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NHL Draft

Busy Lightning shift focus to NHL Draft

Tampa Bay has nine picks in deep talent pool, starting with No. 27 in first round

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman is a very busy man these days.

On top of trying to re-sign captain Steven Stamkos, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, Yzerman needs to determine what the Lightning will do at the 2016 NHL Draft, to be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on June 24-25.

The Lightning have nine picks in the 2016 draft, starting with No. 27 in the first round. They also have two picks in the second round.

Director of amateur scouting Al Murray said he's confident the Lightning will be able to use their cache of draft picks to add some talented players.

"We'd like to get bigger, stronger in certain positions," Murray said. "We have certain attributes we look for and want in a player, and we'll locate and select players that have a combination of those attributes."

Since joining the Lightning in August 2010, Murray has helped find a number of key players at the draft. In 2011 the Lightning selected center Vladislav Namestnikov in the first round (No. 27), forward Nikita Kucherov in the second round (No. 58), defenseman Nikita Nesterov in the fifth round (No. 148) and left wing Ondrej Palat in the seventh round (No. 208).

The 2012 draft yielded defenseman Slater Koekkoek in the first round (No. 10) and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy nine picks later. In 2013, left wing Jonathan Drouin with the No. 3 choice.

This season Kucherov led the Lightning in points during the regular-season and in goals and points during the Stanley Cup Playoffs; Palat played a consistent two-way top-six role; Vasilevskiy had a .925 save percentage during the postseason; Drouin had 14 points in 17 playoff games; and Koekkoek emerged as a solid contributor during the postseason.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm5: Kucherov tallies two goals in Game 5

Murray is confident the 2016 draft will yield players who will be able to make similar contributions in the future.

"We certainly feel we'll get a good prospect with our first-round pick, or so we hope," he said. "I also think that if everybody else leaves the players alone, we can get good ones in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

"We believe the draft is strong at the top of the first round, but we also feel there's good depth in the second round."

Murray said the 2016 draft might be unique in that teams selecting in the top half of the first round could opt for a positional need rather than best player available.

"I don't think we're at that point with our pick in the first round," he said, "but if you were in the top 10 I think that way because a lot of the players are interchangeable. I think this is one year where you could pick a player of need. Sometimes you can overthink things a little too much or put too much stock in one event such as the Memorial Cup, so you have to be careful that way because it's a compilation of summer tournaments, World Juniors, regular season and second-half play."

Murray's philosophy regarding draft prospects has been to take into account, in most cases, a compilation of viewings during a two-year period.

"You try not to put too much emphasis on the last thing you saw," he said.

For some scouts, however, that might be difficult; for example, the season London of the Ontario Hockey League had en route to winning the Memorial Cup. That team featured a number of top 2016 draft prospects, including forwards Matthew Tkachuk, Max Jones and Cliff Pu, defensemen Olli Juolevi and Victor Mete, and goaltender Tyler Parsons.

Tkachuk capped his first season in the OHL with five goals in four games at the Memorial Cup, including the overtime goal in the championship game. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound left wing is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.

Murray was asked if Tkachuk's success this season was a result of his playing on a line with NHL-drafted players Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Christian Dvorak (Arizona Coyotes) all season.

"It's a combination," Murray said. "When given the opportunity to play with really good players, and he's had that for three years since he also skated with Auston Matthews [at USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team] before that, he has excelled."

Tkachuk had 107 points (30 goals, 77 assists) in 57 regular-season games, and then led the OHL playoffs with 20 goals in 20 games. In 2014-15 with the NTDP U-18 team, he had 95 points (38 goals, 57 assists) playing on a line with Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick in the draft.

"Tkachuk has had lots of opportunities to be involved in a lot of good offensive schemes, and some guys can't take advantage like he has, so a credit to him," Murray said. "He's able to finish and make plays with really good players so I don't think when he gets to the NHL he's going to be put with bad guys. So that's probably a good sign."

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