Of the final 49 picks of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning owned three—two of which were in Round 6 (169th and 180th overall) and the other in Round 7 (200th overall). The 180th overall selection was acquired from the Montréal Canadiens with defenseman Jonathan Racine in a deal for defenseman Nikita Nesterov. The other two picks were the Lightning’s natural picks in the draft.
Steve Yzerman, Al Murray, and staff have shown a willingness these past few years to draft college-bound prospects in the later rounds. The goal of acquiring their rights now is to avoid a bidding war if the respective prospect generates a lot of buzz upon the conclusion of his college career. Generally these kind of prospects will have one aspect of their game that is very good, but they exhibit major deficits in other areas. Without those deficits, they would have been higher round selections.
It’s quite possible that the Lightning are valuing these types of players differently from other teams when they put their draft board together. Steve Yzerman and Al Murray’s comments made it clear that the Lightning took the best player available, especially in the later rounds. If a CHLer or European player had been ranked higher, they would have taken that player. It just happened that a few NCAA players ended up as the best available player on their list when they selected in the sixth and seventh rounds.
In the sixth round, the Lightning chose defenseman Nick Perbix 169th overall and center Cole Guttman 180th overall. With the 200th overall selection in the 7th round, the Lightning chose center Sammy Walker.
Let’s take a closer look at three of the newest prospects to enter the Lightning’s pipeline.
Nick Perbix is a 6’4”, 194-pound right-handed defenseman who is committed to playing at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota this fall. The same program has developed a number of NHL players, such as Matt Hendricks, former Bolts Mark Parrish and Ryan Malone, and Stanley Cup Champions Matt Cullen and Bret Hedican.
According to HockeyProspect.com’s Black Book, Perbix was ranked 169th overall out of all draft-eligible prospects this year. Perbix was passed over in last year’s draft but has made significant strides in the past year and thus has been termed a late-bloomer by some scouts.
Although Perbix is no guarantee to make the NHL, the Lightning like his size and his high hockey IQ. With that said, it will likely be at the minimum three more seasons before Perbix signs an entry-level contract, if that were to occur at all. He could forego his senior year—the 2020/21 season—if the Lightning see enough in him to add him to the organizational roster at that time. Even then, he may only see time in Syracuse.
When asked about his game, Perbix said the following: “My strength is seeing the ice and moving the puck quick. I’m very calm with the puck, and I usually don’t panic very much….I like having the puck on my stick and controlling the pace.”
Scouting reports made note of his skating issues as one concern. In addition to those concerns was the fact that he was a second-year draft-eligible skater and he was playing high school hockey. If he had gone to the USHL and had these kind of offensive numbers, he might have ranked higher on a lot of draft boards.
At the conclusion of his junior year of high school in May 2016, Perbix committed to St. Cloud State for the fall of 2017. He served as the assistant captain of Elk River High’s hockey club his junior year and was promoted to Captain as a senior. This past season, he put up 10 goals and 30 assists in 25 games to go along with 2 goals and 5 assists in 2 playoff games.
It will be interesting to see how Perbix, who just turned 19 on June 15, fares during his freshman year at St. Cloud State in the fall and to see how well he transitions from playing in the USHS to the NCAA.
At the moment, his ceiling looks to be that of a third-pair, stay-at-home, right-side defenseman. That is, if he can continue to develop his all-around game to go with his size, strength, and hockey IQ.
Cole Guttman is a right-handed center who stands in at 5’10” and 168 pounds. He served as the assistant captain this past season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL and will be the team’s captain this fall before heading off to St. Cloud State University in the fall of 2018, joining Perbix and other NHL prospects on a good team.
Guttman put up 27 goals and 27 assists in 53 games this year before adding 1 goal and 3 assists in 6 playoff games for Dubuque. He was named to the 2016/17 USHL All-Rookie Team. In a league where offense can be scarce, putting up a point per game hints at Guttman’s offensive potential.
Guttman still has the time to add weight and muscle to his frame as he develops in the college ranks in the coming years. Scouts say that he has tremendous speed and is a very diligent worker. Guttman has a good mind for the game and reacts exceptionally well in the offensive zone. As is customary for Tampa Bay draftees, he, too, plays a solid all-around game and is very responsible defensively.
Scouting reports have made note of his high hockey IQ and that he does little things right, night in and night out. He has a nice release that does not hinder his mobility. He is a high-character player that fits the mold of intangible skills that the Lightning have targeted in the draft recently.
Samuel Walker, who goes by Sammy on his Twitter account, is a 5’9” right-handed center who weighs in at a whopping 150 pounds. Walker is committed to play at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2018, and just turned 18 on June 7.
ISS Hockey ranked Walker 137th overall out of all draft-eligible prospects this year. Walker clearly needs to add muscle and fill out his frame to get a chance in the professional ranks. The Lightning do have a good blueprint though for such players to make it to the NHL despite their size as long as they play a solid overall game.
Walker played for Edina High this past year, putting up 22 goals and 24 assists in 25 games in addition to 2 goals and 4 assists in 3 playoff games.
Walker will have the option of returning to Edina High for his senior year of high school hockey. He can also go to the USHL and play for the Lincoln Stars. Walker played in four games at the end of the season for Lincoln, but did not manage to get on the scoresheet. He played against inferior competition in high school and the step up to the USHL will be big for him. If he can find his stride in the USHL, it will go along way towards showing his offense can continue to grow to a level to get him to the professional ranks.
We won’t be able to know much about Walker’s progress in his final year before college. We will need to check back in a little over a year from now to see how he is doing with Minnesota in the NCAA. Let’s hope he can add some muscle by then.
As demonstrated in recent years, Yzerman and company are not afraid to draft college-bound players in the latter stages of the NHL Entry Draft. In addition, they are no strangers to the more undersized prospects of the game—Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point, to name a few—so their selection of Sammy Walker and Cole Guttman does not look all that surprising.
As NCAA-bound prospects, the Lightning will retain their rights until August 15th following their departure from the NCAA ranks. Until they sign or decide to become free agents, the Lightning will be able to bring them in during the post-draft development camps. That will be their only opportunity to work with the players as they cannot go to rookie training camp without compromising their NCAA eligibility.
The expectations of these three players are not too high at the moment in terms of upside for the Lightning, but as always, we will be keen to check in on their development in the college ranks in the coming years.