The sprint to the 2005-2006 NHL season is on, and while Jay Feaster wines and dines the agents of the Lightning's current stars attempting to lock them up to long term deals I will take a look at what hopefully will become the next generation of Lightning stars and the 2005 Entry Draft.
Going into this draft the Lightning's most dire organizational need from a prospect standpoint is its lack of scoring line prospects. Going into the 2004 Entry Draft the team knew it had to address the defficiency but, according to Head Scout Jake Goertzen, the team could not find a sniper prospect they liked until they selected Justin Keller in the 7th round.  One year later and the Lightning's situation is worse off than it was. The team still has only two legitimate scoring line prospects and, unfortunately, Alex Polushin has remained to reluctant to come to North America and had a falling out with his coach at CSKA back in Russia while Adam Henrich underperformed the Lightning's expectations by many times playing softer than a stick of butter left out in the sun for the Springfield Falcons.
The team could also stand to acquire a goaltending prospect although the team's situation at this position is stronger than most outsiders believe. Brian Eklund had a solid season behind an extremely green Falcons defenseman corps, Karri Ramo finished 1st amongst Finnish juniors in GAA and sv% and proved himself at the SM-liiga level earning a transfer to HPK, Gerald Coleman led the OHL in every major statistical category and Jonathan Boutin showed early season signs of dominance in the QMJHL and then rebounded late in the season to have a solid playoffs. Some pundits are tying their advocacy of a Lightning goaltender pick to the uncertain situation of unrestricted free agent Nikolai Khabibulin. I believe this is a mistake. With the Lightning set up to contend for the next half a decade for the Stanley Cup the Lightning can hardly rely on the development of a 17-18 year old goaltender to compensate for the potential loss of a goaltender like Khabibulin in the short term.
Defense remains the team's strongest suit in terms of prospects with a large crop of stay-at-home defensemen prospects that includes Mike Egener, Andy Rogers and Matt Smaby. The Lightning are unlikely to go defense again, in my opinion, after giving the position such single-minded attention over the past two drafts. However, if there is one area the team needs some added depth on the blueline it is in terms of offensive defenseman prospects. Andreas Holmqvist failed to pan out and has returned to Sweden and Gerard Dicaire has struggled with injuries and a split affiliation. That's left former 6th round pick Paul Ranger to emerge as the team's top offensive bleuline prospect and while the also have Maine's Mike Lundin in the pipeline the team could potentially use a top notch puckmover and powerplay triggerman. Unfortunately, picking at 30, that type of player is somewhat unlikely to be on the board for the Lightning.
From a team philosophy standpoint, under Jay Feaster, the Lightning has remained insistent upon drafting bigger players with above average skating ability irregardless of their skill set. This has set the team up well with checking line forwards and stay-at-home defensemen, but I believe in this draft the Lightning need to begin to look at smaller, more skilled players to address some of their team needs, particularly on the second day of the draft. Also, since Jay Feaster has come aboard, the team has moved away from drafting Europeans and has stayed focused on home grown North American prospects. Even though the league is rumored to have completed a new transfer agreement with the IIHF , I wouldn't expect the Lightning to invest to heavily in Europe again in 2005. The Lightning have only drafted eight Europeans in the three drafts since Jay Feaster took over from Rick Dudley and none higher than second day pick Dimitri Kazionov in the 4th round of Feaster's first draft. By contrast, there were eight Europeans taken in Rick Dudley's final draft in 2001 alone.
One thing to keep in mind going into this draft is the Lightning do not have a 2nd round pick (traded to Anaheim for Vaclav Prospal) or a 3rd round pick (traded to Philadelphia for picks in 2004). That will place added emphasis on what the Lightning do with their 30th selection. It may also lead to Jay Feaster trading down a few picks into the 2nd round to acquire additional picks on the first day of the draft. Also, an oddity of this particular draft is that it will be a snake draft meaning the Lightning will pick first in even numbered rounds giving them the first pick on day two in round four of the draft. And this season the league is going to go with a 7 round draft instead of the customary 9. The Lightning have picks in the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th rounds and they may also have a compensatory pick on the second day of the draft due to losing Jassen Cullimore to free agency once the draft order is finalized by the league.
Players to Watch:
C Andrew Cogliano , 5'9" 173 lbs, St. Michael's (OHA)
RW Devin Setoguchi , 6'0" 185 lbs, Saskatoon (WHL)
C Ryan Stoa , 6'3" 200 lbs, USNTDP
LW Viatcheslav Trukhno , 6'1" 196 lbs, PEI (QMJHL)
C Paul Stastny , 6'0" 200 lbs, Denver (WCHA)
C TJ Hensick  5'11" 187 lbs, Michigan (CCHA)
NHL Central Scouting Service Final Rankings 
NHL.com's Draft Page 
TSN's Mock Draft