Christmas has come and gone for us prospect followers and the excitement is starting to wear off â€“ along with my headache from staring at a computer screen too long. At one point Twitter told me it couldnâ€™t post my Bolt Prospects tweet because I was tweeting too much. Fair enough. On Sunday the picks and information were coming in faster than Cory Conacherâ€™s rise from a no-name to possible Calder Trophy candidate next year. It was tough to keep up.
Before the draft the Lightning had several organizational needs for the farm, not the NHL club. We get asked repeatedly on draft days if so-and-so can step right in and play. Unlike football, the answer is no â€“ outside of a couple picks in the top-5 overall. Yes, sometimes a Patrice Bergeron will sneak into the NHL right away, but itâ€™s best to just know that you wonâ€™t be seeing these players for a few years at the least, especially with the uber-patient Steve Yzerman in charge (and thatâ€™s a good thing).
The Lightningâ€™s farm needs included a goalie to accompany Adam Wilcox to follow the current wave of prospect goaltenders already under NHL contract â€“ Riku Helenius, Dustin Tokarski, Jaroslav Janus, and Pat Nagle. There was a definite hole there regardless if the Lightning just acquired Anders Lindback for the big club or not.
The Bolts filled this with Andrei Vasilevski, who many regard as the best goaltending prospect to come along since Carey Price in 2005. The trick with Vasilevski, as has been well publicized, is getting him to North America. He currently has two years left on his contract with Ufa in Russia. He told both Tampa newspapers that he wants to come over and play juniors this year if he can buy out his contract. The Canadian Hockey League Import Draft is Wednesday so we should know something soon.
Last fall Lightning coach Guy Boucher acknowledged that the shallowest part of the organization was its depth on defense. While the Bolts boast two very fine prospects in Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas in the AHL, there isnâ€™t a â€œsure-fireâ€ NHLer after them in the pipeline. The Bolts addressed this by taking Slater Koekkoek at 10th overall and Dylan Blujus in the second round. Both have the size, skating, smarts, and skill to make it to the NHL as puck-moving defensemen ideal for Boucherâ€™s up-tempo system. A bonus is Blujus is a right-handed shot, which is rare among defensemen. Think of it this way. When lefties Martin St. Louis or Marc-Andre Bergeron are manning the point at the top of the power play, they have to pivot their body and feet to make a quick pass to Stamkos in his office. A righty can make that pass with no pivot, thereby saving a half of a second. Quicker pass equals quicker shot.
On Sunday the Lightning also added a people-mover at 161st overall in Jake Dotchin, whom Hockey Prospects had ranked as their 30th best prospect in the draft. Heâ€™s one to watch in the next two years.
Up front, the Lightning were lacking a little at center â€“ especially centers with size â€“ and they took care of that with a very astute pick, Harvard-bound Brian Hart. High schoolers arenâ€™t normally ranked as high as junior players but the Lightning thought Hartâ€™s size (6â€™2â€) and point-producing game were worth the pick. So do I. Hart can play both center and wing, which makes him more versatile.
In Yzermanâ€™s first two drafts, the middle rounds were used to take smaller skill forwards headed for college hockey like Brendan Oâ€™Donnell and Jimmy Mullin. Matthew Peca could also be added to that group, though he was a seventh round pick. So, there wasnâ€™t a physical, well-rounded forward in the system below the NHL who would be ready for the AHL soon. The Lightning plugged away at that hole a little using free agency to add Danick Gauthier out of the QMJHL this past spring. Heâ€™ll be joining the Syracuse Crunch or the Lightningâ€™s ECHL affiliate next season. Following him in 1-2 years could be Tanner Richard of Guelph and Cedric Paquette of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Iâ€™m excited about Richard, who can do a bit of everything and is a coachâ€™s dream. I fully expect him to earn an NHL contract in a year. Paquette was an interesting pick in the fourth round, mostly considering he was unranked. Even QMJHL-followers who like Paquetteâ€™s game said they were surprised he was taken before the seventh round.
Without a fifth round pick, sent to Boston for former fourth overall pick Benoit Pouliot, Al Murray likely wanted to make sure they had him and therefore took him early. Pacquette is a goal-scoring center that will get his nose dirty. There are worse decisions than taking a rookie 31-goal scorer in the fourth round just to see if thereâ€™s something there for the future. Heâ€™ll be fun to follow in the wide-open Q.
Finally, with perhaps my favorite pick of the draft, Murray took a kid with first round talent who some had ranked in their top-40, 5â€™9â€ Nikita Gusev of CSKA in Russia. If Gusev would have come over and played in the previously mentioned wide-open Q this past year, he may have scored 120 points. It was a strategic pick, too, as he is a longtime linemate of last yearâ€™s second rounder, Nikita Kucherov, and perhaps the two are more likely to come to North America together. Plus, Lightning 2011 first rounder Vladislav Namestnikov is a friend with both and Namestnikovâ€™s father is on the CSKA coaching staff. I thought it was a brilliant pick and what seventh round picks are for. If he works out, Murray could start being known for striking gold in the last round of the draft. Ondrej Palat, taken last year, is a legitimate NHL prospect now with AHL Syracuse, and Peca was a point-per-gamer in his freshman season at Quinnipiac.
Due to having a â€œreal job,â€ family, and various extra-curricular activities in youth sports, I donâ€™t have the time or budget to scout each draft-eligible player individually. I use what I can to get good information on as many as I can and I look for analyzers who talk to teams and scouts or who are/were scouts themselves.
This year I took eight different sets of rankings and put together a list of prospects based on average slot. While I completely agree that Al Murray and the like should rely on their own rankings, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s out of the question to raise an eyebrow at someone like Koekkoek going earlier than anticipated, or taking two players who werenâ€™t even on my list of 214 draft-eligible prospects (Paquette, Dotchin). That list of 214 was everyone who was mentioned on any of the rankings I was using. Iâ€™m not being overly critical, just giving a little background into some of the confusion I/we had this weekend with certain picks. I certainly look forward to following them, regardless.
Speaking of, on Bolt Prospects I am responsible for all Lightning prospects in Canadian juniors, American juniors (USHL), college hockey, high school hockey, and the ECHL. Pending Vasilevskiâ€™s Import Draft status, next year all of our prospects in my group â€“ save Paquette â€“ will be in the Ontario Hockey League, NCAA, or ECHL. For the second year in a row, it appears there will be no Bolt prospects in the Western league, which is surprising. It should be noted Yzerman is a product of the Ontario Hockey League (Peterborough), but Murray lives in WHL country (Saskatchewan). Perhaps this is by design or purely coincidence.
For what itâ€™s worth, the following is the list of 2012 Lightning draftees with their draft position, followed by their ranking on my list. My list was taken from the rankings of TSN (Bob McKenzie polls active scouts and takes their opinions to form his list), Craig Button (ex-NHL GM), Grant Sonier (current scout for ESPN and former NHL manager/coach/scout â€“ including with Tampa Bay), Shane Malloy (author of The Art of Scouting), Corey Pronman (Hockey Prospectus), International Scouting Service, McKeenâ€™s, and Brian Huddle (OHL scout and columnist for Future Considerations). I did not use Central Scouting because of the split between North American and European prospect rankings.
Lightning Draft Class, 2012
D Slater Koekkoek â€“ 1st round, 10th overall (Average rank: 23.7)
G Andrei Vasilevski â€“ 1, 19 (23.9)
D Dylan Blujus â€“ 2, 40 (58.3)
C/W Brian Hart â€“ 2, 53 (50.6)
C Tanner Richard â€“ 3, 71 (65.6)
C Cedric Paquette â€“ 4, 101 (Not ranked)
D Jake Dotchin â€“ 6, 161 (Not ranked)
W Nikita Gusev â€“ 7, 202 (47)