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Lightning scouting system fills team's talent pool

Lightning right wing J.T. Brown made his first start as a Bolt on March 31, 2012.
Lightning right wing J.T. Brown made his first start as a Bolt on March 31, 2012.
Published Jun. 29, 2013

When Al Murray analyzes the past two Lightning drafts, he sees as much potential today as when those 14 players were selected.

More, perhaps, as players have had a year or two to develop.

"There's not one player drafted we've written off yet," Tampa Bay's director of amateur scouting said. "We view all of them still as NHL prospects."

It is too early to grade the 2011 and '12 drafts. But the organizational enthusiasm for those classes likely is highest, top to bottom, for any in team history.

The list includes goaltenders Andrey Vasilev­skiy and Adam Wilcox; forwards Nikita Kucherov, Vlad Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Cedric Paquette, Matthew Peca and Tanner Richard, and defensemen Slater Koekkoek and Nikita Nesterov.

Add college free agents J.T. Brown, a wing, and defenseman Andrej Sustr, and you have potentially significant additions to the conveyor belt of talent general manager Steve Yzerman has spoken of constructing that is essential to perpetuating organizational success and vital in a salary cap world.

"Al and the guys are doing a good job," Yzerman said. "I'm pleased with our progress accumulating prospects for the NHL."

The process continues with Sunday's draft at the Prudential Center, the third draft under Murray, whose emphasis on regional scouting allows his scouts to watch players for years and keep a running tally as the players develop physically and emotionally.

Before Murray was hired in August 2010, Tampa Bay's scouts traveled broadly outside their territories.

For scout Brian Putnam, all that means is "you know a little bit about a lot of guys. When you do it more regional, you get to know the players more intimately. You get a sense of what type of player they are and what type of person they are."

"You just feel more prepared and comfortable," said head amateur scout Darryl Plandowski. "We're not just taking a flyer on a guy in the fourth or seventh rounds. We know this kid is a solid person, he comes from a solid family and has a solid work ethic and a chance to improve."

Murray, 55, said he uses pieces of systems from his 12 years as director of amateur scouting for the Kings and three as head scout for Canada's national team.

Each scout in a region grades players with a letter. That comes in handy at the draft table.

"When you talk about five 'A' players, those players are interchangeable in our mind," Murray said. "We also have no quotas. If there are only six guys from an area, then those six guys are on the list."

From the regional lists, the top 30 or so players are identified. Those are scouted by Murray and Plandowski for possible selection in the draft's top three rounds.

In subsequent rounds, the scouts take over.

"Once we get the top players onto the merged list, (the scouts) own the next group of players," Murray said. "They get that opportunity to have an impact on the team in the mid to late rounds.

"We're taking the top guy on your list if we feel he's better than players on the other lists. That's why our guys take tremendous pride in getting out there and seeing players enough so they really know what's going on."