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Lightning's improved draft acumen on display

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Cory Conacher began Feb. 23 leading all rookies in scoring with 15 points.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Cory Conacher began Feb. 23 leading all rookies in scoring with 15 points.

An argument can be made that from 1999 to 2007, the Lightning's best draft pick was defenseman Paul Ranger, the 183rd overall selection in 2002, who in October 2009 quit the team for personal reasons after playing 270 NHL games.

There is no argument, though, that in those years, Tampa Bay, with 88 selections, did not draft an impact player. Even its five first-round picks were busts, though goaltender Riku Helenius still is in the organization.

That is why the Lightning's minor-league system was bare for so long. But that is changing, as the influx this season of minor-leaguers to the big club shows.

• Left wing Cory Conacher, whose 15 points entered Saturday leading all rookies, made the team out of training camp with right wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie.

• Forward Alex Killorn was promoted from AHL Syracuse on Feb. 10 and had two goals in his first five games.

• Richard Panik was promoted from Syracuse on Feb. 11 and is getting a long look.

"It's a process, but it's a fun process," coach Guy Boucher said. "You see the future upside of it all."

Killorn was drafted 77th overall in 2007. Helenius, with Syracuse after a stint in Europe, was taken 15th in 2006. But the bulk of the players knocking on the Lightning's door were selected beginning in 2008.

In fact, one of the only good things to say about the previous ownership and management group is that in 2008 and 2009 it drafted well, though it's tough to mess up Steven Stamkos, No. 1 overall in 2008, and Victor Hedman, No. 2 in 2009. But taking Syracuse defenseman Mark Barberio 152nd overall in 2008 and goalie Jaroslav Janus, playing for Bratislava in Russia's KHL, 162nd in 2009 seem to be winners, too.

That personnel group, headed by director of player personnel Jim Hammett, also directed the 2010 draft because new general manager Steve Yzerman had yet to bring in his people. That draft brought right wing Brett Connolly at No. 6 overall and defensive prospect Radko Gudas at No. 66, both of whom are with Syracuse.

The 2011 draft — headed by director of amateur scouting Al Murray and head amateur scout Darryl Plandowski, a holdover from the previous regime — has a chance to be a treasure chest. Forwards Vladimir Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, defenseman Nikita Nesterov and goalie Adam Wilcox are making notable progress.

And the steal of the 2012 draft, at No. 19, might be goalie Andrey Vasilevskiy, who at 18 is playing for Ufa in the KHL.

Sprinkle in undrafted free agents such as forwards J.T. Brown and Tyler Johnson, both with Syracuse, and the Lightning actually has a foundation.

"It's good," Boucher said. "We know a lot of guys will be fighting for spots."

. fast facts

Oops

The Lightning's first-round draft picks from 1999-2007, with year, draft position overall and current team/status:

• RW Nikita Alexeev, 2000, 8th, Cherepovets (KHL)

• C Alexander Svitov, 2001, 3rd, Ufa (KHL)

• D Andy Rogers, 2004, 30th, not playing

• D Vladimir Mihalik, 2005, 30th, Bratislava (KHL)

• G Riku Helenius, 2006, 15th, Syracuse (AHL)

Lightning's improved draft acumen on display 02/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 10:29pm]
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