NHL draft picture fuzzy for Lightning

Colorado GM Joe Sakic says he might not take Seth Jones, the top-rated player in the draft, at No. 1 overall. So the defenseman could fall to the Lightning at No. 3.
Colorado GM Joe Sakic says he might not take Seth Jones, the top-rated player in the draft, at No. 1 overall. So the defenseman could fall to the Lightning at No. 3.
Published June 22, 2013

One might believe that as the NHL draft gets closer, the clarity as to whom the Lightning (or any other team, for that matter) will select would increase.

Instead, as teams prepare for the June 30 event in Newark, N.J., things are as nebulous as ever, especially because Avalanche GM Joe Sakic said he might not take defenseman Seth Jones with the No. 1 overall pick.

If that really is the case, perhaps Jones, the consensus top player in the draft, falls to the Lightning at No. 3 and Tampa Bay, all of a sudden, has a chance to snag a player who might turn into the puck-moving, play-making defenseman it hasn't had since Dan Boyle was traded on July 4, 2008.

The thing about the draft, though, is you never know if reported information is for real.

Was Sakic sincere when he told the Denver Post he is considering taking forwards Jonathan Drouin, Nate MacKinnon or Aleksander Barkov over Jones, or is he trying to stir up trade interest for the No. 1 pick?

"Who knows what they're thinking?" Darryl Plandowski, the Lightning's head amateur scout, said. "I think it's smart of (Sakic) putting up a little controversy to get conversation going and people thinking. I saw one comment where someone said, 'That's a big smokescreen,' and that might be. But he's got the No. 1 pick. He can do what he wants."

Before Sakic's comments, most believed Jones, who grew up in Denver's suburbs, would go to the Avalanche and MacKinnon to the Panthers at No. 2.

If that holds, Tampa Bay likely will choose among Drouin, a left wing, Barkov, a center, and Valeri Nichushkin, a right wing.

Nichushkin's high-end skill is intriguing, but reports were he had a poor combine. The chatter now is the Lightning is more likely to go with Drouin, whose play-making ability eventually could complement C Steven Stamkos, or Barkov, whose value will rise if Tampa Bay has plans to buy out captain Vinny Lecavalier.

One thing is for sure.

"The Lightning, at three, is in a good spot," Plandowski said. "We're going to get a good player whatever happens."

VINNY SAGA: The two compliance buyouts given each team to help manage next season's $64.3 million salary cap — down from $70.2 million this season — do not have to be used this year. There will be a buyout period after the 2013-14 season as well.

That might be important in terms of a possible Lecavalier buyout as a year from now the Lightning will know whether the salary cap reverses its downward course for 2014-15 and where the team stands in its own retooling, critical information to factor into any decision.

INJURY REPORT: With the AHL playoffs complete — Lightning affiliate Syracuse lost the Calder Cup final in six games to Grand Rapids — the cone of silence around injuries was lifted.

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D Brian Lee had surgery during the playoffs to repair a torn ACL and likely will not be ready for Tampa Bay's training camp, Syracuse GM Julien BriseBois said.

D Radko Gudas missed five of six games against Grand Rapids because of a strained medial collateral ligament. He is almost 100 percent, BriseBois said. No surgery was required.

STATUS QUO: The Lightning hoped to get goaltending prospect Jaroslav Janus out of the final year of his contract with HC Slovan of Europe's Kontinental Hockey League. But BriseBois said Janus, 23, 18-16-13 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .928 save percentage last season, likely will remain with the Slovakia-based team.