The 2011 NHL Entry Draft is going to bring several changes for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Success on the ice means sitting a long way from the front row at the NHL Entry Draft. With the team advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals this season, the Lightning moved from picking 6th overall last year to picking 27th overall this year. That means the Lightning won't have the top talent in the draft available to them in 2011 the same way it was in the past 3 drafts when the team selected Steven Stamkos , Victor Hedman , and Brett Connolly . That's not to say that the Lightning won't have the opportunity to draft some very good players, though. Since 1980, the 27th overall pick has yielded many high caliber players  like Scott Mellanby, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tie Domi, Boris Mironov, Rhett Warrener, and Scott Gomez, as well as former Lightning fan favorites Ben Clymer and Cory Sarich. Picking in the 20's sometimes allows playoff caliber teams to have access to lottery pick caliber talent that slips either due to being small in stature, late bloomers, or having other issues that make other teams leery to take a chance on them (see: Downie, Steve).
The changes for the Lightning also extend beyond where the Lightning will be sitting on the draft floor to who will be occupying a key seat at the team's draft table. Gone is former Director of Player Personnel Jim Hammett, who worked closely with Head Amateur Scout Daryl Plandowski on the past several drafts under former GM Brian Lawton. Plandowski remains, but he's now working closely with new Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray, who was hired last summer by Steve Yzerman. Murray worked for 3 years as the Head Scout for Hockey Canada after a long run of 12 years as Director of Amateur Scouting with the Los Angeles Kings. Among the players selected during Murray's watch with the Kings were Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, and Mike Cammalleri. His record suggests a willingness to select a multitude of player types from a multitude of sources including Europe and the high school ranks, although we expect his relationship with Hockey Canada to lead him to lean back toward players from the Canadian junior leagues.
It's unlikely the Lightning will make their first round selection solely based on needs, but an analysis of the organization does lead to the conclusion that the Lightning do have some holes in their pipeline that need to be filled. With Ty Wishart 's departure to New York in the Dwayne Roloson  deal and the slow development of former 1st round pick Vladimir Mihalik , the team is fairly thin on blueline prospects. Heady two-way blueliner Mark Barberio  and pugnacious antagonist Radko Gudas  show promise, with a cadre of small, mobile defensemen like Adam Janosik , Charles Landry , and Geoffrey Schemitsch  behind them, but the team lacks a clear cut, blue chip defensive prospect at a time when the team's NHL-level roster includes some defensemen with considerable wear on their tires like Mattias Ohlund , Pavel Kubina , and Brett Clark . Adding to the need on the blueline is the team's switch to Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system, which relies on mobile, puck-moving defensemen for it to work at its best. Players like Janosik, Landry, and Schemitsch certainly fit that bill, but the team could use a player in that mold with more of a 1st round pedigree.
Beyond the blueline, the Lightning also find themselves with some pipeline questions in net. The team appears to have its goaltender of the future in Dustin Tokarski , but with overage prospect Cedrick Desjardins  undergoing major surgery, the struggles of Jaroslav Janus  last season, and unproven Pat Nagle  out of Ferris State rounding out the depth chart, there's certainly room for improvement. That's especially true when you consider that both Roloson and Mike Smith  are unrestricted free agents and that, with the decision not to sign 2009 pick Michael Zador , the Lightning don't hold the rights to any other young goaltending prospects.
Centerman is a strength for the Lightning at the NHL level, boasting All-Star caliber players Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier  up the middle as well as solid role players Dominic Moore  and Nate Thompson . That's not the case in the pipeline, though, where the team has a handful of prospects with the flexibility to play the pivot like Alex Killorn  and James Mullin and the team added the WHL's second leading scorer, Tyler Johnson , via free agency. But, much like the defenseman position, the team lacks a clear cut, blue chip prospect at the position. With Stamkos and Lecavalier in place, it's not an urgent hole to fill, but time and attrition will eventually lead to a day when the Lightning will need to develop more depth at this spot.
The Lightning's organizational strength clearly lies on the wing, and particularly on right wing where Brett Connolly, Carter Ashton , and Richard Panik  occupy spots 1-3 in BoltProspects' organizational rankings. Adding to the team's depth on wing is left wing Mattias Ritola , who spent a significant amount of time in Tampa Bay last season, Killorn, who has spent significant time at left wing with Harvard, and Mullin, who can also play the right wing position. That's not to say the Lightning won't consider taking a winger if that player is the best available at the 27th overall pick, but there is no urgency to replenish the position, when compared the defense, goaltending, and center.
Today marks the first of a four part installment of positional previews here at BoltProspects, heading into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Beyond the first 10 or so picks, expect the unexpected, as we could foresee any of about 35-40 players potentially being viable alternatives for the Lightning for selection at 27th overall. The following is our tentative schedule for our draft previews:
6/18/11: Introduction and Goaltenders
6/24/11: 2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round 1
6/25/11: 2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round 2-7
Each story will include the draft capsules for the prospects at the position we feel might have a chance to be available when the Lightning pick and who may attract the team's attention.
We begin in goal, where the 2011 NHL Entry Draft unfortunately doesn't boast a bumper crop. Many scouting publications have made clear the dearth of 1st round potential at the position, and we could see a scenario on the 24th where just 1 goaltender is selected in the first 30 picks. However, given the Lightning's needs at the position and the fact that the top goaltenders in this draft likely will last into the 20's, here are some prospects the Lightning might very well consider:
Name: Christopher Gibson
Born: 12/27/1992, Karkklia, Finland
Last Team: Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Rankings: CSS 2 (NA Goalies), RLR 77 (Overall), THN 29 (Overall)
There isn't a consensus #2 goaltender in this draft, but the closest thing to one is Chicoutimi goaltender Christopher Gibson. Born in Finland and coming to North America by way of Great Britain, scouts are pretty well split on on the Sangueneens netminder's upside. Gibson is technically competent and very strong mentally, although his rebound control and glove have been questioned, and some see his athleticism as just so-so. Others see a netminder who had a shining .920 save percentage on a terrible team who might have been the only reason his club made the QMJHL postseason. As a side note, though, an old hockey man once warned me to beware of overrating the best players on a bad team.
Name: John Gibson
Born: 7/14/1993, Pittsburgh, PA
Last Team: USNTDP (USA)
Rankings: CSS 1 (NA Goalies), RLR 29 (Overall), THN 27 (Overall)
The consensus top goaltender in this draft is the USNTDP's, which one year after Jack Campbell continues the lineage between the national team's pipes. Gibson is a prototypical, big butterfly goaltender who challenges angles well, stays square to shooters, and uses an economy of motion to stay tight in his stance. He's also as mentally tough as any goaltender in this draft. Gibson is expected to join Michigan of the CCHA next year, but Kitchener does hold his OHL rights. Our suspicion is that the lack of quality netminders in this draft will inflate Gibson's value and he'll be off the board when the Lightning pick at 27, but if he is available he might be a great fit for the club.
Name: David Honzik
Born: 8/9/1993, Tabor, Czech Republic
Last Team: Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Rankings: CSS 13 (NA Goalies), RLR 49 (Overall), THN NR (Overall)
Beyond the two Gibsons, things turn into even more of a craps shoot with regard to the netminders in this draft. In fact, it's probably a long shot any other goaltender gets considered within the first 30 picks. But, we'll go ahead and mention a couple of Czech-born goaltenders who might be options for the Lightning in later rounds. One is Victoriaville netminder David Honzik, who came into the season with high expectations due to his athleticism and competitiveness, but completely laid an egg in the regular season by posting a poor .884 save percentage. He resurrected his stock in the postseason though, with a .919 save percentage in 9 postseason games, including giving a very NHL prospect-heavy St. John's team all it could handle. When he's on, Honzik's drawn comparisons to Pekka Rinne, with the only major weakness being his poor puckhandling ability. When he's off, though, he's dreadful.
Name: Matej Machovsky
Born: 7/25/1993, Tabor, Czech Republic
Last Team: Brampton (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 11 (NA Goalies), RLR 72 (Overall), THN NR (Overall)
One other long shot we'll mention is Brampton goaltender Matej Machovsky, who bizarrely plummeted from being the 3rd rated goaltender by NHL CSS in their Midterm Rankings despite having what another scouting firm, Red Line Report, characterized as a very strong second half. Machovsky is athletic, technically competent, and has a very good work ethic, and his only weakness is a suspect glove. That weakness may be balanced by one skill Machovsky has that we think may be of prime value to the Lightning. Machovsky is probably the best puckhandling goaltender in this draft, with Red Line Report going so far as to say he, "has better passing ability than several of his defensemen." Before the postseason this year, that might not have mattered much to the Lightning. But, playoff series against the Penguins and Bruins revealed one minor flaw in Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 might be opposition dump ins on the netminder if the goalie can't handle the puck well, which gives forecheckers the extra half second they need to get in on the puck. That may make Machovsky more valuable to the team, and we wouldn't be surprised to see the Lightning grab the Czech-born player in the later rounds.