Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning keeps draft options open

If Steve Yzerman trades one of his two first-round draft picks, it likely will be the 19th overall rather than No. 10.

Actually, the Lightning general manager said, "I think it's more likely we use both picks," but especially the 10th:

"I don't see us moving that."

What direction will the Lightning go with that pick Friday at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center? Talk is of a defenseman.

Publicly, Yzerman's philosophy is to draft the best available players. But this draft is blue-line heavy — 17 of the top 30 skaters ranked by NHL Central Scouting are defensemen — and Tampa Bay's organizational depth at the position is chronically shallow.

In other words, if there is a chance to draft a puck-moving blue-liner projected to be a top-two player, it will be difficult to pass up. That is especially true in a salary-cap world where developing a top-end defenseman is a lot more cost effective than finding one through free agency, something Tampa Bay might have to do in July.

That said, Yzerman insisted he is "not necessarily" targeting a defenseman.

"It is not a position where we have a lot of guys coming up," he said. "But all things being equal, we're going to pick the best player available with the picks that we have."

"He's asked us to rank them as far as who the best players are for the National Hockey League and who will have the most impact going forward, and we've done that," said Al Murray, Tampa Bay's director of amateur scouting. "Certainly, the majority of the top skill, especially with the North American kids, is on defense, but with the top two picks we're going after who we think are the best players."

The junior defenseman ranked highest by NHL Central Scouting is Ryan Murray from Everett of the Western Hockey League who, despite an injury-shortened season, had nine goals and 31 points in 46 games and an even plus-minus.

Murray likely will not be available unless the Lightning trades up, something Yzerman did not dismiss but indicated was a long shot.

"It would really be hard to get into the top two or three," he said. "I don't know if (trading picks) 10 and 19 would get you that."

Besides, he added, "Sitting where we are there are a lot of players that we like."

One of the most intriguing is Red Deer's Mathew Dumba, a high-character player who offers offensive prowess (he led Western League defensemen with 20 goals) but is a wild card on defense. He is a right-handed shot, which is a bonus on the power play.

Another right-handed shot is Ottawa's Cody Ceci, second among Ontario League defensemen with 60 points on 17 goals and 43 assists in 64 games.

It is an interesting draft in that, as Murray said, "There is no superstar to hang your hat on like a (John) Tavares or a (Steven) Stamkos or a Taylor Hall."

Even so, Murray added, "There are between 12 and 15 elite prospects, and the way the numbers usually go, we can get two of those guys with picks 10 and 19."

Assuming, that is, the Lightning keeps both.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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