NEWARK, N.J. — Outside looking in, the decision the Lightning had to make at Sunday's draft was as epic as it was unexpected.
Should it take Jonathan Drouin, the super-skilled, play-making left wing who last season was MVP of the Canadian junior leagues, or defenseman Seth Jones, whom NHL Central Scouting ranked as the No. 1 North American skater and seemed to fall right into Tampa Bay's lap?
In the end, though, the decision at the Prudential Center — taking Drouin, 18, with the No. 3 overall pick — was relatively simple, general manager Steve Yzerman said.
"We know they were both excellent prospects," he said. "We simply rated Jonathan ahead of Seth."
The pick gives the Lightning a player many believe is the draft's most dynamic and who had 41 goals and 105 points in 49 games last season for Halifax of the Quebec league.
Even the usually understated Yzerman acknowledged that Drouin's vision of the ice and passing ability might eventually earn him a spot on a line with center Steven Stamkos.
"His hockey sense, his skill, his competitiveness, we like all his tools," Yzerman said.
Said Al Murray, Tampa Bay's director of amateur scouting, "There's nothing offensively that he can't do as far as play-making, goal scoring, beating people one-on-one. He has a special compete level and a special skill set you very rarely see come along."
That said, the debate about whether Jones should have been the pick will rage until the players establish their NHL bona fides.
Jones, 18, is 6 feet 4 and 205 pounds, with puck-moving skills and an offensive sensibility that led to 14 goals and 56 points in 68 games last season for Portland of the junior Western league.
Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, also was plus-46.
For the Lightning, without a legitimate puck-moving defenseman since Dan Boyle was traded in July 2008, Jones would seem difficult to pass up.
And Yzerman said, "We really like Seth Jones. But when you're rating players, you've got to rate somebody one, somebody two, somebody three. We had Jonathan just ahead of Seth."
As interesting as the pick is how the Lightning came to be in that position.
As expected, the Avalanche, drafting first, took center Nathan MacKinnon, Drouin's Halifax teammate. But instead of taking Jones at No. 2, as many believed they would, the Panthers took Finnish center Aleksander Barkov.
"We actually had discussed that (scenario)," Murray said. "Steve was very good. He went through every single opportunity that could have possibly come our way. We were prepared for all situations, and we got the player we thought was best."
Jones went to the Predators one pick later, at No. 4.
Drouin certainly does not lack confidence.
Asked about playing in Tampa next season, he said, "For sure, I want to step in. I'm pretty confident about that."
About perhaps playing next to Stamkos, he said, "Obviously, for sure. Steven is a finisher. Everyone knows that."
At 5 feet 11 and 190 pounds, Drouin admitted he must get stronger and has modified his diet to include more grains and fish. And Lightning coach Jon Cooper reminded that even Stamkos did not make the smoothest transition from juniors to the NHL.
Even so, Cooper said of Drouin, "I'm fairly sure he is going to jump the curve a little sooner than others. His hockey IQ is off the charts. So when you have that in your repertoire, usually you can advance a little bit quicker than some others."
Not that anyone is guaranteeing Drouin a Lightning roster spot.
"Steve (Yzerman) has been very clear he's not going to rush anybody," Murray said. "But he's not going to hold anyone back, either."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]m. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.