Bolt Prospects 2007 NHL Entry Draft Preview

"The only thing that's for sure is nothing's for sure."

It's hard to think of a draft in Lightning history where there have been so many variables at play going into draft weekend that hold the potential to alter how it will play out for the team. In general, scouts see this as one of the weakest drafts in the past 20 or so years and even go so far as to compare it to the dreaded 1996 Entry Draft where such titanic talents as Mario Larocque and Dan Focht were actually top-16 picks. Without any consensus beyond the first 15-20 picks, this year's draft looks like it will be an absolute craps shoot from the middle of the first round on. There are players on the board this year who have just as much of a chance of going in the top-20 picks as they do all the way down in the third round, making speculation on how the weekend will play out nearly impossible.

Further complicating matters are trades made by the Lightning over the last year which may leave them with no picks at all in the first two rounds of the draft. First, the Lightning dealt their first pick, 16th overall, to Anaheim at the trade deadline along with prospect Gerald Coleman to acquire defenseman Shane O'Brien. Then, this week, they dealt their second round pick either in this draft or in the 2008 draft to Florida in exchange for veteran center Chris Gratton with the Panthers holding the right to choose when they will exercise their rights on the pick. Logic dictates the Panthers will wait until next year's much deeper draft to exercise their pick, but it's hard to deny scouts the opportunity to make more picks and all it will take is one player to slip to the middle of the second round for the Panthers to choose to take the pick.

And then, of course, there's the Marc Denis situation. It seems likely Denis will be on the block this week and that the Lightning will be pursuing trades to relieve themselves of his contract and to acquire more scoring line talent. Denis' trade value is uncertain though, and the team may have to wait until training camp before any serious bidders come looking for Marc Denis.

Which is why the phrase that pays for this draft is:

"The only thing that's for sure is nothing's for sure."

When the Lightning finally do get to make some picks, their focus should be on finding scoring forwards. Bolt Prospects' staff has identified the forward position as the team's primary prospect need for the past three drafts going all the way back to the 2004 Entry Draft when the team chose to take defenseman Andy Rogers at 30th overall. In each subsequent draft the team has talked about taking a forward with their first pick only to go in another direction on draft day taking defenseman Vladimir Mihalik with the 30th pick in 2005 and goaltender Riku Helenius with the 15th pick in 2006.

The team has paid a price for their decisions, and although the team did begin to focus more on the forward position in the later rounds in the 2005 and 2006 drafts with talents like Radek Smolenak and Marek Kvapil, they struggled mightily last season with Springfield of the AHL and Johnstown of the ECHL. The Lightning are probably better off at the forward position than the 2006-2007 season showed, but you'd be hard pressed to find much empirical evidence to back up that contention. That's why the 2007 and 2008 drafts are going to be so critical for the Lightning organization.

The good news is that this scenario, in a roundabout way, should be right in the Lightning scouting staff's wheelhouse. Whereas they have struggled as a group in the early rounds, the Lightning scouting staff may be the best in the league at finding talent in the later rounds. And, considering how sour most teams are on this draft, it bears some resemblance to the 2002 NHL Entry Draft when teams were more than happy to give picks away and the Lightning were more than happy to take them and use them on talents like Paul Ranger, Fredrik Norrena, Vasily Koshechkin, Ryan Craig and Darren Reid. The second day of the 2002 draft was the finest hour of the Jay Feaster administration at the draft. Perhaps the 2007 draft can be a similar success.

Looking at the talent pool for this draft, it does appear there will be scoring forwards available in the second and third rounds when the Lightning finally do get to pick. However, they won't be the kind of forwards the team typically picks. There aren't many 6'3"+ power forwards floating around on the board this year. Then again, seeing how players like Nikita Alexeev and Adam Henrich have turned out, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. There will be a bevy of smaller forward prospects who have the ability to skate and some ability to put the puck in the net. It will be up to the Lightning to step out of their comfort zone to take a couple of those players in order to replenish the depth in their system.

The Lightning also have secondary needs going into this draft which will also need to be addressed in the later rounds of this draft. The organization lacks offensive defensemen prospects outside of soon-to-be Michigan Wolverine Kevin Quick and ex-U of Maine product Mike Lundin. Moreover, the team's depth chart is almost completely bereft of right handed defensemen, which is why 2006 6th round pick Dane Crowley looks like he might have the opportunity to move up through the ranks quickly out of relative obscurity. The fact the team was seriously considering bringing 2001 second round flop Andreas Holmqvist back into the fold shows just how desperate the team in for another right handed offensive defenseman. Expect the Lightning to attempt to address the situation on Saturday.