Picking Third (Or Fourth)?
With the Lightning going on a bit of a run, picking up points in 8 of their last 10 games, the team has played itself out of the second position for the draft lottery and now sits 1 point above Colorado in the standings. Considering the Avalanche's talented young center, Paul Stastny, just broke his foot and will probably be out for the remainder of the season, the Lightning may end up locked into the third position in the draft lottery. That would mean the odds would overwhelmingly favor the club picking third or fourth in the upcoming 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Picking in one of the first two slots in this draft would be fairly easy. London center John Tavares and MODO defenseman Victor Hedman have rightfully dominated the draft discussion. Picking third is a different animal altogether. It's a scenario not unlike the 2001 draft when the Lightning lost out on the opportunity to draft Ilya Kovalchuk or Jason Spezza when Atlanta won the draft lottery and pushed the team down to pick number three.
The good news is, I don't think the Lightning are going to get stuck with a lemon like Alex Svitov if they don't wind up in the top two picks. There are quality players on the board that should add to the core of the Lightning rebuilding project. Here's my board thus far:
1.) C John Tavares, 6'0" 198 lbs, London (OHL)
2.) D Victor Hedman, 6'6" 220 lbs, MODO (SWE)
More on the flip
3.) C Matt Duchene, 5'11" 198 lbs, Brampton (OHL)
If you're looking for a running buddy for Stamkos, Matt Duchene of Brampton might be a logical choice, because he's one of a handful of players in this draft that can match Stamkos' speed. He's not a pure playmaker, which would be ideal, and while he's a good finisher he's not on the level of a Tavares or a Stamkos (few are). Still, he's a very safe pick, in my opinion, and someone the Lightning could pencil in on Stammer's line for many, many years. I suspect he'll need one more year in junior, however.
4.) LW Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, 6'1" 200 lbs, Timra (SWE)
If you're looking to take a home run cut for the fences, Magnus Paajarvi could very well fit the bill. Like Duchene, Paajarvi is an explosive skater with blow-by speed. He's also a magnificent offensive talent who has drawn comparisons to Markus Naslund. He's bigger than Duchene. He's played against men already as a 17 year old. He might be ready to step into the NHL right away. The downside? He needs to learn the defensive side of the game and some scouts question if he'll ever play a well-rounded honest game. He's probably got more upside than Duchene, and on draft day part of me is going to be hoping that the Lightning take that big swing with Paajarvi.
5.) D Jared Cowen, 6'5" 218 lbs, Spokane (WHL)
Cowen was as close to a consensus number three as there was prior to going down to a knee injury in the last month. He won't be fully healed by the draft and won't be able to participate in the combine, which makes him the wild card of the lottery. He's almost as big as Hedman and every bit as mobile. The question is whether he's an Eric Brewer/Mike Komisarek type stay-at-home defenseman, or if there is offensive upside that's yet to emerge. His physical maturity means, despite the fact he's rehabbing a knee, he might be ready to step into the NHL right away next season.
6.) C Evander Kane, 5'11" 160 lbs, Vancouver (WHL)
I suspect, given the WHL tilt of the Lightning's ownership and new scouting staff, Kane may very well be their pick on draft day. He's not big, and he doesn't have the explosive skating ability of Duchene or Paajarvi. He's got just about everything else, though. He dropped 48 goals and 96 points in 61 games this season, and he plays a gritty, well rounded game. I have little doubt he'd fit nicely with what Rick Tocchet is trying to do in Tampa. I'm just not sure he's a potential game breaker like Duchene or Paajarvi.
7.) RW Jordan Schroeder, 5'8" 165 lbs, Minnesota (NCAA)
If you're looking for a playmaker to help set up Stamkos, Schroeder might be the guy who fits the bill. He's not explosive, but he is incredibly shifty and elusive, and he's arguably the smartest playmaker in this draft. His statistics are very bloated for a freshman in the NCAA with 13 goals and 45 points in 35 games, which is just a touch behind what Phil Kessel did as a freshman for the Golden Gophers. The fact that he's just an 18 year old freshman makes it that much more impressive. If he was 6'1", I think he'd be a lock to be a top five pick. As it is, he might be a steal for someone later down the line.
8.) C Brayden Schenn, 6'0" 196 lbs, Brandon (WHL)
If you're looking for future captain material, Brayden Schenn might be your guy. Like Kane, he plays a very honest, gritty, well rounded game. He doesn't have quite the same skill level as Kane and his skating falls below the Duchenes and Paajarvis in this draft, but he's a very safe prospect who should be a good NHL player. He's the younger brother of Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn.