How bare is the Tampa Bay Lightning's defensive cupboard?

Radko Gudas is not the end of the line as far as Tampa Bay Lightning defense prospects are concerned. - USA TODAY Sports

Following a weekend when the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted zero defensemen, which followed a season when defense was a serious liability, many are worried about the future. This, in spite of the team having more legitimate overall prospects in the organization than ever before. Is there a reason to worry? We'll show you who the young defenders in the Lightning organization are and let you decide.

Seth Jones was there for the taking.

A scenario that most draft experts had said was impossible only hours before had somehow come to pass and Seth Jones, an all-around gifted defenseman with offensive ability and a right-handed shot, the kind of coveted prospect that comes down the pipe once a decade or so, had slipped past the first two selections in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He was right there for the Lightning to grab.

The Lightning, for those who may not recall, were coming off an abysmal 2013 season in which overall team defense was their most glaring weakness. Goaltending was not great either, although goalies certainly didn't benefit from the play of the defenders in front of them. Taking all things into consideration, the choice to select Seth Jones was obvious, practical and simple.

Except that wasn't the choice that was made. Instead,the Lightning spent the pick on forward Jonathan Drouin, an offensive playmaking wizard at the junior level. Jones went to the Nashville Predators with the very next pick. The Lightning didn't select a defenseman with their second round pick either. In fact, they didn;t use any of their draft choices on defense, opting to select five forwards and a goaltender with their six selections during Sunday's draft.

Lightning fans are aware of the coming wave of forwards developed in the minor leagues the past few seasons, having seen most of them play at least briefly in Tampa and getting a glimpse of their potential.

When it comes to the defense, they've also been introduced to hard-hitting Radko Gudas, who looks to be a fixture in Tampa all of next season. They've also seen a little bit of Mark Barberio, who many project as a power play quarterback. Beyond that, most Lightning fans have heard some names but they haven't seen them play. They certainly haven't seen or heard glowing resumes like those associated with Brett Connolly, Alex Killorn, Richard Panik and the other half dozen or so forwards on their way eventually from Syracuse.

Is the Lightning's player development system dangerously lopsided? We're going to tell you exactly the young defensemen in the organization are and let you form your own opinions. A couple of things first, though...

  1. The only reason a question like that can even be asked is because the Lightning are currently at an unprecedented level of depth in terms of general talent in their minor league system. What appears to be a dearth of up-and-coming defenders could very well be a skewed perspective caused by a glut of up-and-coming forwards. If the Lightning had as many defenders proportionately as they do forwards ready to go, their system would at least rival, if not surpass, any organization's in hockey
  2. Drafting a defenseman early in the first round can result in pretty severe and immediate buyer's remorse. Consider the selection of Erik Johnson with the number one overall pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2006. The players selected directly after Johnson were forwards Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel.
  3. Defensemen develop at a slower rate than forwards. It takes more time and more games played for them to make significant and consistent contributions at the NHL level. Generally, 300 games is considered the benchmark, a number that Victor Hedman is approaching. This commitment to stocking the minor league system only goes back as far as Steve Yzerman assuming the role of general manager with the Lightning; three years (see below). It stands to reason that forwards would show up sooner than defensemen.
  4. Yzerman has pledged from his first day to develop depth in the organization. That's not something where you get to a certain level and say, "okay, we have enough depth now". It will be an ongoing process. If he and the braintrust headed up by Al Murray decide that the best way to maintain and expand that depth of talent is to draft the best available skaters, regardless of position, that's what they are going to do.
  5. Players can always be acquired via trades and free agency.

Just some things to think about with the upcoming prospects camp and the soon-to-follow pre-season training camp ahead. With that said, here are the defensive prospects in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, those who haven't already seen significant time with the Lightning at the NHL level, with profiles and projections by our friends at Bolts Prospects...

  • Mark Barberio - Shoots: Left
    Height: 6.01
    Weight: 202
    Born: 03/23/1990
    Age: 23
    Hometown: Montreal, PQ
    Acquired: 2008 Draft (R6/#152)
    Last Team: Syracuse (AHL)
    Projects As: Top 6 offensive defenseman
  • Dmitri Korobov - Shoots: Left
    Height: 6.02
    Weight: 236
    Born: 03/12/1989
    Age: 24
    Hometown: Novopolotsk, BLR
    Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent on August 2, 2012
    Last Team: Syracuse (AHL)
    Projects As: Good all-around defenseman
  • Andrej Sustr - Shoots: Right
    Height: 6.08
    Weight: 225
    Born: 11/29/1990
    Age: 22
    Hometown: Plzen, CZE
    Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent on March 21, 2013
    Last Team: Syracuse (AHL)
    Projects As: Big mobile 2-way defenseman
  • Luke Witkowski - Shoots: Right
    Height: 6.02
    Weight: 210
    Born: 04/14/1990
    Age: 23
    Hometown: Holland, MI
    Acquired: Selected by Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 6 (#160) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
    Last Team: Syracuse (AHL)
    Projects As: Top 6 Defenseman
  • Artem Sergeev - Shoots: Right
    Height: 6.02
    Weight: 217
    Born: 02/20/1993
    Age: 20
    Hometown: Moscow, RUS
    Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2012
    Last Team: Syracuse (AHL)
    Projects As: #5/#6 2-way defenseman
  • Nikita Nesterov - Shoots: Left
    Height: 5.11
    Weight: 181
    Born: 03/28/1993
    Age: 20
    Hometown: Chelyabinsk, RUS
    Acquired: Selected by Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 5 (#148) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
    Last Team: Chelyabinsk (KHL)
    Projects As: Two-Way Depth Defenseman
  • Charles Landry - Shoots: Right
    Height: 6.01
    Weight: 187
    Born: 06/03/1991
    Age: 22
    Hometown: Napierville, PQ
    Acquired: Free Agent (9/15/2010)
    Last Team: Florida (ECHL)
    Projects As: Puck-moving defenseman
  • Dan Milan - Shoots: Left
    Height: 6.02
    Weight: 200
    Born: 04/14/1992
    Age: 21
    Hometown: Detroit, MI
    Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent on September 23, 2011
    Last Team: Florida (ECHL)
    Projects As: Depth defensemen
  • Slater Koekkoek - Shoots: Left
    Height: 6.02
    Weight: 185
    Born: 02/18/1994
    Age: 19
    Hometown: Mountain, ONT
    Acquired: Selected by Tampa Bay in Round 1 (#10) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
    Last Team: Windsor (OHL)
    Projects As: No.2/3 puck-mover
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