Brian Lawton: Draft Rookie

“With every door that closes, another is opened up” – This motto can be applied to so many different situations in life, but the yearly NHL Entry Draft is not one of them. Each team has one chance to pick the stars of the future from this years crop of budding athletes, giving each team the opportunity to significantly fail if they cannot identify their current needs, their upcoming needs, the skills which the prospect best displays presently and those he will grow in to.

It seems like an awful lot of pressure riding on the suited gentlemen who has the rank of “General Manager” inscribed on his office door. This year the weight of Tampa’s draft day choices rests upon the shoulders of Brian Lawton – draft rookie.

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Some think that calling Brian a rookie is a tad harsh considering he has watched this day come and go many times during his 14 year tenure as a player agent, this being on top of his own experience of first overall selection by Minnesota in the 1983 entry draft. With the hope of being named among the NHL GM elite, and the risk of falling among the forgotten, all the angles Brian has worked in the past will not fully prepare him for the choices he is about to make. I would like to extend my helping hand to Mr. Lawton during this gut-wrenching time.

Current Need

When reviewing the 2008-2009 season statistics for the Bolts, their strength up the middle of the ice is quickly identified. But with only two wingers crossing the 20 point mark (and three over 15), a focus on depth of offensive skill on the wing should take top priority.

Tampa’s need for defensive leadership and direction also goes without question. The Lightning ranked 27th in the league for Goals Against Average (3.28) and 28th for Shots Against Average (32.9). Tampa may be able to fill some of their defensive holes with a couple promising prospects on their AHL affiliate Norfolk Admirals, but a second round D-man should be in the cards.

Future Need

With Tampa aiming to keep salaries in the $45 million ballpark, they outside of the top teams to experience cap woes. But with $28 million invested in five players over the next three seasons, Mr. Lawton will need to keep the projected salary of any drafted players in mind.

2009 Draft

Tampa currently holds the second overall pick, an additional two in the second round (32 and 52) and a single third round pick (75). With offensive depth being the highest priority for the Lightning, and with the final rankings from Central Scouting having placed the first winger in the 7th spot, there is an opportunity for Lawton to trade down once or even twice and add additional picks to the arsenal.

Teams currently occupying the 7th through 10th position would gladly trade their 2009 1st and 2nd round picks for the chance to draft 2nd overall. With a first round selection around 10th, a second downward move could add a third round pick to for 2009 and still allow Tampa to select the underrated 6′-2″ winger Peter Holland who was at one time ranked 9th. Holland, or any of the late first round wingers (Kassian, Ashton and Kreider) boast an average height of 6′-3″, an average weight of 199lbs and an immense amount of offensive skill.

The aligning of the sun, moon and planets will hopefully give Lawton the opportunity to select a stay-at-home defenseman with the 32nd pick, allowing attention to once again return to adding depth wingers. The size of the 08/09 Lightning was never in question, but a second round power forward (similar to the Bruins’ Lucic) could secure a third or fourth liner for the Lightning teams to come. The lack of a first round ranked goaltender has saturated the second round with six. A late second round net minder seems to this writer to be a popular choice as Tokarski will likely make his move to the Admirals next season, and Helenius is yet to earn his stripes.

The remaining pick(s) in the third round could again be used on a scoring winger that could ultimately develop into a regular third line player.

Each GM has the opportunity to succeed if he can identify the current need, the upcoming need, the skills which the prospect best displays currently and those he will grow in to. Does Lawton have what it takes?

Let us chat on the 27th.