PHILADELPHIA — The Lightning has the luxury of two first-round picks tonight when the draft opens at the Wells Fargo Center.
General manager Steve Yzerman just doesn't know if he'll actually use them.
Yzerman said he has received inquiries about his willingness to trade the 19th or 28th selection, No. 28 received as part of the Marty St. Louis-Ryan Callahan deal in March. It is clear Tampa Bay is open for business.
"If the right opportunity came up and the right player," Yzerman says, "we'd consider moving either one of those."
Yzerman ideally would like to get a young defenseman with some years remaining on his contract though he acknowledged it's a tall task. But the Lightning has more bargaining chips than in recent memory thanks, in part, to the two first-rounders this year and in 2015 courtesy of the St. Louis trade. Plus, as NHL Network analyst Craig Button points out, they've got "the most depth they've had in their organization — ever."
"I think they're in a really strong position," Button said. "Call them bargaining chips, call them assets, however you want to phrase it. They've done an excellent job of building up their prospect base, and the cupboards are full."
Yzerman started talking with free agent defensemen the past couple of days, though he declined to identify them. If the Lightning goes the trade route, Button suggests it could try to pry Johnny Boychuk from the Bruins or Mike Green from the Capitals. Yzerman said, in general, trading within the division is "not out of the question," more likely over the summer than at the deadline.
"If it's something that makes sense, that makes our team better, I have no qualms or concerns about doing it," Yzerman said.
That being said, Yzerman notes it's not easy to line up trade partners, from players to salary cap considerations. According to capgeek.com, Tampa Bay has $11.7 million of cap space with 19 players on the roster.
"It's going to be hard either way," Yzerman said. "Trade or free agency, it's going to be difficult to make a lot of changes."
The Lightning doesn't have a lot of needs considering it finished third in the Eastern Conference before getting swept in the first round by the Canadiens. But its American Hockey League affiliate, Syracuse, might as Tampa Bay used a lot of its depth in playing 12 rookies, including forwards and rookie of the year finalists Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
Jonathan Drouin, the first-round pick in 2013 (third overall), is likely to impact the club this season. So, as Yzerman says, their "depth of prospects were depleted because we put them on the NHL team."
"We have multiple draft picks over the next few years, and worst-case scenario, we'd like to use those picks and accumulate more prospects and build up our prospect pool again," Yzerman said. "We're happy we're able to move some young guys in, but it's important to try to hang on to your picks to improve that draft pool. You need those players coming."
Al Murray, the Lightning's director of amateur scouting, said this draft lacks the "high-end" talent — prospects with potential to be No. 1 centers or top defensemen — that were available last year. Murray said there's more "support" players this year, second- to third-line players who are still important in an organization.
Murray believes there's not many elite defensemen, but he's happy with their organizational depth at that position, saying its need is mostly for a veteran.
The TSN mock draft has Tampa Bay selecting defenseman Travis Sanheim from Calgary (junior Western Hockey League) and left wing Nikita Scherbak from Saskatoon (WHL), though Yzerman said this draft will be more unpredictable than others.
"If the Tampa Bay Lightning stays where they're at," Button said, "there's no doubt in my mind they'll get two very good players, no question."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_JSmith.