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?
Name: Brandon Gormley
Born: 2/18/92, Murray River, PEI
Last Team: Moncton (QMJHL)
Rankings: CSS 6 (NA Skaters), ISS 5 (Skaters), RLR 5 (Overall), THN 7 (Overall)
Moncton (QMJHL), 58 GP, 9-34-43, +31, 54 PIM
Moncton (QMJHL) Playoffs, 21 GP, 2-5-17, +14, 10 PIM
If youâ€™re looking for a sexy draft pick, youâ€™re not going to find one in Monctonâ€™s Brandon Gormley. If youâ€™re looking for a solid two-way defenseman who is going to play 20+ minutes a night and have a 10-15 year NHL career, Gormleyâ€™s probably your man. Gormleyâ€™s positives are that heâ€™s got a good sized frame, is a strong skater, passes the puck well, and heâ€™s an extremely cerebral defender. A product of the same Notre Dame prep school that began the careers of Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, efficiency is the hallmark of Gormley's game. He is incredibly cool under pressure and has a propensity of using his positioning and mobility to win races for loose pucks and move them out of danger long before forecheckers arrive on the scene. The down side is that Gormley is lacking in upper body strength, as evidenced by his poor performance at the NHL Combine, which has been a contributing factor to accusations that he plays a bit soft. In addition, while Gormley has upside as a puck mover at even strength, there are some doubts that he will ever be a top flight power play quarterback in the NHL. The Lightning have no doubt seen plenty of Gormley, whose teammate at Moncton was none other than recently signed prospect Mark Barberio, so they likely know exactly what theyâ€™re getting if they select the PEI native. The question is how keen the Lightning will be to use a sixth overall pick on a player that doesnâ€™t have the dynamic offensive upside of a future number one defenseman and who is a lefty shot and therefore likely will be relegated to the second power play unit by Victor Hedman. Will the Lightning be willing to select a quiet, solid, 30+ point a year, minute eating defenseman when there are dynamic scorers at the forward positions still sitting on the board? Thatâ€™s a tough call to make for any scouting staff, even if itâ€™s the right one.
Name: Erik Gudbranson
Weight: 195 lbs
Born: 1/7/92, Orleans, Ontario
Last Team: Kingston (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 4 (NA Skaters), ISS 6 (Skaters), RLR 14 (Overall), THN 5 (Overall)
Kingston (OHL), 41 GP, 2-21-23, +11, 68 PIM
Kingston (OHL) Playoffs, 7 GP, 1-2-3, E, 6 PIM
Canada (U18 WJC), 6 GP, 0-1-1, +2, 4 PIM
Just before the U18 World Junior Championships it appeared Kingston blueliner Erik Gudbranson had managed to pull away from his fellow blueliners as the top rated defenseman in his class despite a draft season where he was hampered by a bout of mono and an early knee injury. However, after a poor U18 tournament in which most of the Canadian team struggled, heâ€™s fallen back into the pack. Unlike his biggest competition, though, Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley, Gudbranson has a legendary mean streak and will never be accused of being soft. Gudbranson loves to take the body and on the rare occassion he drops the gloves he tends to handle his business. Heâ€™s an above average skater with a hard shot, but heâ€™s only put up modest numbers to this point in his junior career, with just 2 goals and 23 points in 41 games last season for the Frontenacs. Some scouts see visions of late blooming Dion Phaneuf in Gudbranson, but whatever team takes Gudbranson will undoubtedly be making a gamble that his offensive game will develop. The team that takes him could just as well be ending up with a right handed version of Mike Komisarek instead. Thatâ€™s a gamble the Lightning may be willing to make. On paper, as a physically imposing righty shot, Gudbranson would be the perfect complement to the more finesse lefty shot of Victor Hedman, freeing up the big Swede to be more of an offensive force in Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system. In the past two drafts the team has lucked out in getting the best prospect for their immediate needs, and in this draft Gudbranson probably wins that title. However, itâ€™s doubtful the team will get lucky enough to secure Gudbransonâ€™s rights because itâ€™s hard to believe heâ€™ll slip past the Islanders at five, if he even makes it that far. If he were to slip to the sixth pick, though, the Lightning might pounce on him as quickly as a lion on an antelope. Alternatively, if Gudbranson does slip and is the last of the top three defensemen remaining, the club may be able to demand a ransom to trade down with another team that has blueline needs.
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Although it's certainly possible the Lightning could spend their sixth overall pick on a goaltender, the prevailing wisdom is that the team will concentrate on the skating positions where the needs are much greater. On defense, where the club drafted potential star Victor Hedman a year ago, there remains work to be done to build up depth in the system. Just a year ago, the team looked like it was in fairly strong shape along the blueline. A rash of injuries in the 2008-2009 season forced several young blueliners to make their NHL debuts or assume expanded NHL roles and they performed well enough that the future appeared to be bright. That confidence in the long term health of the blueline was further bolstered by the expectation that young NHLers Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger would return from injuries and that would allow Hedman to work into the lineup at his own pace.
But last year was an abysmal season for the young blueline corps of the Tampa Bay Lightning that left the organization's confidence in its defense's future bruised. Paul Ranger left the team for still undisclosed reasons and it remains to be seen if he'll ever return and Andrej Meszaros looked like a shadow of the player who seemed to be catching on in December of the 2008-2009 season. Because of the void left by Ranger's vacant twenty minutes of ice time a night, Hedman was forced to play around twenty five minutes a night early in the season, and by the second half hit the rookie wall, causing an erosion in his decision-making and confidence. Matt Smaby, who looked like a world beater despite playing on a broken foot in the second half of the 2008-2009 season, seemed out of condition and played like he was a minor league defenseman again in 2009-2010. Down on the farm, Matt Lashoff reverted to the form that led the Boston Bruins to give up on him, Ty Wishart struggled in his own end, Vladimir Mihalik continued to develop only at a glacial rate, and Kevin Quick showed up to training camp out of shape and later in the year broke his foot. Outside of the emergence of Mike Lundin in Tampa Bay and the solid play of Scott Jackson in Norfolk, there were not a lot of successes on defense for the Lightning last year.
Tonight BoltProspects is starting a new series in anticipation of the Lightning selecting 6th overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft entitled 11 for 6. We will be previewing the eleven draft prospects we feel are most likely to be under consideration by the Lightning scouting staff at the sixth overall pick. Tonight we start with a goaltender, Jack Campbell of the US National Team Development Program.
Goaltending is, without question, the Lightning's deepest position in terms of youth and prospects despite the fact it's the club's most dire need at the NHL level. BoltProspects' top prospect, Dustin Tokarski, entered his rookie professional season with a reputation as one of the best big game netminders in all of junior hockey, and he did little to lose that reputation in backstopping Norfolk to its first winning record as a Tampa Bay affiliate. Despite playing behind an inexperienced defensive corps, Tokarski posted a solid .915 save percentage and 4 shutouts and he looks the part of a future number one starter in the NHL. Along with Tokarski, the Lightning have a pair of goaltenders in Europe who could also be NHL starters in the very near future in BoltProspects alumnus Karri Ramo and overage prospect Vasily Koshechkin, who has been one of the best goaltenders in Russia for the past half decade. Behind those three, the Lightning have yet another exciting prospect in Jaroslav Janus, who was the darling of the U20 World Junior Championships for Slovakia two years ago and played so well for Erie of the OHL last year that he earned a pro contract and a spot with Norfolk of the AHL at midseason. Rounding out the group of potential NHLers is former first round pick Riku Helenius, who rebounded after being pushed out of North America by an ascendant Janus to play well for Elitserien side Sodertalje in Sweden at the tail end of the year. Helenius will get plenty of starts for Sodertalje next season in a high quality league. Along with a new GM offering a fresh perspective and a clean slate, that might be the thing he needs to get back into the Lightning's plans.