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NHL Mock Draft 2017: The Tampa Bay Lightning select Kailer Yamamoto with No. 14 pick

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Yamamoto is a small, skilled, offensive force from the WHL. Sound familiar?

Spokane Chiefs v Calgary Hitmen Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

With the 14th pick of the 2017 SBNation NHL Mock Draft, RawCharge and the Tampa Bay Lightning select Kailer Yamamoto, center, of the Spokane Chiefs.

State of the Farm

When Steve Yzerman and Al Murray took over, the Lightning’s prospect cupboard was bare. Just look at BoltProspects.com’s final rankings before the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Brett Connolly, ranked #1 after being drafted in the first round in 2010, is still in the NHL, but just barely. He never realized his potential with the Lightning and his on his third NHL team. Carter Ashton put up a whopping three points in 54 NHL games, none with the Lightning. His contribution to the team was mostly in the form of acquiring defenseman Keith Aulie.

Richard Panik was a late bloomer and it took his third team in the NHL before he found a spot that worked for him. The Lightning ended up losing him on waivers prior to the 2014-15 season for nothing. Dustin Tokarski was a contributor for the Lightning at the AHL level, but was sent to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the more experienced Cedrick Desjardins. Tokarski had a memorable stint in the playoffs replacing an injured Carey Price for five games in 2013-14. Otherwise, he’s mostly been an AHL goalie.

Alex Killorn, Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio, and Tyler Johnson have turned into at least serviceable NHLers. But that’s about it. Johnson is easily the best of the group and he came after Yzerman and Murray took control of the scouting department.

Since then, the Lightning’s scouting department has done an admirable job of finding talent through the draft and churning out NHL players.

The 2011 draft has produced very well for the Lightning with Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Nesterov, and Matthew Peca seeing substantial NHL time. The 2012 draft saw the selections of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Slater Koekkoek, Cedric Paquette, and Jake Dotchin.

The 2013 draft brought in Jonathan Drouin and Adam Erne. The 2014 draft saw the team take a risk on Brayden Point — a draft that has turned out nicely and still has a potential for impact with Dominik Masin.

The past two drafts have done a lot to add more talent into the pipeline with the potential to develop NHLers at both forward and defense with a focus on hockey IQ and two-way play.

While getting ready for the mock draft, the two things that we felt the Lightning prospect pool was missing was a right-handed top-4 defenseman and a high end offensive forward talent. With Koekkoek, Libor Hajek, and Masin in the mix, to go with just acquired Mikhail Sergachev, the Lightning’s left-handed talent on D is very deep and promising. The right side is shallower with just Jake Dotchin, Dylan Blujus, and Matthew Spencer for depth.

For top offensive talent, the Lightning do have a number of players with the potential to step into the top six and at minimum contribute on the third line. Erne, Brett Howden, Taylor Raddysh, Mitchell Stephens, and Mathieu Joseph all have the potential to make it there. But at the moment, none of them, other than maybe Raddysh, look to have the game-changing offensive talent to take over a game the way a Kucherov, Stamkos, or Drouin can do.

Why We Made the Pick

Yamamoto is a small, speedy forward with dazzling hands. He has a quick release on his shot and is just as capable of making a seeing-eye pass to set up a teammate. Check out his speed, and some of his personality, in this GoPro footage from the CHL Top Prospects game.

Yamamoto’s size is a bit concerning, especially since he weighed in at only 146 pounds at the NHL Scouting Combine. However, it’s been pointed out to us that Mitch Marner weighed in at nearly the same weight and was two inches taller than Yamamoto during his combine testing. And Mitch Marner has turned into a high-end NHLer putting up 19 goals and 61 points in 77 games during his rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

We’re not ready to anoint Yamamoto as the next Marner, but he could be the next Brayden Point for the Lightning. Yamamoto is one of the older prospects in the draft and has already completed three full seasons in the WHL while Point had only completed two seasons. With his later birth date, Yamamoto will only spend one more season in the WHL before turning pro.

In comparing the production of Yamamoto and Point in the WHL through their first three seasons, you’ll find some striking similarities.

Point Yamamoto

67GP 24-33-57, 0.85 PPG 68 GP 23-34-57, 0.84 PPG

72GP 36-55-91, 1.26 PPG 57GP 19-52-71, 1.24 PPG

60GP 38-49-87, 1.45 PPG 65GP 42-57-99, 1.52 PPG

Point had 0.49 goals per game and Yamamoto had 0.44 goals per game. Overall points per game were 1.18 PPG for Point and 1.19 PPG for Yamamoto.

While Point scored more goals, the points per game of these players was almost identical, and the difference in games played is only nine games. There’s no question the offensive skill is there for Yamamoto. We also would need to hope that with the help of an NHL strength coach helping him with his program that he can put on the 15-20 pounds of muscle he’s going to need by the 2018-19 season to play in the AHL.

One other thing that we should note about Yamamoto is that while he’s mostly played center in his WHL career, he has also played some left wing as a right hander. In the professional ranks, he is likely to move off to the wing where his speed and creativity can serve him and his teammates well.

This pick is definitely a swing-for-the-fences move. Yamamoto could be a big hit or a big bust. But with the state of the Lightning’s farm system and with its depth, this is the chance to do just that and add a potential game-changing talent. With hopefully a return to the playoffs for the foreseeable future, the Lightning may not draft in the top 15 of the first round again for many years barring a trade.

Why we didn’t take the other guys

In judging the defensemen that were available, we didn’t quite feel they were the right fit. If Erik Brannstrom had been a right-handed defenseman, I think our choice would have more more clear to go in that direction with the need on the right side. The other defensemen available seemed to be a stretch to pick. We could have traded back in the first round, which Yzerman has shown he’s willing to do, to take Callan Foote at a more appropriate position and was something we considered attempting to do.

With Eeli Tolvanen, Klim Kostin, and Martin Necas, we recognized a certain amount of forward talent was dropping in the first round. Elias Pettersson was also another option to consider as well. The big thing that we considered with those forwards though was their ceiling. While all four of them seemingly have a higher floor and a higher likelihood of making it to the NHL, we felt that none of them represented the same level of offensive skill and upside as Yamamoto.