For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2019 NHL Entry Draft represents a massive change to the franchise. For the first time in close to a decade, the Lightning will enter the draft without Steve Yzerman calling the shots. Because of this, it can be a bit difficult to predict what the Lightning will do when they make their selections.
See, Yzerman followed a pattern at the draft table. During his tenure, the team placed a premium on qualities like speed and hockey-IQ over raw power and size. By his final draft in 2018, one could describe a class as ‘classic Yzerman-Era’ and a Lightning fan would immediately understand the type of players the team selected.
Now with Yzerman’s protege Julien BriseBois taking the reigns, we will get a full picture of who had been making the decisions over the last decade. If the Lightning have a classic ‘Yzerman-Era draft’ in 2019, then it may have actually been a BriseBois and director of amateur scouting Al Murray trait all along.
Due to this change in leadership, the 2019 Draft is wide open for the franchise. They may follow course and pick a number of players who fit the Yzerman-mold, or they could go completely off-script. In fact, it’s very likely that the Lightning may not have all of their picks when the draft starts.
What Do the Lightning Need?
One of the remarkable parts of the Lightning’s success over the last six seasons is the fact that they have been winning at all levels of the sport. For example, in 2019 their NHL, AHL, and ECHL affiliated teams all reached their respective playoffs.
This success is due in large part to the amount of depth in the Lightning’s system. The team has young NHL-caliber forwards and defensemen playing with their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, with a few AHL-caliber players spending time in the ECHL.
Because of this depth, the Lightning won’t need to make reaches at the draft. They can continue to make smart choices based on who is the best player available instead of drafting purely for need. Also, they have no need to rush most players to the minor leagues, so they can let their selections continue to grow either in juniors or in the NCAA.
Lightning Have a Hole in Goaltending
The one area where the Lightning will be expected to make a selection this year is goaltending. After Connor Ingram, their biggest goaltending prospect, fell out of favor with the franchise, he was traded to the Nashville Predators for a seventh-round pick.
This move effectively depleted the Lightning’s goaltending reserves after Edward Pasquale signed in the KHL. Due to this, one can expect BriseBois to select an overage goaltender in the later rounds of the draft who could potentially play for the Crunch at the start of the season.
Even this isn’t certain by any means, as the team could just sign a few free-agent goaltenders to start in Syracuse. However, given how the Lightning have drafted in the past, expect a fourth or fifth-round pick to be invested in goaltending at the very least.
Potential Lightning Trades at the Draft?
Given the Lightning’s impending cap-crunch, BriseBois will be expected to do everything he can to shed some salary. This may include bundling a veteran player with a pick to get a team with more space to take them on.
A popular thought is that the Lightning could trade the final year of Ryan Callahan’s six-year contract and their first-round pick to find this cap relief. While this is possible, it would be a bit of a steep option for the franchise to pay for one season of relief.
Related: Lightning Trade Block: Ryan Callahan
Given everything we know, though, it would be a bit of a shock if the Lightning didn’t make a move at the draft. The team is in desperate need of cap space and they could afford to trade a pick, even a first rounder, to give themselves some breathing room.
Who Could the Lightning Draft?
Despite being under new management, one can expect BriseBois to follow a similar thought process as Yzerman in his selections. The Lightning will draft smartly, choosing players who share attributes with the likes of Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli.
This by no means guarantees that this draft class will be a success, but given their choices over the years, there is reason to believe that BriseBois can still find some gold. The real test will come from whether or not he can clear the space to keep the young starters he helped draft over the last five years.
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.