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Previewing the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and the Tampa Bay Lightning

The 54th NHL Entry Draft will be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, this weekend. The Lightning currently have 9 total selections.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The 2015-16 NHL season is officially over and the 54th NHL Entry Draft is upon us. With the NHL Draft providing its usual annual antics, fans can begin to expect a few things like...

  1. NHL fans showing their usual dislike with Commissioner Gary Bettman
  2. The Edmonton Oilers have a top-10 selection in the opening round (4).
  3. The Toronto Maple Leafs picking in the top 5 (and probably selecting Auston Matthews 1st overall)
  4. Steve Yzerman working his magic and making the draft another success for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Or at least I hope.

The Draft itself will be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo beginning this Friday, June 24 and will conclude on the following day. This marks the third time the city of Buffalo has hosted the draft. The last time they hosted, in 1998, the Bolts selected Vinny Lecavalier 1st overall. Here is the list of draft selections the Bolts have received. You can also follow along with SB Nation's own mock draft where Raw Charge's own Geofits4 has been wheeling and dealing.

With a bit of luck, Steve Yzerman may be able to select some top offensive talent with our 27th overall pick but may elect not to. The Lightning defensive corps is in need of some depth and a 1st round pick spent on a d-man may bode well for the club in the long run. Many are calling on the Bolts to fulfill their two top priorities: To add depth to defense and to add bigger, larger forwards to the system. That being said, Yzerman has declared that sometimes it is best to pick the best player available whether it be a forward or defenseman. Also noteworthy, Steve Yzerman traded away his 1st round pick last year and something similar could very well happen this year. Of course the aspect of trades and the overall nature of the draft does make it difficult to predict draft selections that occur later in the draft. Whether the team maintains control of the draft choice cache or trade selections, here are some players that I believe are viable options to join the organization.

Defensemen

Kale Clague, Brandon (WHL)

As a lefty, Kale Clague fills the void of needed left shooting defensemen. At 6'0 and 180lbs, Clague has the speed and skating ability to fit the mold of the Bolts style of play. Continually, Clague is often declared an offensive defenseman and is at times likened to Dion Phaneuf and Erik Karlsson. Through 71 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Clague put up 43 points and has been accomplished at all levels of play. And now as everyone is on the "we should buyout Matt Carle train", Clague may find himself in the lineup sooner than one would think. However, with the evolution of Slater Koekkoek in the playoffs a few years from now the d-pairings could have a slightly new look.

DraftSite.com also did a great summary on his play.

Samuel Girard, Shawinigan (QMJHL)

Samuel Girard, who is also a lefty (see my trend here) is 5'10, 160 lbs. Although he may have some mass to build upon, Girard is said to have great hockey sense and reads the ice very well. This bodes well in today's league as much play is determined by puck possession and dominance in the neutral zone. Through 131 games in the QMJHL he has tallied 15 goals and 102 assists. Though the Bolts defensive outlook this year resulted in them being placed in the top five of the league in goals against, the offensive production dipped this year. Yzerman may decide the offensive defensemen is the way to go this draft.

See his stat line here.

Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL)

Known for his success on the PP and PK, Cholowski is a versatile defenseman. Yes, physical growth is a concern going forward as he rounds out at 6'0, 170 lbs but he is said to have mature hockey sense and plans to play for St. Cloud State in the future. According to the Buffalo News, "Cholowski possesses the two traits needed for defensemen: skating and puck-moving ability. Still growing, he has the height to look past forwards at the professional level."

View his stat line and playing history here.

Forwards

Riley Tufte, LW, Fargo (USHL)

At 6'5 and 212 lbs this is a big man. A winger from Ham Lake, Minnesota, Tufte will be playing for University of Minnesota-Duluth next year. He has had is fair share of international play as he has reported for the US youth team's numerous times. However, he has failed to produce large numbers when called upon. He seems to have the innate skill and raw goods to grow and become an impactful NHL player but the Bolts will need some time to truly evaluate his potential.

Somewhat outdated but great outlook on Tufte from NHL.com

Tage Thompson, RW, UCONN (NCAA)

After my expansive research I still have no clue where he was born. I have been told Phoenix, New York, and Connecticut. So there's that. But as far as Tage Thompson as a player goes? Oh yea. He's great. As a freshman playing for UCONN he led the NCAA in power play goals. He is said to have a screamer of a shot out of the left circle. Sound familiar? He could play a great asset if Stamkos decides to walk. And thought UCONN isn't known as a major collegiate powerhouse, Thompson ranks second on his team with production with 14 goals and 18 assists in 36 games. At 6'5 and 180 lbs, Thompson would add to needed offensive size in the Bolts lineup.

More info on Thompson from Buffalo News can be found here.

Pascal Laberge, C, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

A center from Sainte-Martine, Quebec, Pascal Laberge seems to have striking similarities to Bolts own Ryan Callahan. A two-way center with decent size and skill, Laberge may go earlier in the draft then we would hope for. A quick look on to DraftSite.com and one finds an accurate account of his style of play. "Quick, agile forward with terrific stop/starts, change of direction and solid offensive instincts which make him dangerous in many ways in the attack zone. Decisively attacks with quick shots, passes, and even uses the enemy goaler's pads to generate rebounds."

See a list of his accolades from Elite Prospects here.

Honorable Mentions

Markus Niemeläinen, Saginaw (OHL)

Talk about size! At 6'6" and 200 lbs, Markus Niemelinanen could be a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. He could also add to our long list of past tall Bolts defenders (i.e. Sustr, Aulie, Ohlund, Hedman, Brewer...). Listed as one of CHL's top prospects, Niemeläinen has played well for Finland's U17 and U18 teams. In 65 games in the OHL he produced 1 goal and 15 assists but that does come with a concerning +/- of -23. He is said to play a great two-way game and is known for his adaption and learning ability. He may take some time to develop but with proper training and help he may make an impact on the Bolts defensive depth.

The guys responsible for mock drafts at NHL.com had the Bolts selecting a bit differently. Adam Kimelman had the Bolts picking Vitaly Abramov, RW, Gatineau (QMJHL). He led the QMJHL rookies in goals and points and although he seems a great fit for the Lightning, I believe we have many players who already play a similar role he which he would try to supply.

Mike Morreale on the other hand had the Bolts selecting Logan Stanley, D, Windsor (OHL) 27th overall. Windsor is a top defender in this year's talent pool and that is the exact reason I don't believe we will draft him. I don't think he will fall to 27th but is stature (6'7) and strength are something definitely to like about him.

Many thanks to Elite Prospects, Draft Site, The Buffalo News, and NHL.com as resources for compiling this list.