If Isaac Howard is as confident in his play as he is in his wardrobe, he’ll fit right in with the Lightning.
Picking in the first round of the NHL draft for the first time in three seasons, Tampa Bay selected the forward from the United States National Team Development Program 31st overall Thursday night in Montreal.
Howard walked up to the podium following the announcement wearing a white suit, dark turtleneck and belt with an oversized buckle in the image of the American flag before pulling a blue Lightning jersey over his head.
“I’m the best looking guy here, and I dressed the best, so dress to impress,” Howard told ESPN. “No better time to whip out the white suit.”
Howard, 18, from Hudson, Wisconsin, was the Lightning’s first pick in the first round since the team took forward Nolan Foote 27th overall in 2019. He said he could barely contain his excitement as he waited in the stands at the Bell Centre for his name to be called.
“It was pretty hectic up in the stands, obviously,” he told media n Montreal. “Every pick, it’s a long draft, so to finally hear the name called, all of the emotions just kind of went off my shoulders. It was a feeling I can’t even describe, the coolest thing I’ve ever felt.”
Howard, a left-shot left wing, led the U.S. National Team Development Program’s under-18 team with 82 points (33 goals) in 60 games last season. One of six members of the program to be taken in the first round Thursday, he credited the players’ competitiveness, saying they push each other “to be the best version of ourselves.”
At the 2022 under-18 world championship, Howard produced 11 points, including six goals, in six games to help the United States to the silver medal.
His national pride was evident from his belt buckle.
“I wore that belt buckle because I love America, obviously, a big USA guy, so had to rep,” he said. “And to see everybody go through the same emotions (Thursday), it’s going to be really fun after this and just talking about it. It’s super special.”
Howard is committed to Minnesota-Duluth.
Al Murray, the Lightning’s director of amateur scouting, said Howard’s speed, scoring ability and high level of compete made him the best match for the Lightning.
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“He’s a Bolt,” Murray said. “He plays with our type of intensity. He wants to make a difference; he wants to score goals. He’s fast, but he’s also very quick in small-ice situations, so getting in and out of corners, getting to net-front, making plays quickly — he was a very good player for the U.S.-18 program over the last couple of years, and we’re really excited to have him.”
Howard, nicknamed “Ice Man,” said he felt he took a big step forward with his playmaking last season.
“I had the puck so much,” he said. “When guys were taking lanes, I was always able to find that late guy or whoever’s open on that back side. I think I round out my offensive game to be a dual threat, which I think is important.”
According to the NHL, Howard best compares to Blues forward Jordan Kyrou, a third-line wing who had 75 points (27 goals) in 74 games last season.
The NHL’s Central Scouting notebook mentioned Howard’s “high pace” and “burst of speed” with an ability “to be shifty with the puck using quick hands.” His “good offensive instincts” also drew attention, making him “a hard player to play against.”
“That’s what I bring to teams is, again, scoring goals … using my speed, my deceptiveness, my shiftiness,” Howard said. “So I think I’ll fit in perfect with Tampa.”
In a video posted on the Lightning’s Twitter account, Howard expressed his excitement about joining the organization, which has been to the past three Stanley Cup finals, winning two.
“Couldn’t be more stoked,” he said. “Awesome place, awesome state. Champa Bay, baby, so let’s go.”
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.
Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.