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Lightning able to add to pipeline at NHL Draft

by Adam Kimelman

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final earlier this month with one of the NHL's youngest rosters. They spent two days at the 2015 NHL Draft adding more fresh talent.

The Lightning started Saturday with 10 selections and added nine players to their pipeline.

"You need young guys to keep coming," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We started [the draft] with seven picks and tried to hang on to some of them. Not every player you draft is going to make the NHL. It's all part of the process. Hopefully these guys come in and give you options moving forward."

The Lightning core group this season featured captain Steven Stamkos and forward Alex Killorn, each 25; forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and defenseman Victor Hedman, all 24; and forward Nikita Kucherov, 22.

They also have a number of prospects who are close to competing for full-time NHL jobs, among them forward Adam Erne, 20, and defensemen Slater Koekkoek, 21, and Anthony DeAngelo, 19.

The nine players picked Saturday will be given a chance to make the Lightning, but the likely path is more development time.

"Steve is very open-minded," Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray said. "If guys are ready and can prove that they're ready to play a major role, he'll bring them up. If they're not ready, they can stay down and take their time and develop themselves. ... It's nice to have a young team with a lot of depth."

The Lightning entered the draft trying to add picks.

"Coming into this draft we thought there were two star players [Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel]," Murray said. "... We thought there was another group of 10 to 15 really solid prospects that would be quickly good NHL players. Then we thought there were another 30 to 50 really solid guys. So we encouraged Steve to add picks anywhere he could."

The Lightning added two Friday in a trade with the New York Islanders, moving back from No. 28 in the first round to No. 33 in the second round and getting a third-round pick.

At No. 33 they selected Saginaw Spirits center Mitchell Stephens, who was No. 112 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, but after an outstanding performance for Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship was regarded much higher by NHL teams (Central Scouting's final rankings were released before the tournament).

"We really liked him prior to that," Yzerman said. "If anything, his play at the under-18s pushed him up higher where we considered him late first round."

Murray said Stephens' game was reminiscent of Lightning forward Ryan Callahan.

"I'm a two-way player," Stephens said. "I bring a lot of high-energy and high-compete to the game. I'm a good skater. With the system Tampa Bay plays, high-energy, high-pace game, I think I'm going to fit in well."

At No. 44, the Lightning drafted Peterborough Petes defenseman Matthew Spencer. He was paired with Dominik Masin, a 2014 second-round pick (No. 35) of the Lightning.

"When you see a 17-year-old that's able to go up and play big minutes against top lines and handle himself well, that's a pretty exciting player to get in touch with," Murray said.

The Lightning added six forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender, Kristian Oldham in the sixth round (No. 153). Playing with Omaha in the United States Hockey League, he had a 2.55 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in 32 games. He earned an invitation to USA Hockey's National Junior Development Camp in August in Lake Placid, N.Y. It's one of the first steps toward making the U.S. team for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"He plays a similar style as Ben [Bishop]," Murray said. "Not as athletic as [Kristers] Gudlevskis or [Andrei] Vasilevskiy, but he's a big guy who fills the the net ... challenges the shooters and lets the puck hit him."

Oldham will play with Omaha next season and is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha starting in 2016.

"We're pleased with every player that we drafted is a prospect and we have a reason for drafting them," Yzerman said. "All these kids weren't just on the list, they were priority guys on the list."


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