It's almost impossible to beat the haul the Lightning got in 1998 (Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Dimitry Afanasenkov, and Martin Cibak), but I think the Lightning might've just completed their second best draft in team history. They already completed a first in history making a pair of first round picks on night one of the draft with Victor Hedman and Carter Ashton, so they were on their way already.
However, their second and fourth round selections really put this draft over the top. Richard Panik is a big time gamble, but he's going to a very good program in Windsor and will be playing for Bob Boughner. On pure talent, he could be even better than Ashton if you can get his head on straight, and he'll be in the environment in Windsor to facilitate that.
And, we love that Alex Hutchings pick. Absolutely love it. You got a hockey player who can play center or wing. Good skater. Good hockey sense. He can pass. He can shoot. He mucks well for a little guy. He just knows how to play the game. It's shocking he fell into the Lightning's lap in the fourth round, and in getting Hutchings the Lightning completed a very successful first four rounds where they got 4 of the top 48 rated prospects by THN and 4 of the top 60 by Red Line. That's in a deep draft, no less, so they got a lot of quality.
The goaltenders, Zador and Janus, seem like a reaction to Karri Ramo's defection. Zador's got to get playing time, but he was a first rounder in the OHL Priority Draft in 2007, so he's got raw ability. Janus made his name at the WJC's and had decent statistics for Erie this season. Because Janus was an overager, he'll probably only have one more year in junior. Zador probably gets two. You're just wishing and hoping one of them develops the way Ramo did when the Lightning took a sixth rounder on him out of Lahti.
I have a feeling the Lightning got some value out of that Gotovets pick. I'm guessing if his name was Johnson or Wilson, he might've gone a couple of rounds sooner, but teams are terrified of the KHL poaching their players. Yes, there's a danger if Gotovets develops he could be poached by Dynamo Minsk, but he's already taken the step of coming over to Shattuck and he already speaks pretty flawless English. I don't think you make that commitment and go to an Ivy League school like Cornell only to turn back around and go back to Belarus, and I have yet to hear about anything glaringly wrong with his game other than the fact he's pretty skinny. He'll be a darkhorse to watch over the next few years.
The only regret is that the Lightning didn't find a way to get an offensive defenseman or two into the system. That'll be something they'll need to look at next year, and they'll certainly continue to try to flesh out their forward depth. Getting Ashton, Panik, and Hutchings was a whale of a start, though. Very good draft. I suspect they get at least three NHL players out of this group.
Evidently, Janus would've gone to Russia to play in the KHL if he hadn't been drafted, and he wants to play pro this season and not go back to junior. That's an interesting problem for a Lightning organization that has Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski all but inked into the lineup in Norfolk next season.
Name: Kirill Gotovets
Weight: 175 lbs
Club: Shattuck St. Mary's (USHS)
Rankings: CSS-179 (North American Skater) Red Line- 123
Statistics: Shattuck (USHS), 50 GP, 6-23-29, 66 PIM
The Koules family's connection to Shattuck St. Mary's strikes late as the Lightning have selected smallish puckmoving defenseman Kirill Gotovets. The Belarussian born defenseman has committed to play for Cornell of the ECACHL and has international experience with the Belarussian junior team. He's a good skater who might be suffering from NHL teams' new fears surrounding losing players to the KHL. Gotovets' KHL rights are held by his hometown club Dynamo Minsk. If Gotovets bypasses Cornell, for some reason, the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL hold his rights.
Money quote from Red Line Report: "Smallish, finesse rearguard is a fine puck mover."
Name: Jaroslav Janus
Weight: 192 lbs
Club: Erie (OHL)
Rankings: CSS- 13 (North American Goaltenders), Red Line- 103
Statistics: Erie (OHL), 49 GP, 25-20-3-1, 3 SO, 3.24 GAA, .908 sv%
The Lightning continue to add more organizational depth in net by selecting Jaroslav Janus, who was passed over in last year's draft. The Slovakian born netminder rose based on his work for the national team at the World Junior Championships, where he was named the best goaltender in the tournament. He's an athletic reflex goaltender who is very competitive, and has good rebound control. The knocks on Janus are that he doesn't play his angles well consistently and he does not have a good glove hand. Red Line projects him as a goaltender who will be a number three type in the organization and compares his style to that of Cristobal Huet or Jaroslav Halak. Because he's an overage prospect, he might find his way into the minor league for the system before Zador.
Money quote from Red Line: "Not a sure thing but we really love his competitiveness."
The Lightning traded next year's 5th round pick to acquire pick 148 in the 5th round.
Name: Michael Zador
Weight: 172 lbs
Club: Oshawa (OHL)
Rankings: CSS- 10 (North American Goaltenders), Red Line- 220, THN (NR)
Statistics: London/Oshawa (OHL), 28 GP, 11-13-0-1, 0 SO, 3.65 GAA, .897 sv%
The Lightning grabbed the project goaltender we thought they might get by selecting Oshawa's Michael Zador. He was selected in the 1st round of the OHL Priority Draft in 2007 and has good size and plays an efficient, butterfly style. He plays with an economy of motion but needs to get technically more sound, particularly with his angles and rebound control. He'll play two more years in junior and the Lightning will see what they have.
Name: Alex Hutchings
Weight: 173 lbs
Club: Barrie (OHL)
Rankings: CSS- 44(North American Skater), Red Line- 43, THN- 48, TSN- 58
Statistics: Barrie (OHL), 63 GP, 34-34-68, 60 PIM
Thievery. That's how we feel about getting Alex Hutchings in the fourth round. Pure thievery. We wouldn't have blinked if the Lightning took him in the second round, so the fact he's slipped this far is very exciting. Hutchings is one of the best skaters in the OHL and he is intelligent with a high motor. He plays in all phases of the game, and for a little guy he's surprisingly willing to get his nose dirty along the wall. Hutchings has scoring line upside, and unlike Panik, he plays an honest enough game that he can also play on your lower lines if you need him to. Bottom line: the Lightning got a hockey player. Red Line compares Hutchings to Chris Kunitz.
Money quote from Brian Lawton tweeting from the draft, "Our Dir. of Amateur Scouting Jim Hammett was so excited about getting Hutchings he started drinking my pop on accident." If we were there, we'd be drinking Lawton's pop too.
Bonus money quote from Red Line, which rates Hutchings as the 14th most underrated prospect in this draft: "Skates well, scores a bunch of goals, plays hard, and sound in his own end. Yet no one seems to take much notice." In addition, Red Line ranks Hutchings as having the 12th best hockey sense in this draft class. Victor Hedman, incidentally, was 2nd.