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Lightning approach 2018 NHL Draft looking to take best available prospect

GM Steve Yzerman's draft strategy will focus on overall quality instead of specific needs

by Bryan Burns /

Day one of the 2018 National Hockey League Draft will likely be quiet for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who dealt away this year's first round selection to the New York Rangers in the trade deadline deal that brought defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to Tampa.

Barring a trade, the Lightning won't make their first selection until Day two on Saturday, where they hold the 59th overall pick in the Second Round. The Bolts also own picks in each of rounds three through six and two selections in the Seventh Round.

Because the Lightning don't hold one of the first 15 or so picks in this year's draft, their draft strategy will be to select the best available prospect when they're on the clock. A high draft pick could make an immediate impact, but after those handful of prospects, you're selecting among players that will need a few years to develop until they're ready for the NHL.

"At the age of 17 and 18, even 19 years old…you're just picking the guy you like the best," Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman said Friday afternoon in Dallas, prior to heading over to American Airlines Center, site of this year's draft. "Our needs, most of these guys it's four to five years away, so our needs potentially change at that point. We're not sitting there saying we need a goalie, let's take a goalie. We need this, we need that. We're just going to find good prospects. We generally look at where we like guys and which round we like them. And if they're there, we'll take the one we like the best."

In other words, if the organization is lacking quality prospects right now at a certain position, it's fruitless to try to address that position in the draft because four or five years later when those prospects are able to contribute, the team's needs could be completely different.

Video: GM Steve Yzerman on approach to NHL Draft

"We don't really do specifically organizational need," Yzerman said. "Maybe if you have a high first round pick that you think is close to playing, maybe you decide at that point. But where we are right now, whatever the prospects are, we'll do that. Now having said that, I don't think we're going to take seven goaltenders in the draft or seven right defensemen."

Despite not owning a high draft pick, there are certainly players that could develop into potential NHL stars available during day two. In recent drafts, the Lightning have chosen Ondrej Palat (2011 7th Round), Brayden Point (2014 3rd Round) and Tony Cirelli (2015 3rd Round), among others, in the later rounds, the Bolts' scouting staff unearthing gems that have proven to be valuable players for the Lightning. Yzerman trusts his scouts, led by director of amateur scouting Al Murray, can find some more great value picks in this year's draft.

"They've done a good job whether it's Ondrej Palat or Brayden Point or Anthony Cirelli, at all different rounds of the draft, Cedric Paquette, we've been able to add players to our lineup," Yzerman said. "It's been crucial for our progress and our success over the last few years. These guys work hard, and I think they have good eyes and each year we've been able to come up with some prospects. I'm counting on them and expecting them to do that again this year."

Yzerman said this year's draft has a different feel, what with the Lightning not owning a First Round pick going into the draft for the first time during his tenure. Usually they'd be focusing their attention on a prospect or a handful of prospects they could acquire with that day one pick.

Now, they'll more or less be spectators Friday.

"Can't say I'm enjoying it but nonetheless I look back as a reminder that we got Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller that we can live without the first," Yzerman said. "It's not something you want to or I want to or plan to do every year, but at times you've got to kind of make those decisions. We're excited even though we don't have the first. We have seven draft picks. It's a challenge for our scouts now to go to work and find prospects. And we believe these guys have done a good job at finding prospects beyond the first round."

And there's always the possibility Yzerman could be working the phones to try and find a way back into the first round, although he doesn't believe the price to do so is necessarily worth it at this point.

"It's certainly worth looking into," he said. "Generally I find when you try to trade up, you initiate the process. When you're trying to trade back, teams will call you that are trying to trade up. I've explored those possibilities right now. Unless I want to move a good player off our team for a first round pick, which doesn't make sense to do that, I don't see us being able to get anyone at that point."

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