The NHL entry draft is approaching fast and the rumor mill is running overtime with anybody and everybody giving their opinions about what Steve Yzerman and the Lightning will do with their two first round picks (10 and 19).
Some insiders believe they will draft a defenseman early on and try to snag a goalie later. Many believe that they will go the route of selecting the “best available” player. Some thought the Bolts would trade their early picks and a prospect for a number one goalie.
All questions will be answered on June 22 in Pittsburgh.
Predicting what will take place at the draft is an exercise in futility, but I went to the Lightning experts at Bolt Prospects to get some answers. Online Editor Chad Schnarr gives his take on the draft and the Lightning prospects.
What are your general thoughts on the current group of Lightning prospects?
Bolt Prospects: I’m confident that this is the best/deepest collection of Lightning prospects the organization has had in quite some time… maybe ever.
Give us a grade (A-F) on the Lightning farm system and why?
Bolt Prospects: ”B” The farm is very deep at forward, solid at the next few waves at goaltender, but is top-heavy at defenseman. That will likely change after the 2012 draft.
Do you have a feel for the type of player or style of play that GM Steve Yzerman is developing?
Bolt Prospects: He loves pure skill and hockey sense in a player. Speed and competitiveness are also high. Skill and natural hockey sense are the hardest traits to teach, so he can trust his coaches to fill in other areas of need for his draft picks.
Are you in favor of the Lightning trading top prospects and/or draft picks for an NHL goalie?
Bolt Prospects: I felt Tampa Bay had enough forward prospects to move one in a goaltender deal, but it turns out they didn’t need to move one. One could still be moved for an NHL defenseman in the future. It’s the nature of the business – deal from a position of strength to achieve balance.
Many are calling for the Lightning to use a high pick on a goaltender. What is your evaluation of the Lightning goalie prospects in general and should the Bolts draft a goalie with an early pick?
Bolt Prospects: The NHL draft is not one that you use to fill immediate needs unless you’re picking at the very top and the best player fits what you need. Even with the addition of Lindback, the Lightning has a hole at goaltender behind Tokarski and Janus in the system. Adam Wilcox will spend the next 3-4 years at the University of Minnesota and there’s no one coming in the next year or two as it projects right now. Teams can usually find good goaltender value in the second or third round. No.10 is too early for a goalie, in my opinion. Even No.19 is pushing it, unless they absolutely love one of the available goalies.
Bolt Prospects: It usually takes their entire Entry Level Contract to prove they’re ready. And even then it could take another year, and by that time they are waiver eligible so a decision has to be made. So adding 1-2 years prior to the ELC being signed, 4-5 years is a good amount of time to get a read on a goaltender. Goaltenders don’t hit their prime until their late 20s, so the three prospects mentioned aren’t at their peak yet, but they are rising. Tokarski and Helenius are ready to begin to adjust to NHL game speed. I don’t believe either is ready to shoulder responsibility at the NHL level at this point. They’re a half or full season away. Janus is ready to be the No.1 for an AHL team. That’s his next step.
Should the Bolts focus on defensemen in the 2012 draft? Is this a good draft for defensemen?
Bolt Prospects: It projects as being one of the best ever for defensemen, which is good news for the Lightning since the farm is lacking in that area. Its cliché, but I think they take the best prospect available, and that will most likely be a defenseman or two in the first round.
Many have said that up to seven players on the Admirals/Crunch are “NHL ready”. Do you agree with that? Will any make the 2012 roster?
Bolt Prospects: No, I do not. I believe the exact quote from Julien BriseBois was that 5-7 players off the team will play in the NHL one day – not necessarily in October. But, for discussion’s sake, Keith Aulie is a lock due to waiver concerns. Cory Conacher is ready and he will battle incumbents Brett Connolly and J.T. Brown for limited forward spots with the big club. Alex Killorn could push for a job out of camp, but with Yzerman’s patient approach, he most likely goes to Syracuse. There’s no room for Barberio and Gudas, so they will likely return to the AHL also, which is good for them. They have some rounding out to do before they’re considered ready by Yzerman. So, yes on Aulie, and I think Conacher probably gets a spot.
Bolt Prospects: Mark Barberio or Radko Gudas could be a contributor in Tampa Bay if injuries decimate the blueline again. Up front, Tyler Johnson could bring his speed and shot to Tampa Bay and contribute perhaps late in the year. Minor league veterans will likely get the first recalls. This is excluding J.T. Brown, who is our new No.1 prospect after his addition to the organization.
If you were the GM of the Lightning, who would be the player(s) you would target as your first 2012 draft pick at number 10 (Assuming the pick isn’t traded)?
Bolt Prospects: Assuming someone like Grigorenko doesn’t fall, as is rumored right now, I would target an offensively skilled defenseman capable of playing 25 minutes a night, quarterbacking a power play, and putting up 50 points eventually at the NHL level. Guys like Dumba, Rielly, Pouliot, Ceci, or perhaps Trouba (if his offense continues to come around). I’d go a little safer with my second first rounder and get a prospect that projects a bit better in his own zone. That would form a nice, complimentary duo to add to the system.
You can view Bolt Prospects 2011-12 Final Rankings here.
Hey puckheads! What would you like to hear GM Steve Yzerman say when he steps up to the podium? Leave your comments below.
About the Author: WB Philp is a published hockey writer who has a built in disdain for Barry Melrose. He covered the Detroit sports teams for many years until he came to his senses and moved to the Sunshine State. He is a true puckhead on a mission from God (Gordie Howe) to make hockey relevant in the south. He lives in Hockey Bay USA and covers the Lightning full time. Did I mention he hates Barry Melrose?