Although the NHL still has yet to announce a new date for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, now would be the the start of the time (during a normal season) where teams and scouts are preparing their final player lists and looking ahead to the future.
Given that we still don’t know when the draft will be exactly, and it seems as though it won’t be until the fall at this point, it seems a little premature on my part to release final draft rankings for a draft that may not happen for several more months. So while I hold off on that, here’s some team-related draft content to tide you over in what are trying times these days.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning likely not drafting until late in the second round (both of their first round picks this year went to New Jersey and San Jose in the Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow trades), it’s fairly difficult to put together a list of players they could potentially select at that spot, especially given the depth of this draft.
But I did wonder if there were any patterns or trends in the Bolts’ past drafts that would have them lean more closely towards certain players. I’ve always thought about potentially doing this post, but I never thought I would have the time to do it, or that there would be anything interesting worth writing about.
Well, it turns out I was wrong on both fronts (I should’ve guessed I would be). I went all the way back to the 2012 draft (where the Lightning most notably drafted star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy) to look at the last 60 players drafted by the organization. Here’s what I found out.
From the 2012 draft to last June’s, the Lightning drafted 60 players into their organization, which seemed about enough players and drafts to take into consideration for this post. As of the current pause in the NHL season, 18 of those players are currently members of either the Lightning or their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch. Only seven of those 60 players are no longer playing professional hockey in North America, which speaks volumes to the success of the Lightning’s scouting and drafting abilities over the last decade.
As for the excessive color-coding (which I will admit I cannot seem to stop doing), here’s how I broke that down. There are two different categories of colors — richer colors for those in professional hockey, and paler colors for those still playing in developmental leagues like the NCAA or CHL. Players left in white are either no longer playing professional hockey or playing in European leagues.
Obviously, the 2013 draft stands out as a seemed ‘bust’ for the Bolts. Only two of the six players they drafted that year still play professional hockey in North America and none have remained within the Bolts organization.
Something also interesting to note: the Lightning have drafted six players in the first round in the last eight NHL drafts, yet only one is still a member of their organization: Cal Foote (2017). Nolan Foote, Brett Howden, Anthony DeAngelo, Jonathan Drouin and Slater Koekkoek were all traded away for a variety of reasons over the years.
Nolan Foote remains the lone player drafted within the last 3 drafts who no longer is apart of the Lightning organization (having been dealt in the Blake Coleman trade a few months ago). The Lightning have a number of prospects still playing in the NCAA and only Ryan Zuhlsdorf (2015) is set to have his rights expire in the summer (unless the Bolts re-sign him before then).
A Look At The Numbers
Over half of the players drafted by the Lightning since 2012 have come from the CHL — the OHL leads the way with 13 players while there are 11 from the QMJHL and 8 from the WHL. Also tied with the ‘Dub’ at 8 players is the USHL, and following that up with 7 players are the Russian junior leagues.
The Lightning have seemed to stay away from players developed through USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (only one player drafted amongst the 60), instead preferring to take players from the USHL or US high school teams (3 players). Also low on the league breakdowns are Sweden’s SuperElit and Finland’s Jr. A SM-Liiga, major developmental leagues for European players, where they’ve drafted two players from each.
On average, drafted players were about 6-foot-1 and 196.8-lbs. The Bolts took 35 forwards, 18 defensemen and 7 goalies in the last eight drafts, and both blueliners and netminders (around 200-lbs) tended to be about 5-lbs heavier on average than forwards (195-lbs).
That trend followed regarding height as well, as forwards were, on average, a little shorter than 6-foot-1, while defenders and goalies were in between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 (though goalies were the tallest of the position players). That draft philosophy seems to be reflected on the current Lightning roster.
There haven’t been any drastic changes to the Lightning’s scouting staff since the decade began, and the majority of the team’s amateur scouts were with the team for many years before that. The only major departure would be Steve Yzerman’s after the 2018-19 season, though it’s unknown how much input he had on amateur scouting and the draft.
What is interesting, though, is that despite the personnel not having changed, it appears that the philosophy might have over the last eight drafts.
For starters, the Lightning haven’t drafted a single player out of the OHL since 2016, where they took Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and Chris Paquette. Between 2012 and 2015, they only drafted two players out of the WHL, whereas from 2016-2019, the Lightning have taken six players out of that league.
The team has also transitioned their focus to the USHL and US high school hockey teams, (where, quite honestly, I find teams don’t focus enough on scouting). A lot of their late-round picks from those leagues have shown quite a bit of potential, most notably Sammy Walker (2017), Cole Koepke (2018), and McKade Webster (2019).
The Lightning dipped into the Canadian junior-A circuit (one level lower than the CHL) for the first time in several years when they took goaltender Ty Taylor out of the BCHL in 2018. Although he’s struggled in his first two seasons of NCAA hockey, their goaltending prospects look promising. Led by Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012) and Hugo Alnefelt (2019), the Bolts have drafted seven goalies in the last eight drafts. Only Connor Ingram was drafted out of the CHL in 2016.
Speaking of the 2016 draft, that marked the lone draft where they didn’t draft a single player under 6-foot-0, a trend that has seemed to continue. Though they bucked that trend with Walker and Cole Guttman the following year, the Lightning only selected four players under that height in the following three drafts.
Finally, the Lightning seem to really like drafting players from the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL). Last year, they took Maxim Cajkovic in the third round, and the year before they selected Radim Salda in the seventh round. The Lightning made two selections from the Sea Dogs in 2015, taking Mathieu Joseph and Bokondji Imama in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively.
Whether there’s an organizational link to the team or not, it’s an interesting thing to note, as the Sea Dogs have a couple of notable draft-eligible players in 2020. The Bolts have also drafted two players each from the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, Kelowna Rockets (2 Feete, heh) and Kamloops Blazers. The team has also taken two players out of Sioux City in the USHL.
So what does all this mean for the 2020 draft? Are there ‘types’ of players that the Lightning are more likely to draft? Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, where I try to figure that all out.
Statistics and information from Elite Prospects.