For the first time since taking over as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steve Yzerman will be entering the NHL Entry Draft without a first-round pick. While there was a year when the Lightning did not make a pick in round one, that was due to Yzerman trading his first rounder during the draft for an additional pick in the second and third round.
With this in mind, barring an unexpected trade, the Lightning will be on the sidelines come Friday night. This doesn’t mean that the draft will be quiet for the Lightning, though. While their position on the draft board may not be particularly inspiring, they still have seven picks in this year’s draft, with a selection in rounds two through six and two picks in the seventh.
Given their history of pulling great talent out of the later rounds of the draft, the lack of a first rounder may not even be a real concern to either Yzerman or director of scouting Julien Brisbois. Judging from their history, they could still find some important depth players in these later rounds who will have an impact on the franchise in three to five years.
Lightning’s Draft Tendencies Under Yzerman
Since Yzerman’s regime took over full-time at the 2011 draft, they have consistently placed a premium on selecting the best player available even if it didn’t necessarily fill a team need. For example, at the 2013 draft, it was clear that the Lightning had an organizational need for defensemen and were in the position to draft a defender on multiple occasions. Instead, they drafted five forwards and a goalie, prioritizing talent and potential over need.
The only other constant during Yzerman’s time as GM has been their ability to assess and draft talent that would traditionally be overlooked. This includes All-Star forward Brayden Point, who fell to the Lightning in Round 3 of the 2014 draft due largely to his small stature, and Anthony Cirelli, another third-rounder who made an immediate impact on the Lightning when he was recalled midway through the season.
It may be a bit of a stretch to compare any one of the Lightning’s later picks this year to Point or Cirelli, but it wouldn’t be shocking for Yzerman and Brisbois to find their next star in the second or third round. This is a lofty expectation, but they have earned the trust of fans with their drafting acumen in recent years to make such a selection.
Who Will Lightning Select at the 2018 Draft?
With this in mind (and the fact that the franchise already has a stacked, young AHL team ready for next season), there’s really no telling who the Lightning will select with their picks this year. Since they aren’t looking for a player who will make an impact in the short term, they may be looking to select ‘project’ players who will need more time in the minors or in the NCAA to fully reach their potential.
In THW’s writer mock draft, the Lightning selected defenseman Adam Samuelsson with their second-round pick. As said about that selection:
While he is far from a sure bet to make the NHL, Samuelsson has the size and skill to develop into a player that can have an impact on the team.
In the seventh-annual complete mock draft, also on THW, the Lightning picked Winger Dmitry Zavgorodniy, a selection that would also fit with the team’s tendency to draft high-talent Russian forwards who could use a little bit of time to grow into their game before reaching the NHL.
Enjoy the Draft and Trust the ‘Yzerplan’
No, this year’s draft will not be a sexy one for the Lightning. They will likely be drafting utility players who will not be making any real contributions to the team in the foreseeable future. This is a good thing for the Lightning, though, since having a boring draft means that the prior season was, at the least, somewhat successful.
Unlike last year, when the franchise was excited to introduce a new top-talent to the team with their 14th overall pick, the Lightning were good enough for Yzerman to part with something he dearly covets: a first-round pick. Even though they came up short in the Eastern Conference Final, they still won the Atlantic Division and were a dominant presence in the league.
Hopefully, the draft remains relatively uneventful over the next few years for the Lightning, because that means the team is staying towards the top of the NHL. For now, fans will just have to sit back and watch the rest of the league unwrap their presents on Friday night, knowing that the future still is still bright in Tampa Bay.
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.