For the first time since 2019, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a pick in the first round of the NHL Draft in 2022. With the 2022 NHL Draft starting tonight, having a pick on the first night of the draft will feel a bit unusual for Lightning fans. In 2019, the Lightning drafted Nolan Foote with the 27th-overall pick. The brother of current Lightning defenseman Cal Foote, and youngest son of Colorado Avalanche legend Adam Foote, the 21-year-old prospect was traded as a part of the trade that brought Blake Coleman to the Lightning in 2020 before he could crack the Lightning’s roster.
In 2022, the stakes are a little higher as the club comes off their first playoff series loss since the 2019 Playoffs when they were swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois will also have the opportunity to make just his second first-round pick since taking over the role in 2018. Needless to say, there seems to be a bit more pressure in getting their 31st-overall pick correct.
Apart from their first-round pick, the Lightning have six other picks throughout the rest of the draft. After the first round, they won’t pick again until the fourth round, a pick they acquired in the trade for Brandon Hagel earlier this year. They’ll then pick again in the fifth round, then twice in both the sixth and seventh rounds.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
As far as tonight’s pick, there are a couple of holes the Lightning could look to fill with the 31st-overall pick. The first hole to cover could be a left-handed defenseman. They only have two (Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev) signed to the current roster at the moment, and with the McDonagh trade earlier this week, there are definitely some question marks on the back end. Their prospect pool is also very shallow with defensive talent. The majority of the notable prospects the Lightning do have are forwards. Roman Schmidt, a Third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, and Jack Thompson, an offensive defenseman drafted by the Lightning in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft, are the only notable defensive prospects the club has. To that note, both the prospects are right-handed, making the need for a left-handed defenseman that much greater.
The Lightning could also benefit from adding some depth to the middle of the ice. While inking Nick Paul to a seven-year deal last week helps boost the depth of the Lightning at the center position, a lot of the depth up front isn’t getting any younger. Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are 37 years old, Patrick Maroon is 34, Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos are 32. With so many key parts throughout the lineup getting older, adding a young forward who can play up and down the lineup makes a lot of sense. Taking a center in the first round who can play a two-way game at multiple positions, and fits in with the established culture in Tampa Bay could help hinder the burden of age as the Lightning’s core gets older.
With the various options that the Lightning have with the pick, a number of prospects make sense for the 31st-overall pick. Let’s take a look at some prospects the Lightning should have their eye on tonight.
The 2021-22 Guy Carbonneau Award recipient, an award given to the best defensive forward in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), fits the Lightning’s culture like a glove. One of the best two-way forward prospects in the draft, Nathan Gaucher has the physical tools to be a middle-six player in the NHL. While not the flashiest offensive player, he has a knack for finding the back of the net, scoring 31 goals in 66 games for the Quebec Remparts in 2021-22. At 6- foot-3, 207 pounds, he possesses all the physical tools to play at the next level.
Despite his lack of flash, he’d be a great fit with the culture the Lightning have established. Someone who can play on both ends, is willing to be physical, and can produce offense when needed. With the maturity in his game, Gaucher seems like a prospect who can be counted upon to play in a number of situations, in various roles for the Lightning in the future.
The Swiss-born Lian Bichsel is a big-bodied defensive defenseman with a lot of confidence. At 6-foot-5, he’s hard to miss on the ice, yet he’s established his skill-set to become more than just a big body. Playing 29 games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this year, he was one of the top under-18 players in the professional league. Needless to say, he has a mature skill-set that should interest the Lightning and also is a left-handed shot.
While Bichsel might be a bit of a stretch to be picked at 31, mostly due to a late-season injury that caused him to miss critical international play, he fits the left-handed defenseman need for the Lightning. While not exactly someone who’s going to headman a power play like Victor Hedman, he plays a hard, strong, and physical game in his own zone. Something that could benefit the Lightning years down the road.
One of the bigger mysteries of this year’s draft is where Lane Hutson will end up. Undersized, at 5-foot-8, he still possesses one of the more dynamic skill sets among defensive prospects in this year’s draft. For the Lightning, this is a prospect that could take over the blue line of the second power play and eventually be the successor to Hedman at the top of that first power-play unit.
As a left-handed shot, he checks off that box as well. A great skater, he’s someone I feel could be the next Quinn Hughes or Jared Spurgeon. Hutson is so dynamic with the puck, he’d be a great addition to play alongside a physical, defensive-minded player such as Erik Cernak or Cal Foote. Someone who possesses such a unique skill-set, while checking off the majority of the boxes scouts look for, Hutson is worth consideration from the Lightning if he’s still on the board.
Trading Away the 31st Pick
The other major option for the Lightning is to trade away their First-round pick. While trading Ryan Mcdonagh saved millions in cap space, there is still some work to be done to make enough room to re-sign Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta this summer. Trading away the pick makes a lot of sense if BriseBois can somehow use it to relieve even more cap tension.
With the notorious success that the Lightning has had in drafting star players like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, and Ondrej Palat outside of the first round, it seems logical that trading back for more picks makes sense for a team that has been so successful in the latter rounds. With this being the first time in two years that NHL teams have been able to get a full scouting report on draft prospects, the Lightning likely have a good idea of who they like if they were to make a move back in the draft. Don’t be surprised if you see BriseBois make a deal to move back and add to the six other picks he already has in this draft.
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Law student, who loves all thing sports. Connor is a former college athlete who understands sports from a players perspective. Based out of Detroit, fell in love with hockey by going to the old Joe Louis Arena watching those legendary 2000s Red Wing teams. Connor will talk to anyone who will listen on player performance, draft prospects, and front office management around the NHL. In his free time he loves to golf, although his scorecard may tell you otherwise. Covering all things Tampa Bay Lightning.