To get an idea of just how good the Tampa Bay Lightning are at landing undrafted players once considered college standouts, look no further than the team’s current roster.
Among the names listed which meet that exact description are Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell, and as recently as approximately one month ago, young forward JT Brown.
Highly regarded as the nation’s top college free agent this past season, Brown signed with the Lightning after his alma mater, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, lost out in its quest to reach the 2012 Frozen Four which coincidentally enough was being held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Brown would end up coming to Tampa Bay one way or another, but it wasn’t so much as to how he arrived as to why.
Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman, working alongside Senior Advisor Tom Kurvers, had scouted Brown heavily and liked what the native of Burnsville, Minnesota had to offer. Despite standing just 5-foot-10 in stature, and weighing in at 170 pounds, Brown brought passion and an inherent pedigree of athleticism combined with speed and a strong hockey sense.
Further sweetening the deal was also that the sense of attraction was mutual.
According to several reports, a number of teams made a pitch at the forward, including both the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, before Brown ultimately chose to join the Lightning.
“It came down to what the best fit was for me,” Brown said in a phone interview last week. “I knew that Tampa Bay was a good organization who had a strong year last year and that they were headed in the right direction.”
And at the helm steering the ship is Yzerman himself.
As a long-time member of the Detroit Red Wings organization, both as a player and an executive in the club’s front office, Yzerman became familiar with talent, that perhaps like St. Louis and Purcell early in their careers, had been flying under the radar.
That included players such as Tomas Holmstrom, a 10th-round draft choice in 1994, as well as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who were seventh and sixth-round selections, respectively.
Brown is set to gain further experience as part of Team USA in the World Championships which kick off May 4 in Finland and Sweden.
Now just two years into his position as Lightning general manager, Yzerman is utilizing that same approach of finding diamonds in the rough to build the Lightning into a perennial contender.
“My goal is to win a Stanley Cup here,” Yzerman said recently. “We need young players and we need to build that way.”
In 81 career games with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, with whom he won an NCAA championship in 2011, he collected 40 goals to go along with 109 penalty minutes, showcasing a combination of his prolific scoring ability, as well as some grit. He is also known to be an exceptional skater who is strong on the puck and who is committed to defense.
“He has all the top characteristics we look for in a player, including high skill and compete levels,” Yzerman added. “We’re glad he chose to play for the Lightning.”
Along those same lines, Yzerman also tabbed Cory Conacher, who like Brown, signed with the Lightning following a successful college hockey career. Conacher led the American Hockey League in goals this past season while playing for the Bolts’ top affiliate in Norfolk, lighting the lamp 39 times en route to winning league MVP honors in just his first professional season.
The display certainly served as a showcase of the forward’s offensive skills, but perhaps just as much so highlighted Yzerman’s own knack for attracting young talent to lead the team in the future.