Lightning Retain Third Overall Pick
The NHL's draft lottery was tonight and the hockey gods weren't necessarily kind to the Lightning, but they weren't unkind, either.
Colorado won the lottery and will pick first overall, moving up from No. 2. The Lightning remain third in a draft that has three potential No. 1 picks: Portland defenseman Seth Jones, Halifax center Nathan MacKinnon, and Halifax winger Jonathan Drouin.
Drouin is the most skilled prospect in the draft, but Jones and MacKinnon both play more premier positions - especially Jones, who is a rare find nowadays. No. 1 defensemen as adept and fluid as he is at both ends of the ice don't come around very often. MacKinnon is a franchise center and with teams building from the net out and down the middle, he's a prized piece to most any roster.
Colorado has craved a franchise defenseman since Ray Bourque and Rob Blake left the mountains. Two years ago they traded significant assets, including high-end offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, to St. Louis for former No. 1 pick Erik Johnson. Johnson hasn't been the top pair defenseman the Avs envisioned and the team is solid at center with Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, and Paul Stastny. While the team isn't overly deep at wing, they do have recent first rounder Gabriel Landeskog wearing the C (when healthy). Expect the Avs to go with Jones, who played developmental hockey in Colorado in his younger years.
At No. 2, the Panthers have never had a franchise centerman, unless you count Olli Jokinen in his prime. The team has a glutton of centers, but none that is capable of being a No. 1 for the next decade. True, Jonathan Huberdeau is listed as a center, but he played wing this year, taking only 33 faceoffs. He and MacKinnon worked well together in the Subway Super Series for the QMJHL this year and could form a nice duo with MacKinnon at center and Huberdeau on the wing.
On the other hand, Dale Tallon in Florida may want the entertainment factor that Drouin brings to try to fill all those empty seats in Sunrise. Florida was last in the league in goals per game this year at 2.27 and Drouin is an absolute point machine.
Florida's pick could go either way, with a slight edge to MacKinnon because he offers an option at No. 1 center. Tallon has been in Nova Scotia scouting both Mooseheads this week.
Yzerman already has his franchise center in Stamkos and with Cory Conacher in Ottawa, Stamkos’ projected Marty St. Louis-type partner is up in the air. Drouin, who reminds some of Patrick Kane or Claude Giroux, could be written in that slot in permanent marker. Drouin averaged over two points per game in the QMJHL this year, and only a handful of others came close to that feat - one being Bolt prospect Nikita Kucherov.
Drouin would slot in better with the Bolts than MacKinnon because MacKinnon, a center, would join a logjam at the position. Granted, he'd immediately jump to the No. 2 spot behind Stamkos, but that would make Vincent Lecavalier the highest paid third line center in the league. And don't forget Tyler Johnson, the reigning AHL MVP.
MacKinnon has speed and will play a physical game if needed, which would fit into Jon Cooper's style. If he’s there, Yzerman will gladly take him.
All are skilled and possess a high hockey IQ and compete every shift, which should have Yzerman sleeping well tonight. Those three traits are what Yzerman looks for in a prospect – especially skill.
He's going to get a good one no matter who falls to him at 3.
But just to throw a wrench into things...
Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster has the No. 6 pick and three first rounders this year. His club is in desperate need of a franchise player now that Jarome Iginla is in Pittsburgh and will soon be on the free agent market. The Lightning are a top-3 experienced defenseman and a training camp under Jon Cooper away from being a legitimate playoff contender in the East. If Feaster came to Yzerman and offered the 6 and another first rounder to move up to 3, Yzerman could take who he wants at 6 (defenseman?) and use the first rounder in a trade with a prospect for an experienced, top-3 defenseman such as Phoenix's Keith Yandle. Just a thought.
In truth, with any one of Jones, MacKinnon, and Drouin being a legitimate first overall pick, the prospect taken there should be regarded as a franchise player and therefore valued as such. Franchise players this young rarely get traded. Yzerman can draft MacKinnon or Drouin and use his hoard of additional young forwards to parlay into defensive help.