If you are a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, there really isn’t a reason to not have full confidence in their ability to scout and make the right decisions on draft day. Over the last decade-plus, the Lightning have been one of the best franchises in the NHL at pulling talent out of all rounds of the draft, as they will often turn what appears to be middling picks into starters at a rate few teams can match. This is what allowed them the build a Stanley Cup Champion, and what has allowed them to sustain their success for close to a decade now.
Lightning Make the Most of Their First-Round Pick
With that in mind, it is difficult to judge a draft class made by general manager Julien BriseBois, especially since he has been so aggressive with trading top picks to acquire talent that will help the franchise win right now. This has left the Lightning with fewer and fewer “Sure” picks, as he instead moved those for prime talent while bringing back later-round selections that teams tend to shy away from.
However, the Lightning still had their first-round selection in 2022, which is the first time since 2019 that they made a selection in Round 1 (and will be the last time they make a pick in this round until likely 2025). While I had been predicting that they would trade down in order to recoup some of their lost draft assets, they instead kept the pick and used it to select Isaac Howard, an undersized but explosively talented forward who is the most Tampa Bay pick possible.
As the self-proclaimed “Best looking player at the draft,” Howard is a player that Lightning fans will be excited to watch in the coming years. He is a goalscoring talent with a ton of offensive skillset, who is joining a franchise that is known for unlocking players with his potential.
If this ends up being their only first-round selection for the better part of a five-year period, then Tampa Bay needed to nail it. By all accounts, I think they couldn’t have done better than Howard with the 31st overall pick, and he is a player that is already endearing himself to the hockey world.
Lightning Took Big Swings With Overage Prospects
Following the selection of Howard, BriseBois still had six picks on Day 2 of the draft, but after a trade to move up, ended the day making five. That trade-up was for Lucas Edmonds, an overage forward who had been passed over three times, but made his case after posting 113 points in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 2021-22. That sort of scoring is hard to ignore, and as a 21-year-old, he will be able to immediately join the Syracuse Crunch and get the chance to make his professional debut as soon as the 2022-23 season. He still needs some time to develop, but he has the potential to be a home-run selection in the third-round
Following the selection of Edmonds, the Lightning’s next pick was another overage player, this time being Finnish goaltender Nick Malik. Interestingly, Malik was a favorite amongst THW Staff back at his first draft opportunity in 2020, where I actually had him ranked as the ninth-best goaltender of the class. At the time I said:
This leaves you with a prospect that can be viewed as a major risk not worth a fifth-round gamble, or a goalie with third-round potential who is being undervalued due to a shift to a new hockey world. Either way, Malik is incredibly talented and shouldn’t be overlooked this draft.
Of course, Malik would be overlooked in both 2020 and 2021, but after an impressive 2021-22 season with KooKoo of Liiga, the top professional hockey league in Finland, the Lightning decided it was time for him to hear his name called at the draft. At 6-foot-2, he has the size of an NHL goaltender, and with his development path, he looks like a player who could step into starting time with the Crunch immediately.
This was likely done on purpose, as the Lightning lost one of their few goaltending prospects before the draft, and needed a player who could split starting time with Hugo Alnefelt immediately. Malik will fill this role perfectly, and he could be a surprisingly good fit for the franchise when they needed a young but experienced goaltender right now.
With Remaining Picks, Lightning Took Late-Round Chances
With the draft wrapping up, Tampa Bay still had three more picks to make. First was selection #192, which they used on forward Connor Kurth of the Dubuque Fighting Saints. In 62 games played, Kurth posted 81 points, which was good for the second-most points with the Fighting Saints. He also earned the 2022 Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year Award as the most outstanding American-born player in junior hockey, which shows that there is a lot of potential in his undersized 5-foot-11 frame that the Lightning could unlock.
Finally, the Lightning had back-to-back picks in the seventh round. The first of these they used to select Dyllan Gill, a big-bodied defenseman who played for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. While Gill will be a project, he has a solid toolkit to build upon for a seventh-round pick, and he is a player who could at the very least start taking on some playing time with the Crunch in a couple of years.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft: Live Tracker
With their next and final pick, the Lightning selected Latvian forward Klavs Veinbergs. Clocking in at 6-foot-3 and almost 200 pounds, he is one of the biggest players Tampa Bay selected in 2022. He spent most of the 2021-22 season playing in the Russian Junior League (MHL), but also played in games against men in the top Latvian Pro league in both the regular and postseason. In these games, he didn’t look out of place at all, as he posted seven points in nine postseason starts.
Lightning Restocked Prospect Corps After Trading Talent
For the Lightning, the memo seemed clear for the 2022 Draft. While many of these selections were late-round talent, they seemed to be targeted at players who looked like they would be comfortable making the jump to the Crunch sooner than later. Edmonds and Malik could be starting in 2022, for example, whereas Veinbergs could potentially make the jump in 2023.
In all, this was another prototypical draft class by BriseBois. He made the most of his only first-round pick this decade (or at least until 2025) by selecting Howard, who I think will be an absolute stud for the Lightning. He followed this by filling in around him with a lot of utility players that I think will be making their professional debuts relatively soon despite being late-round picks.
That’s a big win for a team with few futures. Now, there’s no guarantee that any of these picks will work out, especially when you consider how rarely fifth-round or later selections make the NHL, but right now the Lightning just need to add some meaningful depth back to their cupboards. They succeded in doing so once again despite having limited resources.
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.