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Steve Yzerman focusing on skill rather than need as 2015 NHL Draft approaches

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning will have nine selections when the 2015 NHL Entry Draft commences Friday 7 p.m. at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

All first round picks will be made Friday. Rounds two through seven will be held Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

The Lightning own the 28th overall selection in the first round, a pick acquired from the New York Rangers as part of the trade that brought Ryan Callahan to the Bolts in exchange for former captain Martin St. Louis.

While speaking with media from the team hotel on the eve of Friday’s draft, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said the team would look to draft the best available player with each of its picks rather than selecting based on positional need.

The Lightning own a single pick in the second (No. 44 overall), third (No. 64), fifth (No. 150) and seventh (No. 208) rounds.

The Bolts have a pair of selections in the fourth (No. 118 and 120) and sixth rounds (No. 153 and 180).

“I think you’re always optimistic at this time,” Yzerman said. “We have nine picks, a late first and then second and early third and then several later on. You can’t predict what we’re going to do or who we’re going to get picking in these spots because it can get very unpredictable, but we have a chance to add. We moved a lot of young players into our lineup, so it’s a chance to add more prospects into the system that hopefully, one day, one or two of them or more are eventually NHL players.”

Yzerman said he has touched based with every team over the last two weeks about possible trades, but, as of now, the team is content using all nine of its selections this weekend. If a trade is made, it’s usually the result of a last-minute deal pitched on the floor by another GM.

“We like having draft picks,” Yzerman said. “Our guys spend a lot of time throughout the year scouting. It’s nice to put that time to good use. These calls are kind of made on the floor, whether you’re trading up or trading down, but our plan right now is to hang onto our picks and just use them.”

The top of the 2015 Draft has gotten plenty of attention with can’t-miss prospects like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel nearly assured of being selected with the top two picks.

Beyond that, the prospect pool gets a bit murkier, but Yzerman thinks there is plenty of talent to be acquired throughout all seven rounds.

“Every draft you’re optimistic that there are players to be found,” Yzerman said. “We’re excited about it all the way through. We try to tell our guys, whatever round you’re picking in, make sure you get up there on that microphone and you’re excited about that pick…For the scouts, they get to the fifth, sixth, seventh rounds, now they’re getting excited because these are guys they’ve researched and not necessarily hoping to hit a home run but they’re not the obvious ones and that’s where the challenge is for them. It’s exciting for them when those rounds come around. I’d like to think it’s a pretty deep draft but we’ll look at it in three, four or five years and know if it’s a deep draft because there’s so much different at 17 and 18, even 19 I guess. Generally drafts are considered really good when you have the high end guys at the beginning, and obviously you have that here.

“But I think you’re going to get good prospects throughout.”

The Lightning have a trio of restricted free agent defensemen – Mark Barberio, Andrej Sustr and Luke Witkowski – along with unrestricted free agent forward Brenden Morrow this offseason. Yzerman said the team will start discussions about those players this week. Yzerman met with Morrow after the Stanley Cup Final before the veteran forward left with his family on vacation. The two will resume their talks once both are back in Tampa.

“He was debating what he wanted to do,” Yzerman said. “Basically, we said that we would talk in the next couple of weeks…We’re sorting out our situation right now to see again how many open roster spots we have, how much space I have, what we can do. He and I will talk in the next few days.”

Yzerman was named NHL General Manager of the Year at Wednesday’s league awards show, beating out the New York Rangers’ Glen Sather and Anaheim’s Bob Murray for the honor, which was selected by the 30 Club General Managers along with a panel of NHL executives, print and broadcast media at the conclusion of the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Yzerman deflected credit for the award, saying it was more a reflection of being surrounded by good, talented people rather than one individual doing the bulk of the work.

“You rely so much on your staff, to me the award is recognition that our staff has done a reasonably good job,” Yzerman said.

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