As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft went on, I took a quick look at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s draft picks as they came in. With our coverage, I had to offer up a quick blurb about the player, knowing we’d get a deeper dive on the player later. They definitely had some spots where I would have preferred a different player, but wasn’t overly upset by any pick a long the way. I could definitely see that the Lightning were looking for more players with size and that would be hard to play against.
Obviously they learned something from the 2019-20 season and the additions of Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, and Zach Bogosian. They were all players with varying levels of skill, but the common thread was that they worked hard and were hard to play against. You could definitely see that with Jack Finley in the second round and Maxim Groshev in the third round while they mixed in a little bit of skill in Gage Goncalves in the second round and Jaydon Dureau in the fifth round.
But when the Lightning got to their sixth round pick, 157th overall, and took Nick Capone, I couldn’t help but scratch my head at it. It was a really confusing pick. It didn’t make any sense to me. Here’s what I wrote in our live coverage about Capone.
With the 157th overall pick, the Lightning select Nick Capone. Capone has size at 6’2” and 205 pounds. He’s a right shot center that played for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL in 2019-20. In 34 games, he scored seven goals and 19 points. He also had 96 penalty minutes. He’s committed to the University of Connecticut for 2020-21. There’s a big red flat to me though in that he was suspended a total of 15 games for four different incidents throughout the season. Definitely a physical player, but it doesn’t seem like the skills or skating is there to really project an NHL future. This reminds me of the Bokondji Imama pick from 2015 that ended with the Lightning trading him to the Los Angeles Kings for a seventh round pick.
My opinion on this pick really hasn’t changed much since then. It’s still a confusing, even baffling pick by the Lightning, just as the Imama pick was in 2015. Imama seemed to be a player that only offered his fists on the ice. He had a huge spike in goals after his draft, but that was just the result of size, experience, and being high up in the line up. Imama signed an entry level contract with the Kings and was sent to the AHL where he recorded one assist in 38 games. Since then, he has scored 20 points in 84 games while having over 200 penalty minutes.
It’s hard for me to look at Capone and see much difference. The suspension issues are certainly a huge red flag that he plays a physical game, but one that isn’t a disciplined. You can’t come into the NHL and be a player that’s constantly putting your team down a man on the penalty kill, and even worse, taking major penalties and getting yourself kicked out of the game.
I would expect that his penalty minutes will go down when he goes to the University of Connecticut for the upcoming season just for the simple fact that fighting isn’t allowed in NCAA hockey. But the NCAA is one of the most progressive leagues when it comes to head contact, including the ability for video review to spot checks to the head. And that’s what I worry about with Capone is how many plays he’ll have that cross that line into dirty. Can he clean that up in college and stay on the ice?
If he can’t, then he has little value to the Lightning. He hasn’t shown the kind of skills necessary to be a big scorer in the USHL, and normally you need to be a top end player in the USHL to become a good player in NCAA that has a professional future. I would have a little more hope for him if he had been closer to a point per game player in the USHL, which is typically what the Lightning have looked for in draft picks from that league in the past.
Just as I say for every NCAA prospect, he’ll have up to four years to figure it out in NCAA. If he can’t, then the Lightning will have wasted a sixth round pick on him. If he can, they maybe, with some luck, might have a player that can be a 12th or 13th forward in the NHL. For him to do that, he’s going to need to show he can score in NCAA and then follow that up with being able to score in the AHL.
Scoring isn’t the only measure that I like to look at for players, but that’s more true of players that have made it to the NHL than of the lower leagues because those kind of advanced analytics are generally unavailable. But one thing holds true; you have to be one of the best players in your level, to be able to move up to the next level.
For example, Cedric Paquette has been a career fourth liner for the Lightning and has never had a ceiling higher than that. He has a career 0.23 points per game in the NHL. When he was in the AHL, he scored 24 goals and 51 points in 75 games for 0.68 points per game. In the QMJHL, he was a point per game player over 130 games. As you can see, Paquette was a strong scorer at lower levels, but he does not have the skill to do it as often in the NHL.
Every step up the chain towards the NHL, the competition gets harder and harder. Especially for forwards, you have to have that offensive skill and demonstrate in the lower levels to continue to move up. And with Capone, I’m having a hard time seeing where his current offensive skills will allow him to be good enough in the NCAA to translate first in the AHL and eventually into the NHL as an effective player.
I hope to be proven wrong. I hope that he will clean up his act and learn how to play on the right side of the line. I hope he will improve his hands and his skill and use his size and body to effectively create offense.
We’ll just have to see how he does over the next four years.