Draft for need, or best player available?
That's a common question at this time of the year. Hockey, like baseball, is more about slow-burn development and marination in junior and minor leagues. Unlike in basketball or football, players drafted this summer won't step into professional line ups right away and contribute.
For this reason, the most prudent draft strategy is to simply pick the best player left on the board each time your team is called and sort out your team balance, in terms of role, ability, position, at a later time.
If there's one type of player the Lightning organization is severely lacking in, Paul Bittner fits it to a tee. Outside of Adam Erne, big, rangy power wingers with some scoring ability are just not a thing the Lightning system is flush with. They're a rare commodity throughout the NHL, of course, but Tampa Bay has made a habit of foregoing size for speed and puck skills.
Enter our second target for the Bolts with their 28th overall pick in the 1st round. His numbers are good, but not great:
71 points in 66 games is solid, and you have to like that 34 of those points were goals. And, as mentioned above, Bittner fills an organizational hole for the Bolts -- kid is huge. At 6'4 and over 200 pounds already, there's obvious reason to be excited about what he might become at the NHL level should the offensive skill set translate. He's already built like a prototypical NHL power forward; the question is, can he keep up with the speed of play at the NHL level, and can he play that style against guys closer to his size/age? (He's on the older side for 2015 draft-eligible players with a November 1996 birthday).
A big-bodied power forward that plays with tenacity and an edge. Relentless on the forecheck and is able to bully his way to the net with his size and speed. Has a good stick around the net and has an accurate rocket of a shot. Thinks the game well and is able to frustrate opposing players while playing physically. All-in-all, an impact player that uses his size and skill to his advantage. Gaining consistency will be integral to his future success. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)
His even-strength scoring was pretty good, but there are concerns some of his offensive output is disproportionately bolstered by playing with two outstanding young players for the Portland Winterhawks in Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and that he may be a bit more of a passenger than a driver in terms of point production. There are also some other potential problem areas. From Future Considerations scout Cody Nickolet:
..felt that his hockey sense and positioning were standout features for him as a 16 year old but they haven't been as prevalent or impressive the last couple of years...still plays a fairly complete game and isn't afraid to block shots or do the little things defensively...defensively he could still stand to play with plenty more fire and assertiveness...
Hockey sense is one attribute that has, in the past, been weighted heavily by Tampa Bay, especially at the top of the draft, Dynamic playmaking forwards and puck moving defensemen are always at a premium, and over the past five years the Bolts have preferred to add their size and grit via trade and free agency as opposed to the draft, particularly the early rounds. Red flags about Bittner's hockey sense should give anyone pause about using a top-30 pick on him.
But, as we've said before, there aren't any players in the range Tampa Bay will be drafting that don't have some flaws. If adding some size up front to the prospect pool is something Steve Yzerman and Al Murray want to do, Bittner is absolutely a guy who fits the bill. But with just decent scoring on such a dynamic line, one does wonder if he might be a better pick in the 2nd round (Tampa Bay holds Boston's pick, 44th overall).
- TSN (Bob McKenzie): #20
- TSN (Craig Button): #35
- ISS Hockey: #17
- Future Considerations: #29