The Lightning used their second-to-last pick in this year’s draft on Radim Salda, a left-handed defender from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Salda fits in with two recent Lightning prospect acquisition trends: he’s overage and he’s from the QMJHL. Of their seven picks in this year’s draft, the Lightning selected four overage players. The last three prospects added to their pipeline from the CHL have all come from the QMJHL: Salda, second-round pick Gabriel Fortier, and recent undrafted free agent Alex Barré-Boulet.
Salda scored 41 points last season, putting him in the top twenty among QMJHL defenders. Of those 41 points, 10 were goals and 31 were assists. He scored 26 primary points, which also puts him in the top twenty in the league, so his production wasn’t only a function of being on the power play. The Sea Dogs were the worst team in the QMJHL, but were better with Salda on the ice.
We can take a deeper dive into his stats using prospect-stats.com. Below is a chart that shows how he performed in some key areas. Being in the green area means he performed like a top-pairing defender and being in the red means he performed like a bottom-pairing defender.
His numbers are impressive. He was a top-pairing defender in the QMJHL last season by almost every measure. Even taking into account that he was an overage player, these are good results. To do that on the worst team in the league is quite a feat. It would have been better if he could have made the team something other than the worst in the league, but his individual performance was encouraging on its own.
Next, we can look at his shot chart. As expected, he takes most of his shots from the left point, but he does get lower in the zone and get some good looks from the left circle and the slot. His 146 shots puts him in the top twenty among QMJHL defenders and the locations bump him up to the top fifteen in individual expected goals.
Statistically, Salda has an interesting profile. He was a 19 year old top pair defender on a terrible team. That alone creates plenty of questions and makes him an intriguing option for a late-round pick.
For additional information, we can look to scouts to give more context about how he produced the results that he did. Of all the players the Lightning drafted, Salda has my favorite scouting reports.
The following is from the 2018 NHL Draft Black Book:
Salda has good athletic abilities on the ice; he skates well and has above-average mobility. He’s active on the ice, has quick feet and gets involved offensively by supporting or leading the rush. He’s also good on the power play by creating some scoring chances with his feet, and has a good point shot. He’s a capable passer; he has a good first pass out of his zone and on the power play, he can move the puck pretty well. The biggest problem for Salda, and likely a good reason he went undrafted last season, is his decision-making.
Building on this, one scout wrote:
I don’t mind him and think he could get picked late in the draft as a re-entry, but I can’t forget a viewing that I had of him in Drummondville. If I were to judge him solely on that viewing, I wouldn’t have picked him in a 15-round draft.
That one made me laugh pretty hard. I like the idea of a player who usually looks good but sometimes looks so bad he’s unwatchable.
I’ve never seen Salda play, but between the stats and the scouts observations, we can get a pretty good idea of the type of player he is. He’s toolsy. He has a good offensive game. He has the potential to be a good player. But his decision making is so terrible right now that most teams weren’t interested in drafting him.
If we’re talking about a second-round pick, that would be bad. But for a seventh-round pick, this is an exciting profile. In most cases, I’d prefer the team draft a player who has the skill but lacks the polish rather than a player who thinks the game well but doesn’t have the requisite physical tools. Salda will become a development project for the Lightning organization. Most seventh-round picks never get close to the NHL but if the organization can drill some better decision making into Salda, he has a chance.
This brings us to the end of our draft profiles. The Lightning eschewed most public draft information once again this year in favor of selecting under-scouted players including several overage players. While the team didn’t add any big name prospects to the pipeline, they certainly added some fun players to follow next season. Salda will be among those for me.