The Tampa Bay Lightning has six picks in the seven rounds of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft on June 30 in New Jersey. The Bolts will pick 3rd, 33rd, 124th, 154th, 184th and 186th. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a pick in the 3rd or 4th round due to the trade with Nashville that brought goalie Anders Lindback and the trade with the Blues that brought in B.J. Crombeen.
The Lightning has a glaring need for defensemen, but in the NHL, when picking third overall, you simply must take the best available player regardless of position. If , by some miracle, cornerstone defenseman Seth Jones is not taken by the Colorado Avalanche or the Florida Panthers, the Bolts would certainly sprint to the podium and draft him. Otherwise, look for the Lightning to address their defensive needs in the later rounds.
Using the “Best Player Available” scenario, here are the prospects (and Lightning Director of Scouting Al Murray’s evaluation) the Lightning could pick in the first round:
“He’s a 6-foot-3 center. His dad is a Russian who played in Russia and then finished his career in Finland, which is where the family settled, so that’s why he plays for Finland in all the international tournaments. He’s a combination of a goal-scorer and a playmaker. He played the past two years in the Finnish Elite League and this past year was very impressive. He was top 10 in scoring in the men’s league as a 17-year-old. “
“He’s got a lot of confidence in his own ability, but he might be as good as a playmaker as there ever is in the Draft. Like Martin St. Louis, he could be one of those playmaking wingers who can see a center and move the puck to somebody who is open at the appropriate time. That makes him very dangerous on the power play and his one-on-one skills are pretty impressive. If you play him too tight, he can take the puck and embarrass you.”
“He’s a pretty interesting guy. I think if you talk to him he says he’s more of a power forward who has skill, but to a lot of other people, he’s a highly-skilled forward who plays with a lot of power. It’s a nice combination to have. His skating is elite. He’s a durable guy and he’s been a terrific player and I really don’t know what more to say. He can play the game any way you want him to play it.”
All of these players are near NHL ready and could help Tampa Bay very quickly, but one player stands out with superstar potential and that is the player they should pick:
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Chelyabinsk
(Russia) – NHL Comparable – Evgeni Malkin
“He’s a guy with all kinds of talent. He’s big, he’s a tremendous skater, but in
February at the Under-18 tournament, that was maybe the most dominant performance I’ve seen at any of those Under-18 or World Junior tournaments. He absolutely took over the tournament. He was good on the forecheck, he was finishing checks, he was making plays or scored big goals in the third period when his team was behind, he never quit on a shift and he was just spectacular. I think when you see that potential and the level he played at in the Russian men’s league; you see a very good prospect.”
Why Nichushkin? According to Hockey Prospectus draft Guru Corey Pronman:
“Nichushkin is an impressive power forward who has a ton of natural gifts. He could be a potential star, if not an elite power winger in the NHL. His best skill is his skating ability, as he is a true plus-plus skater that defensemen need to respect when he’s barreling down the wing.”
Some feel it is rolling the dice to pick Nichushkin because of his KHL contract, but Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times tells us not to worry:
“The agent for Russian draft prospect Valeri Nichushkin said his client is serious about playing in North America and NHL teams should not wonder about his commitment to the league.”
Assuming Bolts GM Steve Yzerman doesn’t trade down; expect Tampa Bay’s draft to look something like this.
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?