If things hold as they are now, Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning will be drafting in the top-15 picks of the draft for the first time since the team selected Jonathan Drouin 3rd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Due to the parity of this draft class, it's going to be hard to pin down exactly who is going to be available for the Bolts at pick 14 - so right now it's a bit of a guessing game.
Due to organizational depth, many around the team are suggesting that drafting a defenseman is the best course of action - and there would be some very high-end defenders available at 14. With that said, getting tunnel vision and focusing on a certain position could be very dangerous - especially since this year, more than most, we could see top-10 forward talent fall in the first round.
This is a team that had a tough season due to injuries that will be looking to compete next year. As a result of that, it wouldn't be surprising if Yzerman traded out of the first round for immediate help. Along the same lines, it's not impossible to envision the Bolts trying to trade up from 14 in order to grab one of the top players in the draft - maybe Miro Heiskanen - and thanks to the fact that they own three picks in the top-45, they definitely have the ammunition to do so. [Editor’s Note: Yzerman has traded down from a 1st round pick twice, but never traded up in the first round.]
With that in mind, here are some potential targets for the Bolts with each of the picks they own right now.
First Round: 14th Overall - Timothy Liljegren - RD - Rogel (SHL)
He came into the season as the consensus #2 prospect in the draft and, like Jakob Chychrun a year ago, scouts haven’t seen the growth they had expected from Liljegren. He suffered through injuries for a large chunk of the season and didn't seem to find his game until very late in the year.
Despite his rocky season, Liljegren is a guy with the talent to be a top-5 pick in this draft. He is an elite skater and plays a puck possession game that you want from a top-pair puck moving defender. His offensive instincts are at a level that you only see from the best defensemen in the game. While he plays a somewhat risky style, he more than makes up for it with his game-breaking ability.
Though he will be AHL eligible, Liljegren spoke at the combine that playing next season in Sweden makes the most sense for him. Getting a full year of professional hockey at the highest level in Sweden is likely to be the best course of action before he comes over to North America with the hopes of stepping right into the NHL. Liljegren is ranked anywhere from 7th to 22nd, so it's hard to pin down exactly where he might get drafted. If he's on the board at #14, it's hard to see the Lightning passing on him.
Other possibilities: Klim Kostin, Kristian Vesalainen, Lias Andersson, Erik Brannstrom
Second Round: 45th Overall - Max Gildon - LD - USNTDP
Max Gildon is a guy that made scouts notice him at the U18 tournament this spring. He was Team USA's best defenseman - and possibly best overall player - as he was dominant at both ends of the ice.
A native of Plano, Texas, Gildon is a big (6'3”) two-way defender that is still quite raw as a hockey player - which is scary given how good he is. He is a strong skater that is very good in transition and has improved greatly when it comes to leading a breakout. He is a very effective weapon on the power play thanks to a booming shot from the point.
The biggest issue in Gildon's game is his decision making. A lot like fellow prospect Nic Hague, Gildon has all the raw tools in the world, he just needs to develop the mental side of the game to match. If he can simplify his game and become more comfortable with the puck, the sky is the limit for the young defender.
Other possibilities: Mackenzie Entwistle, Ostap Safin, Josh Brook, Adam Ruzicka
Second Round: 48th Overall - Nikita A. Popugayev - RW - Prince George (WHL)
If Popugayev is available at #48 - something that is very possible - he has the type of ability to be an absolute home run pick in the middle of the second round. At 6'6, the young Russian has had the eyes of scouts since he first came over to the WHL last season.
Popugayev uses his big body well to shield the puck when on the attack and he isn't afraid to get his nose dirty in the corners. He has a big shot, but his game is even more impressive when he’s looking to be a playmaker. He's got great coordination for a player as tall and lanky as he is, but he is not the world's most impressive skater. His acceleration leaves a lot to be desired, but once he gets up to speed, he's got passable speed. He's got the frame that can handle a lot of additional muscle, and the acceleration is something that can be easily improved as gains strength.
It should also be noted that he played a season and a half with Lightning prospects Brayden Point and Brett Howden on the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Lightning scouts will have gotten a lot of looks at him while checking in on Point and Howden.
Like Gildon, Popugayev has first round tools and could end up giving the Lightning yet another second round steal. [Editor’s Note: You must acquire more Nikitas.]
Other Possibilities: Morgan Frost, Luke Martin, Tommy Miller
Third Round: 76th Overall - Markus Phillips - LD - Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Phillips is a very talented defenseman, who was a huge part of a surprising young team in Owen Sound this season. He plays a very similar game to Maple Leafs prospect Travis Dermott in that he isn't very flashy but he does everything well. Like Dermott, Phillips will likely be drafted later than he should, for that very reason - he's not the best at any one thing, but he's well above average at just about everything.
Phillips is a very good skater than was able to shed the label of 'offensive defenseman' and prove that he can be a big minute all-around defender.
Other possibilities: Dmitri Samorukov, Jack Studnicka, Mikey Anderson
Sixth Round: 169th Overall - Linus Nyman - W - Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Playing his first season in North America, Nyman opened a lot of eyes with his offensive talent and puck skills. He put up 26 goals as an OHL rookie playing on the worst offensive team in the league and was consistently able to create scoring opportunities with very little around him.
He'll drop way down because he is small and plays the wing, but Nyman is definitely a guy you want your team to be spending a late-round pick on.
Other possibilities: Radim Salda, Adam Kubik, Carson Meyer
Sixth Round: 180th Overall - Aarne Talvitie - F - Blues U20 (Jr. Sm-Liiga)
Talvitie is a young Finnish forward that had his coming out party at this year's U18 World Championship. As the captain of Finland, Talavitie scored four goals and had a point per game and showed that he could be an offensive threat while contributing in all three zones.
A complete player that can play any forward position, Talvitie will be coming over to the NCAA to develop at Penn State University next season.
Other possibilities: Denis Smirnov, Ryan Hughes, Neil Shea
Seventh Round: 196th Overall - Ryan McGregor - C - Sarnia Sting (OHL)
A very raw center, McGregor was selected 24th overall in the 2015 OHL Selection Priority Draft and was named an assistant captain of the Sarnia Sting in only his second season. He plays a sound defensive game and will look to prove there is an offensive punch to his game next season when he is likely to play up in the lineup. He wouldn’t be the first fourth line OHLer the Lightning have taken a gamble on late in the draft. Christopher Paquette was in a similar situation being a fourth liner and this season had more of an opportunity to show his offensive skills after being drafted.
McGregor is a long term project that has the potential to be a fourth line forward down the road.
Other possibilities: Mark Kastelic, Joshua Wilkins, Parker Kelly
Follow me on Twitter (@PuckDontLie) and you can find my potential draft targets for other teams at TheBloggersTribune.com