As the Tampa Bay Lightning face off against the New York Rangers in the 2022 Eastern Conference Final, the franchise has once again found itself deep in a postseason run. However, despite being on their quest for a third-straight Stanley Cup, it’s still worth keeping an eye on the 2022 NHL Draft, which will occur on July 7th-8th. The reason why is simple: for the first time since 2019, the Lightning will have a first-round pick at the draft, meaning they will get a shot at one of the top prospects.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Given Tampa Bay’s blockbuster trade to acquire Brandon Hagel at the deadline, where they sent the Chicago Blackhawks their first-round picks in both 2023 and 2024 (among other assets), this will likely be the Lightning’s last chance to make a first-round selection for the near future. So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at a few prospects who could be selected towards the end of the 2022 first round.
Jimmy Snuggerud – A Potential Perfect Fit for Tampa Bay
During THW’s mock draft, I took up the mantle of general manager and made the Lightning’s first-round selection. With that pick, I took Jimmy Snuggerud, a scoring stud who has, arguably, the best shot in the draft.
In many ways, Snuggerud could be the perfect selection for the Lightning in 2022. While you can pull great talent out of the later rounds, elite scorers are hard to come by. Even if his overall toolkit is less refined than the players who could be selected before him, his offensive ceiling is incredibly high, especially if he is given the time to develop a complete game.
Given his commitment to play at the University of Minnesota starting in 2022-23, Snuggerud will have up to four years to develop before turning pro, which would give him plenty of time to take that next step before joining the Lightning or their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. If they can help him round out his game, he could play in the top-six as a scoring winger with the potential to be a true power forward if he can learn to fully utilize his size.
Tristan Luneau – Second Pair Defenseman Late in Round 1
If the Lightning decided to draft a defenseman with their late first-round pick, one of the best options potentially available will be Tristan Luneau of the Gatineau Olympiques. As the first-overall selection at the 2020 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Entry Draft, Leneau already has an impressive history of drawing attention to his play.
By all accounts, Luneau has lived up to this top billing, as he is an offensively gifted defenseman who posted 12 goals and 43 points in 63 games throughout the 2021-22 season. If not for a lingering injury, he easily could have been one of the first players taken in this year’s draft, but that little bit of uncertainty has lowered his stock.
For the Lightning, that’s a risk that could be worth taking. With a 6-foot-2 frame and an impressive offensive and defensive toolkit, Luneau has everything needed to develop into a top-four defenseman. Tampa Bay can give him the time and structure to reach his full potential, and he could be the steal of the draft if they decide to take him late in the first round.
Isaac Howard – Undersized Forward With Top-10 Talent
Another player worth keeping an eye on at the 2022 NHL Draft is Isaac Howard. As an undersized but highly skilled forward, Howard feels just sounds like a Lightning prospect. He plays a tough game and is willing to get into the dirty areas of the ice to set up his teammates with a perfect pass or utilize his shot to freeze goaltenders.
Throughout the 2021-22 season, Howard played 60 games for the U.S. National U18 Team, posting 33 goals and 82 points along with 27 games for the U.S. National Team Development Program Juniors (USNTDP) where he scored 11 goals and 37 points. No matter where he played, he was a noticeable offensive weapon who made his team better.
As a franchise that knows how to develop undersized players, Howard could be a great fit for the Lightning. He is committed to playing hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth starting in 2022-23, so Tampa Bay could stash him in college to begin his development, before letting him play with the Crunch for a few more seasons to round out his game so they can move him into a middle-six role in the NHL.
Lightning Must Make 2022 First-Round Pick Count
Outside of these three players, it’s also very likely that the Lightning will trade their first-round pick at the draft in order to move back and acquire more selections. This is a deep draft, and there will be a lot of talent available in the middle rounds where Tampa Bay already traded most of their selections.
No matter how they use their pick, the Lightning need to make this rare first-rounder count. While there’s never a guarantee at the draft, getting a hit here and returning a starting-caliber player will be a huge asset to the franchise down the road.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.