Bolt Prospects 2011 NHL Entry Draft Preview: Wingers

The undisputed strength of the Lightning organization going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has to be the wing positions, and particularly right wing. At that position, the Lightning have not less than three bona fide, blue chip NHL prospects in Brett Connolly, Carter Ashton, and Richard Panik. Those are three players that have drawn serious comparisons to current NHL players like Patrick Marleau, Ryan Malone, and Marian Hossa, respectively. Additional depth is provided by left winger Mattias Ritola, who spent much of last season with the big club in Tampa Bay, and versatile centermen Alex Killorn and Jimmy Mullin, who can also play left wing and right wing, respectively. As a consequence, Bolt Prospects ranks the wing positions as the least pressing need heading into the draft.

Murphy's Law, of course, dictates that the wing positions might be the deepest of all in the waters the Lightning will be drafting in at 27th overall in the 1st round. We have identified not less than 16 players we feel might be legitimate options for the Lightning to select at that pick, reflecting a fascinating cross section of options: snipers, slick puck handlers, hard working heart-and-soulers, and physical, nasty experts in the fistic arts:

Name: Seth Ambroz
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Right
Height: 6.02
Weight: 211
Born: 4/3/1993, New Prague, MN
Last Team: Omaha (USHL)
Rankings: CSS 31 (NA Skaters), RLR 71 (Overall), THN 48 (Overall)

You could make a strong argument that no prospect was a bigger victim of the expectations he set for himself prior to this season than Seth Ambroz of Omaha. Scouts had very high expectations of the big, strong power forward who combines excellent strength with silky soft hands around the net. Unfortunately, in his 3rd year in the USHL, Ambroz look disinterested at times and his compete-level fell compared to recent years, which only drew attention to his sub-par skating ability. Ambroz will play for the University of Minnesota next year, provided he can make his grades, which is another question mark.

Name: Joel Armia
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Right
Height: 6.03
Weight: 191
Born: 5/31/1993, Pori, Finland
Last Team: Assat (FIN)
Rankings: CSS 4 (European Skaters), RLR 20 (Overall), THN 15 (Overall)

Few prospects in this draft can come close to challenging the pure sniping ability of Finnish winger Joel Armia of Assat. Armia has good size and strength and loves to drive the net, but what attracts scouts is his shot and the fact he loves to use his shot from anywhere. From the wall. From the circles. From the slot. In close. From the bench. From the parking lot across the street. Armia loves to shoot, and that allowed him to score 18 goals this year in the Finnish SM-liiga against grown men at the age of 17. The knocks on Armia are that his compete-level isn't always consistent and that his defensive coverage can sometimes be lax. But, in hockey, goals are the raw currency of winning and losing, and Arnia's got the finishing ability to print money.

Name: Sven Baertschi
Position: Left Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 5.10
Weight: 181
Born: 10/5/1992, Langenthal, Switzerland
Last Team: Portland (WHL)
Rankings: CSS 7 (NA Skaters), RLR 27 (Overall), THN 8 (Overall)

Following in the footsteps of fellow Swiss forward El Nino Niederreiter, Sven Baertschi will likely be the next 1st round forward selected from the Portland Winterhawks. Unlike Neiderreiter though, Baertschi is more of a finesse player who relies on his great speed and shot to rack up points. He showed surprising ability to adapt to the rugged WHL by putting up 34 goals in 66 games, but he still needs to get stronger and he can be knocked off his game by tight checking and traffic. Still, he looks like he'll be a very reliable goal scorer in the NHL.

Name: Tyler Biggs
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Right
Height: 6.02
Weight: 210
Born: 4/30/1993, Binghamton, NY
Last Team: USNTDP (USA)
Rankings: CSS 22 (NA Skaters), RLR 23 (Overall), THN 20 (Overall)

Looking for a mean, nasty, bad man? Consider power forward Tyler Biggs of the US National Talent Developmental program who draws comparisons to, of all people, Chris Neil of Ottawa. Biggs is renowned for trying to put people in the hospital when he takes the body, and he rarely loses battles along the wall. He also has a supremely heavy shot and no fear of proceeding into the high traffic areas to look for deflections and rebounds. There's nothing dainty or precious about his skill set and almost zero finesse in his game, and he seemed to relish the opportunity to beat people up when the chance arose in the USHL this year. Will the Lightning draft him? Who knows. But, we're willing to bet that little Lightning prospect Jimmy Mullin is going to sleep a lot better at night knowing he'll have a policeman like Biggs protecting him next year at Miami of Ohio.

Name: Dmitrij Jaskin
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.01
Weight: 196
Born: 3/23/1993, Omsk, Russia
Last Team: Slavia Praha (CZE)
Rankings: CSS 5 (European Skaters), RLR 33 (Overall), THN 30 (Overall)

If, as a Lightning fan, you can get past your bias against prospects born in Omsk, Russa (see: Svitov, Alex) then you might consider Russian born and Czech trained power forward Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaskin's game isn't delicate, either. He crashes the net and dominates around the opposing crease and along the wall and he finishes his checks. But, he's also got poise with the puck and the hands to make plays in tight spaces. He's a strong competitor with a pro style north-south game that should translate pretty well to the pros and he's fairly decent defensively. The one knock that may keep Jaskin out of the first round, though, is his skating and his heavy, heavy feet. That lack of speed may ultimately keep him from being a top flight scorer in the NHL.

Name: Nicklas Jensen
Position: Left Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.02
Weight: 187
Born: 3/6/1993, Herning, Denmark
Last Team: Oshawa (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 21 (NA Skaters), RLR 22 (Overall), THN 19 (Overall)

One of the true enigmas of this draft is Danish-born Oshawa Generals forward Nicklas Jensen. Few in this class possess the combination of size, stickhandling ability, and the wicked shot that Jensen brings to the rink. But the question is always whether or not Jensen will deploy those skills. Jensen is supremely inconsistent and Charminy soft, but some team will take him in the 1st round because he could become a game breaking finisher at the next level. Not unlike Richard Panik from the Lightning's current stable of prospects, when he wants to dominate he's dominant.

Name: Tomas Jurco
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.02
Weight: 187
Born: 12/28/1992, Kosice, Slovakia
Last Team: St. John (QMJHL)
Rankings: CSS 20 (NA Skaters), RLR 38 (Overall), THN 28 (Overall)

A Bolt Prospects guilty pleasure. The scouting community is nearly unified in its belief the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is very deep on talent. However, our review of the tape of dozens of players in the last half of the 1st round reveals that, although there are many solid prospects, the flair isn't necessarily there. One exception to that rule is Tomas Jurco, from the exceptionally deep St. John Sea Dogs. There may not be a better stickhandler in this draft class. Heck, you'd be hard pressed to find many contenders to take that crown from Jurco in the past few draft classes. He's lethal as a cottonmouth snake in the shootout with moves guaranteed to bring the crowd out of their seats. He's also got good vision and is an excellent passer. At 6' 2" he's still growing into his frame and doesn't yet know how to utilize his size. He also doesn't yet have an NHL shot and will need to work on it to become a better scorer moving forward. He's got a lot of the tools but it hasn't come together just yet. The tiebreaker for us, though, is that he seems genuine in his media interviews. It would be easy to dismiss a player like this as a hot dog with extra mustard. We think his work ethic and respect for the game is probably better than that, as evidenced by the support from former Lightning forward (and Steve Yzerman teammate, for that matter) and current St. John coach Gerrard Gallant.

Name: Adam Lowry
Position: Left Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.04
Weight: 186
Born: 3/29/1993, St. Louis, MO
Last Team: Swift Current (WHL)
Rankings: CSS 58 (NA Skaters), RLR 43 (Overall), THN NR (Overall)

For those who like sleepers, there's budding power forward Adam Lowry, son of former NHLer Dave Lowry. Lowry lost development time early in the year with a bout of mononucleosis, and it may have cost him a shot to play himself into the 1st round. Still, the team that selects Lowry will be getting a player with a lot of potential to grow, both figuratively and literally. Standing at 6'4", it's not hard to imagine Lowry could add another 20-25 pounds to his frame, particularly to increase his lower body strength. He has his father's work ethic down low and in high traffic areas, but what separates him from pops is his soft hands in close.

Name: Mario Lucia
Position: Left Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.02
Weight: 183
Born: 8/25/1993, Fairbanks, AK
Last Team: Wayzata (USHS)
Rankings: CSS 34 (NA Skaters), RLR 42 (Overall), THN 26 (Overall)

The son of University of Minnesota Head Coach Don Lucia, Mario Lucia is another pure sniper in a draft class that seems to have more than its fair share. Lucia has a heavy shot with a quick release that is already NHL caliber and good stickhandling ability that makes him hard to knock off the puck. He's got a good sized frame and should be a big boy when he fills out but he's not a bone crusher. He relies on body positioning, instead, to win battles along the wall. He hasn't decided what college he will attend, but he's already said he won't go to Minnesota. Bolt Prospects readers know to be very cognizant of his late August '93 birthday. He's one of the youngest players in this draft class, and between that and the fact he's only played US High School hockey thus far, that leads us to believe there's a lot of upside there.

Name: Jonathan "J.T." Miller
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.01
Weight: 198
Born: 3/14/1993, East Palestine, OH
Last Team: USNTDP (USA)
Rankings: CSS 23 (NA Skaters), RLR 9 (Overall), THN 59 (Overall)

Opinion seems to be split about the upside of USNTDP winger J.T. Miller after his dominant showing at the U18 World Junior Championships. His tireless work ethic is unquestionable. He's strong and fearless on the forecheck, completing his checks without fail and forcing turnovers along the way. He's also an excellent skater who plays an honest north-south style of game and has the versatility to play both wing and center. The disagreement seems to be over Miller's offensive upside, though. Some see a player with the hockey sense and skills to be a legitimate scorer in the NHL while others see a good checking line soldier. Is he Erik Cole or is he Sean Bergenheim? And, if you're the Lightning, are either of those outcomes bad? Miller is committed to join the obscenely talented North Dakota recruiting class for his college hockey, but he may end up with Plymouth of the OHL. The development situation he ends up in may be critical.

Name: Shane Prince
Position: Left Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 5.10
Weight: 174
Born: 11/16/1992, Rochester, NY
Last Team: Ottawa (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 26 (NA Skaters), RLR 31 (Overall), THN 52 (Overall)

If Shane Prince were sturdier, he might be a lock for the 1st round right now. As it is, he suffered through a concussion and shoulder injuries that underline the fact he needs to get stronger and needs to protect himself more when he's on the ice. Prince is a good skater who is on the smallish size, but he has outstanding skills, as evidenced by his 88 points in 59 games this season. He has great vision and great playmaking ability, and despite his small stature he will go to the net hard to make plays. He's got a strong work ethic and is a very good penalty killer, too. Unfortunately, Prince hasn't shown an ability to avoid big hits and, although his courage is to be applauded, if he doesn't learn when it's appropriate to follow the adage "live to fight another day" he could find himself a regular fixture on the IR.

Name: Matt Puempel
Position: Left Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.00
Weight: 196
Born: 1/24/1993, Windsor, ON
Last Team: Peterborough (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 28 (NA Skaters), RLR 15 (Overall), THN 21 (Overall)

Do the Lightning dare go back-to-back seasons selecting 1st rounders coming off hip problems? Matt Puempel may have been a top-10 pick this year, but inconsistency and a cracked hip have made him an outside possibility to fall to the 27th pick. He's an average skater and his effort level isn't always consistent, but he's one of the purest finishers in this draft class from the circles in. He's also good on deflections and can contribute on the penalty kill. Like Armia, although there are holes in his game, goals are the raw currency of winning and losing, and Puempel can ring the cash register.

Name: Rickard Rakell
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Right
Height: 6.00
Weight: 191
Born: 5/5/1993, Sundbyberg, Sweden
Last Team: Plymouth (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 30 (NA Skaters), RLR 37 (Overall), THN 25 (Overall)

Another Bolt Prospects favorite (what can we say, we like the Swedes this year). Something about Rakell reminds us a lot of fellow Scandinavian Sean Bergenheim. Although this season was his rookie campaign in North America, he took like a fish to water to the smaller ice surface. He's tireless on the forecheck and loves to finish off his hits and creates a ton of turnovers in the process. He's equally tireless at the defensive third of the rink and is one of the best penalty killers in this entire draft class. He's still finding his way offensively, but he's an above average skater and shows glimpses of evolving into more of a scorer. This is the type of player you must have on your lower lines to win championships.

Name: Ty Rattie
Position: Right Wing
Shoots: Right
Height: 5.11
Weight: 163
Born: 2/5/1993, Calgary, AB
Last Team: Portland (WHL)
Rankings: CSS 17 (NA Skaters), RLR 19 (Overall), THN 33 (Overall)

If Pierre McGuire is right, and Jamie Oleksiak does indeed decide to eat people on draft night, he might start with bite-sized nugget Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks. At just 163 pounds, Rattie lacks much in the way of bulk, and his skating is sub par for a player his size. Still, he scores in bunches and works hard at both ends of the rink. He has great vision in the offensive third and, like any great scorer, the puck seems to naturally follow him around the rink. Was he a product of the ultra-deep Winterhawks roster, or was the success of the Winterhawks' high-powered offense predicated in part on having Rattie on its second line? That is the question.

Name: Brandon Saad
Position: Left Wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.01
Weight: 208
Born: 10/27/1992, Pittsburgh, PA
Last Team: Saginaw (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 19 (NA Skaters), RLR 21 (Overall), THN 14 (Overall)

How does the commercial go? "Saab: born from jets?" More like "Saad, born from bulldozers," for this American-born power forward. While his stock didn't fall to the degree Seth Ambroz's did this season, Brandon Saad may have been another victim of high expectations in this draft class. Possessing a high level of physical maturity and coming off of a strong campaign with the US National Talent Development Program, a lot of scouts expected Saad to dominate the opposition in the OHL. It didn't happen, though, forcing many scouts to question the heart of the Pennsylvania native. His physical gifts are considerable. He's strong as an ox with an NHL shot that comes with a trigger-quick release. He's also shown, in the past, to have a lot more hockey sense in all three zones than he displayed for most of this year. Scouts are puzzled as to why he stopped driving the net hard and stopped consistently competing along the wall. That questionable effort level also led people to question his skating ability, too, as he didn't track the puck with the same urgency. On talent, he should have been a lottery pick. Now it'll be up to whatever team that selects him to try to get his head and his heart back into the game. If the thrill is gone for Brandon Saad, so might the chance of his development into a big time NHL scorer.

Bonus Picks:
LW Reid Boucher, 5.10 192 lbs, USNTDP (USA): Athletically, he's a bit of a mess. He's not fast. He's not stong. But he's the guy who consistently finished off all the chances he got this season from J.T. Miller and Rocco Grimaldi. Pure sniper. And, hey, Coach thinks your last name has a real nice ring to it, too.
LW Kale Kessy, 6.02 184 lbs, Medicine Hat (WHL): Skates well for a beat-down specialist. He could evolve into the next Milan Lucic.
RW Shane McColgan, 5.08 165 lbs, Kelowna (WHL): The closest thing to Martin St. Louis since Rocco Grimaldi?
LW Marek Tvrdon, 6.02 210 lbs, Vancouver (WHL): Bizarrely, CSS took him out of the rankings completely after a season ending knee injury. Fierce power forward could have been a 1st round pick, otherwise.