The Lightning's draft history the past 10 years is kind of like one of owner Oren Koules' Saw movies. Cover your eyes if you are squeamish. It is not pretty. Consider last season's team used six players as regulars from the 96 drafted since 1999. Only one, Steven Stamkos, is an organizational top pick and selected in the past four years. Compare that with the Canadiens, whose roster last season had 15 drafted players. The response from general manager Brian Lawton? "We redid virtually the entire (scouting staff)," he said, including firing head scout Jake Goertzen, who had been with the team since its inaugural season. Lawton said only four of the 15 full-time scouts he inherited remain: Dave Heitz, Gerry O'Flaherty, Mikael Andersson and Kari Kettunen. He said he cut the number to 12, not to save the financially struggling team money but to do more with less. "It's the quality of people over quantity," Lawton said. "I wanted to get a little more movement out of people to get into other (scouting) regions. I wanted more cross-over and a lot more interaction; a little bit tighter group, more meetings as a group and a little bit more video work." The test comes at the Friday-Saturday draft in Montreal, the first since the massive reorganization.
Who's in charge?
Regardless of how the franchise leadership shakes out, the draft, generally, will be run by player personnel director Jim Hammett with input from head amateur scout Darryl Plandowski, both new additions.
Hammett has been head amateur scout for the Rangers and the head scout for the Canadian national team. He was with the Avalanche from 1998 to 2006 and its head scout from 2001. Plandowski was an amateur scout for eight years for the Sabres and two for the Penguins.
It is thought the Lightning wants 6-foot-6 Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman with the No. 2 overall pick. But even if Hedman is selected No. 1 by the Islanders, Lawton said he likely will keep the pick rather than trade, which would mean choosing sharpshooter John Tavares or forward Matt Duchene.
"Short of moving mountains, there's not much to cause us to deal," Lawton said.
He will listen, of course, to offers including a top-line defenseman. But the GM said he is committed to developing with youth, which, by the way, is a lot cheaper to sign compared with picking up the contract of a significant player.
"Somebody would have to knock our socks off for us to do anything. My philosophy is we need to build with these younger-type players, and we need to be patient with them to really build a strong foundation for sustained success."
The gruesome details
The Lightning's best draft was in 1998, when, with Phil Esposito and Don Murdoch running things, it selected Vinny Lecavalier No. 1 overall, Brad Richards 64th, Dmitry Afanasenkov 72nd and Martin Cibak 252nd. Each contributed to the team's 2004 Stanley Cup victory.
After drafting Lecavalier, Tampa Bay did not have a top pick make an impact until it selected Stamkos in 2008.
The Lightning's top draft picks from 1999 to 2007: Sheldon Keefe (47th overall), Nikita Alexeev (8), Alexander Svitov (3), Adam Henrich (60), Mike Egener (34), Andy Rogers (30), Vladimir Mihalik (30), Riku Helenius (15) and Dana Tyrell (47).
Picking up the pieces
While making the most of a first pick is key, Lawton said, hay is really made later. Remember, Richards was drafted 64th.
"They did a great job last year in drafting Steven Stamkos," Lawton said of the No. 1 overall pick. "But one could surmise that wasn't rocket science. This year we expect to get a terrific player at No. 2, and one should surmise it's not rocket science. It's after that you really make or break your organization. For us, that means coming up with meaningful players at the 32nd slot, the 52nd slot, and even expecting some success at 75 and 92."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.