Here's an interesting statistic. Actually, here's several interesting statistics. Did you know that of the ten leading scorers in the NHL last season, eight (80%) were players who were selected with top ten picks? Only Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards weren't high draft picks. Of the league's top twenty scorers, sixteen (80%) were taken within the first twenty picks of the draft, with the only other exceptions being Paul Stastny and Corey Perry. In other words, eighty percent of the league's top scoring talent comes from within the top twenty picks of the draft, and the lion's share of those players comes from the top ten picks. Therein lies the lure for any scouting staff when they have a high draft pick like the Lightning do this season. It's a rare opportunity for any club to add a premiere scorer.
Simply put, forwards play a simpler game and it is easier to identify the best ones at a young age. As a consequence, teams tend to snap up most of the really good ones early on in drafts. Defensemen and goaltenders mature later in their careers due the complexity of their positions and the fact that those positions are far more about mental maturity than just pure athleticism and hand-eye coordination. As a consequence, it's far more likely to find top flight defensemen and netminders outside of the top twenty picks of the draft. Consider the top twenty scorers from the blueline in the NHL last season, where only seven of those players (35%) were selected in the top twenty of the draft: Drew Doughty, Chris Pronger, Sergei Gonchar,Tomas Kaberle, Tyler Myers, Scott Niedermayer, and Joni Pitkanen. Between the pipes, of the top twenty goaltenders in wins in the NHL this season, only three (15%) were selected in the top twenty picks of the draft: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, and Marc-Andre Fleury.
That's what makes it so difficult, in our opinion, for any club sitting outside of the top couple of picks in any given draft to select a defenseman or a goaltender. Unless a team has an opportunity to select a sure-fire number one defenseman, like the Lightning had with Victor Hedman last season, or number one goaltender, the odds of being wildly successful seem to be much better on the forward side of the ledger. Moreover, for the team looking for a defenseman or a goaltender, they can be sure the pickings are much better to find one from picks twenty one on than for the team looking for a top-flight scorer.
The Tampa Bay Lightning pick sixth in the 2009-2010 NHL Entry Draft, and the consensus of the NHL scouting community seems to be that of the four non-forwards likely to go in the top ten picks, only goaltender Jack Campbell and defenseman Cam Fowler seem to have the potential to end up among the league leaders at their position once they develop and become regulars in the league. Meanwhile, there are seven forwards that we have identified as draft possibilities for the Lightning that all have significant NHL scoring potential and draw comparisons to past and present NHL superstars like Saku Koivu, Mark Recchi, Brendan Shanahan, Eric Staal, and Patrick Marleau. What is a scouting staff to do?