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What if the Lightning had kept both 2020 first round draft picks?

What if?

NHL: JUN 21 NHL Draft Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2020 NHL Entry Draft finally taking place tonight, we can start looking ahead to the future. Granted, this year’s draft will be entirely virtual and the Tampa Bay Lightning won’t be picking at all tonight unless they pull off a massive trade, but it should still be fun to watch.

Heading into the seemingly never-ending 2019-20 season, the Lightning had two first round picks. They would eventually trade both to acquire Barclay Goodrow from the San Jose Sharks and Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils. Those picks ended up being the 20th and 31st overall picks in the first round.

Now, many (including myself) were skeptical of the steep prices the Lightning paid to pull off those trades, but nobody’s arguing about the results they got on the ice. So while nobody’s wishing they hadn’t pulled off those trades anymore, here are some draft-eligible prospects the Lightning could have selected had they chosen to retain one or both of those picks.

I chose the following prospects based on criteria I developed for my Lightning Draft Trends series back in May. Part 1 looked at what the team had done in the last eight drafts (60 players). If you’re interested in who the Lightning could take with their first pick of the draft at 62nd overall, feel free to check out Part 2.

To summarize, I came up with the following for this article: no OHL players, at least 6’1”, and, of course, whether they’re likely to be available or be drafted around 20th and 31st. It’s important to remember that this draft is going to be unpredictably volatile after pick 10, so there is a very good chance players I mention here slide out of the first round, or an NHL team shocks us by taking them in the top 20.

20th Overall

Dylan Holloway — LW/C

Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
September 23, 2001
6’1”, 203 lbs

Though one of the oldest players available at the 2020 NHL Draft, Holloway underwhelmed offensively on a very poor Badgers team in the Big-10 last season, finishing with 8 goals and 17 points. However, he was named the team’s most consistent player and his production was probably a reflection of how much Wisconsin struggled despite being loaded with top-NHL talent.

Holloway is probably the closest thing to a Swiss-army knife type of player in this draft — he’s a fast and powerful skater, physically strong with mature defensive play. His penalty-killing instincts are excellent, but his ability to create offense is where there’s concern, especially when it comes to instinctual and mechanical aspects. The biggest question mark is his upside — will he be able to produce offense consistently at the NHL level, or will he be forced into more of a depth, third-line checking role?

Holloway is projected to go mid-to-late first round, which is where the Lightning would have been picking had they kept this pick. The team prefers to draft players out of the USHL/NCAA and I definitely could have seen him as a solid replacement for Yanni Gourde or Alex Killorn down the road.

Helge Grans — RD

Malmo Redhawks J20 (SuperElit)
May 10, 2002
6’3”, 192 lbs

The Lightning haven’t hit on many of their first round picks, especially when it comes to defensemen. If you’ll refer back to my Draft Trends post (linked above), Cal Foote is really the only defenseman they’ve drafted since 2012 that has legitimate NHL projection in Tampa Bay. Tony DeAngelo and Libor Hajek don’t count, since neither one made the Lightning before being traded away, and Slater Koekkoek was kind of a miss in terms of being a top 10 pick.

This is where Grans comes in — the 2020 draft isn’t deep for blueliners (look ahead to 2021 for that), but Grans is one of the more underrated defenders available. He isn’t talked about enough, and a large part of that has to do with the Braden Schneider vs. Kaiden Guhle debate. Grans blends size with mobility and can move about the ice effortlessly. He’s just as good as Schneider is defending one-on-one, if not better, and he’s got the offensive upside that Guhle brings to the table. He’s the best of both of them, and when he’s on top of his game, Grans is a major threat.

A lot of Grans’ issues stem from a lack of confidence, which affects the kinds of risks he takes on the ice. To sum it up: he doesn’t. It shouldn’t hold him back in a developmental capacity if it’s nipped in the bud early, so hopefully he’s able to take the necessary steps this season to where he’s able to flourish. If he can overcome that, Grans will make an NHL team very happy down the road.

31st Overall

Jeremie Poirier — LD

Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
June 2, 2002
6’1”, 190 lbs

Is there a more baffling first-round talent than Poirier? I’m inclined to think no, because the Sea Dogs defenseman has all the offensive potential in the world, but his play in his own end tends to, uh, be non-existent. He looked listless and disinterested for a lot of last season and was eventually stapled to the bench for large parts of games back in the spring. Add in the fact that Saint John allowed the most goals of any QMJHL team last season and yeah, I’d be concerned.

That won’t stop an NHL GM from drafting Poirier in the first round tonight. His upside is high, and when he’s going (like at the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup), he’s a force. The problem seems to be between the ears, and I’m not sure what happened over the course of the regular season (it could very well be that off-ice issues were a contributing factor), but Poirier’s play continued to drop with each passing month, especially in his own end.

All that being said, Poirier still put up 53 points last season from the blueline and his offensive talent is undeniable. He’ll be a very high-risk, high-reward pick, whether it’s tonight or in the later rounds tomorrow. The Lightning have history drafting out of Saint John (see: Mathieu Joseph, Boko Imama, Radim Salda and Maxim Cajkovic). While Poirier fits the physical trend, the question marks surrounding his hockey sense and work ethic would probably make him a long shot for the team had they kept their pick at 31.

Oh, and by the way, this is all a moot point (unless the Lightning end up trading into the first round tonight). The Lightning are Stanley Cup Champions, and had they not dealt those picks away, there’s a very good chance they wouldn’t be. Since the Lightning won’t be drafting anyone tonight, enjoy these next two days for what they are.

Happy Draft Day!

Statistics from Elite Prospects.