The loss of Martin St. Louis might sting a little less for the Tampa Bay Lightning after this weekend.
The Lightning head to Philadelphia for the 2014 NHL draft with two first-round picks and three in the top 50.
When Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman satisfied St. Louis’ request to be traded to the New York Rangers before the March trade deadline, the Lightning received a conditional second-round pick. When the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Finals, that selection turned into a first-rounder.
Ending up with the No. 28 choice — compared with what would have been in the high 50s — should be a big difference in the talent available in what scouts predict to be a shallow draft.
Selecting deep in the first round probably won’t net the Lightning NHL-ready talent, but they are also in no rush. Tampa Bay has shown no interest in rushing prospects, and its greatest needs — a big centerman or defenseman — are positions that don’t need to be filled immediately due to a well-stocked team and farm system.
None of Tampa Bay’s pivots stand taller than 6-foot-1, though. There isn’t any room for one contractually, anyway — they’re all signed for at least the next two seasons.
The Lightning’s blueline seems set for the next couple seasons, but there are also potential voids that may need to be filled. Will restricted free agents Andrej Sustr and Keith Aulie continue to show progress in their development? How much longer will Eric Brewer, who will be 36 when his contract expires next summer, be around? Getting a another defenseman in the system couldn’t hurt.
Being so deep in the draft, the question is which highly touted prospect will fall enough to No. 19? If it’s Alex Tuch, ranked 12th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, that would be a steal for Tampa Bay. At 6-foot-4, 213-pounds, Tuch boasts size, grit and uses his body well. He’s not terrible with the puck, either. In 53 games with the U.S. National Team, the center posted 60 points. Of his 28 goals, seven were game-winners.
Ranked 20th among North American skaters, Ryan MacInnis might be the more realistic option for Tampa Bay. The two-way center comes in at 6-foot-3, 185-pounds. Yzerman seems to like drafting players with NHL bloodlines, too, as his former picks include Brock Beukeboom (son of Jeff) and Vladislav Namestnikov (nephew of Vyacheslav Kozlov). MacInnis is the son of Hall of Famer and seven-time All-Star Al. Scouts note Ryan’s strong playmaking ability, but suggest his shot could use some work — ironic considering his father’s famous 100 mph slapshot.
How about a big Swede to go alongside Victor Hedman? The 6-foot-3 Markus Pettersson could fit. He’s an all-around defenseman with good offensive sense and a long reach makes which him difficult to get past. Pettersson says he models his game after Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin. The only drawback is that he’s 167 pounds and needs to add bulk and a physical side to his game.