We've been very quiet here at Bolt Prospects lately. It's not for a lack of interest in the team, mind you, or excitement about the impending draft. However, it's hard to post commentary at this time with so much up in the air. After years of having the same ownership and hockey operations team in place, it was easy to predict what the Lightning were going to do and what kind of players they would pursue. However, with new owner Oren Koules coming in with an ownership group suspected of also including former NHLers Len Barrie and Luc Robitaille and Head Coach John Tortorella cut loose with rumors of ESPN analyst Barry Melrose taking over, it's difficult to know what kind of players the Lightning will pursue. If Melrose does indeed take over, what will his system look like after 13 years out of coaching? How will he handle the new rules? No red line? It's impossible to say.
And so, my personal draft preview has to begin with this admission: I'm apprehensive about the ownership situation, and as the weeks go on I continue to wait for the next shoe to drop, and then the next, and then the next. Having a new ownership group which is more enthusiastic about hockey and willing to put more money into the on ice product is potentially exciting. But the idea of a cast of amateurs and/or people who have been away from the game for many, many years swooping in and hiring their cronies and giving them key positions of leadership in the hockey operations is frightening. I worry about the level of professionalism this new group is going to have, and without saying much of a word in the media Koules and his people have already managed to project the image of a traveling circus that is coming to town. Friday and Saturday's draft will be their first opportunity to show to the hockey world that they bring organizational discipline and rigor to the table, and not just the flash of a Hollywood production.
From a personnel standpoint, there's no secrets going into this draft. The biggest hole in the organization is at the second line center position, and Steve Stamkos will fill that hole immediately. Barring the Stamkos family car driving off a cliff on the way to Ottawa, the talented Sarnia pivot will be the number one pick Friday night, as evidenced by the fact the Lightning have been marketing the young man through their "Seen Stamkos?" campaign for the last two months. Having read the scouting reports from three independent organizations and having watched several of his World Junior Championships games, I have come to one conclusion: Steven Stamkos will be the most complete and most NHL ready player the Tampa Bay Lightning have ever selected in their history, including Vincent Lecavalier. He has been universally compared to former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman, and I have to say the comparisons are apt. On tape, like Yzerman, there's no one thing about Stamkos' game that makes me say, "Wow, he's going to be one of the best two or three in the game at that!" A guy like Mikkel Boedker, for instance, is a better skater than Stamkos, while heralded 2009 eligible John Tavares struck me as a better natural finisher. However, if you look across the board, there really are no weaknesses in Stamkos' game. He may not be the best at any one thing, but like Yzerman I suspect that when Stamkos matures he will be one of the best 10-15 players in the game at pretty much everything. Skating. Finishing. Passing the puck. Moving away from the puck. Back checking. Faceoffs. Battle level. Leadership intangibles. You have to put a check by every single one of these when looking at Stamkos.