often, but they make things successful.”

Peca, who led Quinnipiac to the NCAA championship game in April, went 201st overall. Palat, who played 14 games for the Lightning this season, went 208th after being passed over in the draft for several years.

The two prospects are examples of the types of players that are available late in the draft. Some you must project many years forward and others have progressed or gotten stronger over the past few years. NHL television analyst and TSN scout Craig Button counts 19 players born in 1993 and 94 that should have been drafted, but were passed over.

“When you have seven rounds, you just can’t be relying on your first pick,” Button said. “You have to be able to find players in the later rounds.

“I think the vast majority of mistakes in the draft are made on size. Teams overestimate the big guys and underestimate the smaller players.”

Peca posted eight goals and 31 assists as a freshman at Quinnipiac and added 15 goals and 15 assists in 2012-13, scoring three times in the NCAA quarterfinal game.

“[Peca] wasn’t the biggest player at 17,” Button said. “But when you watched him play, you started to look at the essential elements to be a player in the NHL – skating, quickness, ability to play at a high pace, handling the puck, being able to think the game and compete level. He’s got all those things.

“He was 5-9, about 160-pounds, then. But what is he going to be at 21-22? The second part of this is being able to project and being patient. You don’t have anywhere near a finished product at 17 or 18.”

Button said undrafted defenseman Torey Krug has stepped in and played well for the Boston Bruins in the playoffs after he was mistakenly passed over due to size. The Lightning may have the best example of all in Martin St. Louis, who is approaching 1,000 points with two scoring titles after being ignored when there were more than seven rounds in the draft.

Palat was 20 when he was selected, four picks from the end of the draft. The left wing recorded 39 goals and 57 assists in 2010-11 for Drummondville. Button said the teams that are successful in the later rounds don’t stop scouting players after their draft years.

“You have to be able to look past the measurables,” Button said. “That player, given the opportunity to physically develop and mature, what can he do? You also have to be open-minded. Players improve. Just because he wasn’t drafted one year doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be drafted this year.

“The reason Warren Buffett is worth billions of dollars is he always found value in the stocks that everybody else wasn’t looking at as having value. I think it’s the same thing for hockey players.”

Many have rated this year’s draft comparable to 2003 when several standout players were selected in the top two rounds and the depth was as good as it has ever been. Even without currently having a third- or fourth-round pick, the Lightning will have four in the last three and Murray is confident the Lightning can add good prospects in the rare one-day draft.

Murray and head scout Darryl Plandowski merge the regional lists after review and meetings to rate the top players. Then it is up to the regional scouts to take control of their lists of the players that are left.

“We give them ownership of that back end of the draft,” Murray said. “They’ll take as much information as they can get and then it’s their list. They get that opportunity to have an impact on the team in the mid to late rounds.

“We’re not going to jump over three of their guys to take the fourth guy on their list. We’re going to take the top guy on their list if we feel he’s better than the players on the other lists. I think our guys take tremendous pride in getting out there and seeing the teams enough that they really know what’s going on.”

Top 7th-round or later picks the last 10 years (team drafted by)


F Nikita Gusev (Tampa Bay) – 12 points in 24 KHL games in 2012-13


F Ondrej Palat (Tampa Bay) – 14 games for Lightning


F Joonas Rask (Nashville) – played two games for the Predators


F Jordan Nolan (Los Angeles)

D Oliver Lauridesen (Philadelphia)


D Jason Demers (San Jose)

D Matt Bartkowski (Boston)

G Anders Lindback (Nashville)


D Carl Gunnarson (Toronto)

D Justin Braun (San Jose)

F Frazer McLaren (San Jose)

D Paul Postma (Winnipeg)


F Derek Dorsett (Columbus)

F Benn Ferreiro (Phoenix)

F Erik Condra (Ottawa)


F Joe Vitale (Pittsburgh)

F Sergei Kostitsyn (Montreal)

F Colin Greening (Ottawa)

F Patric Hornqvist (Nashville)

D Anton Stralman (Toronto)

D Kyle Cummiskey (Colorado)

(Note: The draft was nine rounds in 2003 and 2004)


F Troy Brouwer (Chicago)

F Brandon Yip (Colorado)

F Daniel Winnik (Phoenix)

F Jannik Hansen (Vancouver)

D Mark Streit (Montreal)

D Grant Cltsome (Columbus)

D Matt Hunwick (Boston)

D Chris Campoli (NY islanders)

G Pekka Rinne (Nashville)

G Anton Khudobin (Minnesota)


F Joe Pavelski (San Jose)

F Matt Moulson (Pittsburgh)

F Tanner Glass (Florida)

F Kyle Brodziak (Edmonton)

F David Jones (Colorado)

D Dustin Byfuglien (Chicago)

D Tobias Enstrom (Winnipeg)

D Shane O’Brien (Anaheim)

G Jarolsav Halak (Montreal)

G Brian Elliott (Ottawa)

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