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Murray confident Lightning will draft impact player

by Mike G. Morreale /

TORONTO -- Tampa Bay Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray admits there's definitely some heartache associated with selecting near the top of the NHL draft in any given year.

Murray's obviously referring to the fact the Lightning finished a disappointing 28th in the League standings this season while failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season.

While Murray knows losing never solves anything, he's confident he and his staff will acquire an impact player with the third pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, which will be held June 30 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN).

"It's never fun to get there, but when you do it's kind of exciting for the franchise because you believe you can add a key component that can take the team up to another level," Murray told "You never want to be picking high. You either want No. 1 or No. 30.

"Getting No. 1 means you had a real tough season, but you're getting the best. And having No. 30 means you've done your job properly … you would hope to rise up like Montreal did last year to this year [going from 28th in the standings in 2011-12 to No. 4 this season]. We're all hopeful, in a salary cap world, that everybody can jump in and have an impact quickly."

The Lightning have six picks, including one each in the first, second, fifth and sixth rounds. Murray believes the organization should be able to tab quality talent.

"We're closing in on a specific order, but we're kind of at the mercy of the first two teams [Colorado and Florida], but our list is probably 10 deep of really good players, so we know we're getting a good player at No. 3 … there's no issues about that," Murray said. "I think there's going to be a number of players this year that can walk into the NHL and play. I don't know that you want to rush anybody, but there are a lot of guys because there's a lot of late birthdays at the top."

Murray told he doesn't believe there are any "A-plus" players available in this year's draft. That begs the question, then: What type of player does he consider "A-plus"?

"It's those guys who are generational players … the last one we had was Sidney Crosby and the next one who might come down the line is Connor McDavid [the Erie Otters prospect not draft eligible until 2015]," Murray said. "It's a player that can immediately transform an organization from a team that's struggling to making everyone around him so much better that the team can immediately take strides."

McDavid, 16, was named the Ontario Hockey League's rookie of the year after totaling 25 goals and 66 points in 63 games in 2012-13.

"With an 'A-plus' prospect, you're talking about those very rare players … a Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby," Murray said.

Murray did admit there are a solid group of "A" and "A-minus" players available. While he wouldn't go into details, he said there could be as many as six "A" players on the board this season and an even greater amount of "A-minus" prospects.

"We believe there are more players in the elite group than just [the top three of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin]," Murray said. "That gives you a lot of flexibility when you're picking at the top. That also gives [general manager] Steve Yzerman the options of looking at trading back and adding other things to the puzzle."

The top five players on Murray's draft board might be Jones, a defenseman with the Portland Winterhawks; MacKinnon, a center with the Halifax Mooseheads; his teammate, left wing Jonathan Drouin; center Aleksander Barkov of Tappara in Finland; and Russian right wing Valeri Nichushkin.

"An 'A' player is a guy who can come in and quickly become a core piece to a team, such as Steven Stamkos, John Tavares or a Drew Doughty," Murray said. "The 'A-minus' group includes guys who can step in and be a top-six forward or top-four defensemen. Not necessarily leading a team but a real strong component -- that's how we group and view prospects entering each draft."

Murray said he feels that after the top-tier group, there are 30 to 40 prospects that are very close. As a result, teams may opt to make a pick based on preference, and not necessarily need.

"Some teams like a little bigger, some like a little faster, some like a little grittier, and there are players in this draft that are all comparable," he said. "So you might say let's take the guy that better fits what we're looking for as far as speed, size, grit or hockey sense. And you're not going to go wrong because those guys are very comparable."

Murray is a steadfast believer in drafting the best player available. The acquisition of goalie Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators in April will enable top prospect and 2012 first-round pick Andrey Vasilevskiy to continue his encouraging development path. The fact the club had to part ways with forward Cory Conacher in that deal, however, means the team might be looking to create some balance on the forward lines. Could a player with the hockey sense and playmaking ability of Drouin, or the raw power, speed and dominance of Nichushkin, be on Murray's radar with the third choice?

That's a good possibility.

"Nichushkin's best is as good as anybody, but there's an inconsistency there and you wonder if it's an inconsistency with effort or inconsistency of passion," Murray said. "Is it just being a 17-year-old kid playing at very high levels? You're not going to be the top player every single day, but his performance at the Under-18 Five Nations Tournament in February was as dominant a performance as I've seen a player put on in a tournament. In April, though he was a notch down from what we've seen him being capable of in the past."

Nichushkin had 11 points in four games at the Five Nations event.

In Drouin, the Lightning not only would be drafting a player that will bring fans out of their seats with highlight-reel performances for years to come, but a dynamic playmaker that eventually could skate alongside Steven Stamkos.

"So many of the young kids that come in have a dynamic talent, but they've always had the puck, so they're used to doing it a little more by themselves," Murray said. "Jonathan [Drouin] seems to be the opposite. He's looking for the opportunity to make people around him better, so he's an interesting prospect because you don't see a lot of those playmakers at his level."


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