We are now solidly in the doldrums of hockey fandom--that time of year between the exiting of our team from Cup contention and the opening games of the following season. The first milestone in the journey through the annual summer desert of hockey is the annual NHL entry draft. In this article, you’ll find no mention of the top 10 prospects like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, or Gabriel Landeskog, among others. You’ll have to look elsewhere for analysis of where the top picks in the draft are projected to fall. Instead, I’ll summarize some of the players picked by the professional "mock drafters" to fall to the Lightning’s first pick (at #27 overall) and since I’m writing this, the opinions here are mine, formed by the review of the professional pundits.
As a preface to my opinion piece here, please head on over to Bolts Prospects. Their run-down and analysis of players already in the Lightning system is the best I’ve found.
During the draft, expect Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman and his scouts to follow the model under which Yzerman apprenticed in Detroit--smart players with puck-moving ability. Also look to him searching for the "diamonds in the rough"--good players in the later rounds of the draft. Look no further than Detroit draft picks Jimmy Howard (2003, 2nd round), Johan Franzen (2004, 3rd round), and Henrik Zetterberg (1999, 7th round) for examples of Yzerman’s mentor, Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland’s success in drafting good players with every pick he’s given. Furthermore, Yzerman and his staff have shown they’re not afraid of calculated risk--2010 #6 overall pick Connolly was rejected by many teams because of his injury-shortened 2009-2010 season and concerns about the health of his hip. Additionally, because of the lack of depth in the Lightning developmental system across almost all positions, I believe Yzerman will pick the best player available at pick #27, rather than focusing on any specific position.
The following list is far from exhaustive, but seems to be the consensus of professional hockey scouts and analysts of players who should be available at the end of the first round when the Lightning make their first pick. Using my assessed priority needs based on position above, the list below is in the order they’d best fill the voids in the Lightning’s farm system should they be available at pick #27.
David Musil | D | 6’4" | 200lbs
Vancouver (WHL) | NHL Central Scouting North America Skater #38
David is the son of former NHL defenseman Frank Musil, and scouts see similarity between the playing style of father and son. He’s physical and strong, and doesn’t play with any flash or extra flamboyance. He raised quite a few eyebrows at the CHL Prospects game where he fought top 2011 prospect Duncan Siemens. In Coach Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 "Tampa T" system, he’d be a great pick as the rear guard. One scout: "He’s never going to be an offensive guy, but he has adequate puck skills. He has a long reach and he’s hard to get around."
Ty Rattie | LW | 5’11" | 170lbs
Portland (WHL) | NHL Central Scouting North America Skater #17
Ty started the season like Stamkos’ began: on fire. In 12 games, Rattie put up 23 points, but struggled with consistency through the remainder of the season, finishing with 63 points at season’s end. Many reports on him say he’s absolutely got "Top 6 Forward" talent and sees the ice very well. One scout: "He’s not the prettiest skater, but because he’s got the talent, it doesn’t hurt him at this level and probably won’t at the next level."
Matt Puempel | LW | 6’0" | 190lbs
Peterborough (OHL) | NHL Central Scouting North America Skater #28
Matt was named the top rookie for both the OHL and the CHL, and scored a hat trick in his first game of the 2010-2011 season. His stock has fallen somewhat because he’s a very good player on a very poor team. Additionally, he missed the last month of the season with a cracked hip that required surgery. One scout: "I like his skill...He’s not a great skater, but he has good feet and is a pretty hard worker."
Jonas Brodin | D | 6’1" | 165lbs
Farjestad (SEL) | NHL Central Scouting Europe Skater #3
Jonas is a tall but lanky defenseman whose lateral movement in his own zone has stood out to many scouting his play. He positions himself well, and is able therefore to avoid many forechecking attempts. Even though he’s on the light side, weight-wise, he’s shown an ability to play physically. One scout: "He’s not an overly physical defenseman, but he plays smart...He could probably do more offensively, but like a lot of guys [playing in Sweden], he just does his job and doesn’t try to do too much."
Nathan Beaulieu | D | 6’2" | 185lbs
Saint John (QMJHL) | NHL Central Scouting North America Skater #5
Nathan doesn’t dominate the ice, but is very solid. He makes very good passes coming out of the defensive zone, and jumps in on the rush when he sees the opportunity. At the same time, he plays within his means very well. One scout: "This kid looks like he grew two inches over the summer...He brings a lot of offensive skill. He skates well, sees the ice well...this year he’s playing with an edge."
Mark Scheifele | C | 6’2" | 177lbs
Barrie (OHL) | NHL Central Scouting North America Skater #16
Mark is a hard-working player with quickness that is at times deceptive. Many analysts see him being a first- or second-line center by the time he hits his prime. He practices very hard--and is described by the Barrie Colts’ GM as the team’s hardest worker. One scout: "He has really good hands and he’s a good playmaker...His numbers as a 17 year-old are pretty amazing considering he played for a team that lost 49 games. I think he’s a real smart hockey player."
Rocco Grimaldi | C | 5’6" | 163lbs
U.S. NTDP (USHL) | NHL Central Scouting North America Skater #32
If Rocco was 6 inches taller, he’s be a top-10 pick without question. His lack of size (a full two inches shorter than our very own Marty St. Louis) will have many GMs debating his selection. He’s strong on the puck and will play next year for the University of North Dakota. One scout: "He’s a special small player. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been dynamic. I don’t know what he’s listed at, but he looks stocky."
Tomas Jurco | RW | 6’2" | 193lbs
Saint John (QMJHL) | NHL Central Scouting North America Skater #20
Jurco’s season reminds many scouts I’ve read of Michael Grabner’s season with Portland several years ago. He’s consistenly seen as one of the biggest game-breakers in the draft, but has trouble maintaining his consistency. One scout: "Unbelievable hands and great moves...You don’t always see him, but then he has two goals and two assists and the end of the game. Top-end player, all-around."