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NHL draft

Lightning needs to draft NHL-ready player beyond Stamkos

OTTAWA — Steve Stamkos said he will stick around Scotiabank Place this weekend to watch as much of the NHL draft as possible.

Quite a commitment considering Stamkos' part will be over quickly as the Lightning, unless mice start chasing cats, will take the NHL-ready center with tonight's No. 1 pick.

Sure, Stamkos has a few buddies in the draft. But more than that, the 18-year-old calls himself "a pretty hockey-oriented guy. And if I get drafted by Tampa, I'm definitely going to be interested in who else they take."

Especially with Tampa Bay's third-round pick — No. 62 overall — because general manager Jay Feaster said Thursday that he'd better be ready to play:

"Because we don't have a second-round pick … our job at 62 is to make sure we're drafting an NHL player."

And that changes the overall equation.

The Lightning for more than a year has spoken of rebuilding its minor-league depth through the draft, especially at forward, a position it stocked last year with seven of nine picks.

But finding a third-rounder ready for the show means taking the best player available, whether at forward or defense.

As for the team's other five picks, perhaps the Lightning goes back to looking at forwards. Or perhaps it makes a trade to replace the second-round pick lost last year to the Panthers in the Chris Gratton trade.

But with organizational depth and tradable draft picks lacking, even Feaster acknowledged a deal is not likely.

Still, he said, "We think there will be quite a few possibilities at that time on the board. We have to be sure we've done our homework and vetted all those guys."

Feaster also reminded that in 1998, when Tampa Bay took Vinny Lecavalier No. 1 overall, Brad Richards was picked in the third round at No. 64.

"I'm not putting the pressure on them to draft a Brad Richards," Feaster said of his scouts. "But we need to make sure the guy we're taking in the third round is going to be a National Hockey League player and we can look back on this draft and say this was really a good draft."

Let's not kid ourselves, though. Tampa Bay needs depth, especially up front, to make up for a decade of poor drafting.

"We need forwards," who can play on the top two lines, head scout Jake Goertzen said, "guys who can put the puck in the net."

It's not as if the Lightning is flush in goal or on defense, either, but things are not nearly as dire.

Top prospects in net are Karri Ramo and Riku Helenius. On defense are Matt Smaby, Mike Lundin, Vladimir Mihalik and even injury-plagued Andy Rogers. But at forward, it is pretty bare, perhaps center Radek Smolenak.

Not that it will matter Saturday when pick No. 62 rolls around.

"We do need forwards, but at the same time, we want to make sure we're taking the best athlete available," Feaster said, "and the best player."

KEEPING MUM: It is unclear when a new coach (presumably Barry Melrose) will be announced. Oren Koules and Len Barrie, primary members of OK Hockey, apparently will remain under a league gag order until a $200-million deal to buy the team is finalized, likely by the end of the month.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

>>fast facts

NHL draft

When: Round 1 — 7 tonight. Rounds 2-7 — 10 a.m. Saturday

TV: Tonight — Versus. Saturday — NHL.com (live stream)

Lightning picks: Round 1
(1 overall); Round 3 (62); Round 5 (122); Round 6 (152, 160); Round 7 (182, 203)

>>FAST FACTS

If you go

Fans can gather at 7 tonight at three spots around the Tampa Bay area to watch the first round:

• Boston's, 9316 Anderson Road, Tampa

• Barnacles, 926 Providence Road, Brandon

• Courtside Grille, 110 Fountain Parkway N (Feather Sound), St. Petersburg

Lightning needs to draft NHL-ready player beyond Stamkos 06/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 4:21pm]

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