The dramatic turn in draft strategy taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2015 has already been well documented.
After years spent hoarding skill players at all positions during every round, the Lightning took an unexpected turn, opting to reload their system with players generally regarded to have lower ceilings but strong reputations as two-way players; future bottom-line forwards and bottom-pairing defenders to round out a skill-heavy line-up we saw reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-15.
The one pick from the 2015 draft that stood out as what had previously been a prototypical Steve Yzerman-Al Murray selection?
Winger Dennis Yan, from the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL.
Here's how the panel ranked Dennis Yan:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Mike Gallimore||GeoFitz4||Brett Frieman|
Previous Ranks: N/A
I profiled Yan recently for Bolt Statistics, and was impressed by his even strength scoring rate given his relatively low ice time in the QMJHL. It seemed to be a point of emphasis in this draft to use the "late in the round" selections Tampa Bay had by virtue of being the final team eliminated to try and find diamonds in the rough -- players whose skill sets project them as quality NHLers who maybe didn't shine during their draft season because of extenuating circumstances.
The combination of shooting, vision, and puckhandling Yan possesses is impressive enough on it's own, but at 6'1, 187 it's a wonder Yan was still available for the Lightning in the third round. Those traits on that frame are a rare combination, and one GMs and NHL scouting staffs are typically prone to reach for. It's tough not to look, once again, at the "Russian Factor" as something that helped push Yan down draft boards and into the Lightning's lap. In spite of being born in the United States, Yan holds dual citizenship and played a fair amount of his youth hockey in Russia, which may have affected his draft stock just enough to push him down into the Lightning's pick range.
"Pure goal scorer" is a label that gets attached to a lot of undeserving prospects, but 33 goals in 59 games in his first season in the QMJHL paints a pretty clear picture of Yan's playstyle, and highlights his best attribute. Yan is a sniper, plain and simple. Our friends at Bolt Prospects agree:
One of the best pure snipers of the 2015 draft class, Yan has a fantastic, quick release and is deadly lethal when he gets the puck in scoring areas. Whether or not Yan can capitalize on those gifts in the NHL, though, will depend greatly on whether the third round pick will pick up the defensive side of the game and show greater creativity in using his linemates and sharing the puck more in the offensive zone. Mind you, those are many of the same negatives that were heaped on Nikita Kucherov right before he poked most of the hockey scouting community in the eye en route to becoming a world-class winger this past season.
What the Lightning will look for now is continued improvement in the defensive third and a bigger role with Shawinigan -- with more ice time comes higher expectations. Yan won't sneak up on anybody now having established himself as a dangerous goal-scorer in the QMJHL.
While the 2015 draft haul for the Lightning lacked the flashy picks from season's past -- think Jonathan Drouin or Anthony DeAngelo -- Yan stands alone as the true home run swing of the bunch. For this reason, he jumped ahead of some lower-ceiling prospects or AHL veterans on my list (and a few other rankers' lists), and while he represents pure, raw potential at this point, he's also likely the player with the best chance of becoming a dynamic scoring-line forward for the Lightning in the years to come.