This post was supposed to run last week. No really, it was scheduled to run at 3:00 PM last Friday. At the very last minute we pulled it. Why? Well, because about that time, word trickled out that the Tampa Bay Lightning had acquired Brandon Hagel from the Chicago Blackhawks and first round picks were involved. Since the details weren’t clear it was assumed that the 2022 pick was one of the ones heading up to The Windy City.
Consider our surprise when the details emerged that the picks were for 2023 and 2024. Then the weekend came and went and no deal was made concerning the 2022 pick. Monday’s deadline also came and went, although there was a last moment of doubt when news spread of a deal for Nick Paul. No way Julien BriseBois would sacrifice a first for Nick Paul, right? Right? In this case, yes, he did not trade a first round pick for Paul. Somehow, a trade deadline came and went and the Lightning still had their first round pick in the next draft.
Why would we think this is something of a surprise? The Lightning haven’t had a first round pick in the last two drafts. They haven’t drafted a player in that round that isn’t a member of the Foote family since 2016. With their being no Foote’s (Feete’s?) available in 2022 it was a good assumption that the pick was as good as traded.
As an organization they’ve understood how to maximize the value out of what would be low-end first round picks in order to win in the present. They’ve used the picks as currency to improve their chances to win a Stanley Cup and have made deals that have directly led to two consecutive Stanley Cups (although an argument could be made that they would have won last year without the David Savard deal).
We’re not here to argue the merit of using late-round draft picks as capital to improve Stanley Cup contenders. Others have done that better. Alan, our former leader, did some extensive work on draft values both here at Raw Charge and his old Scraps blog that shows once you get outside of the top five or ten picks there isn’t much difference between a first and a third round pick in terms of future on-ice production.
That isn’t the point. Today’s post is about hope. Not just the hope that the Lightning can find a future cornerstone for the franchise, but the hope that an editor of a small Lightning-centric blog can have something to write about something relevant on the seventh day of July. Yes, it’s all about the content! Not really, but it would be nice to be in on the first day of the draft fun instead of waiting till the 120th pick.
The Bolts would like to restock the system at some point soon. They’ve done well with college signings and mid-to-late-round picks, but soon they’ll need some top-six talent. While drafting a late first-rounder doesn’t guarantee that, it does help raise the odds a little.
So if they are drafting somewhere from the late-20s to (hopefully) 32nd, what would they go after? We can probably rule out goalkeeping. Andrei Vasilevskiy is locked in and they can always find cheap back-ups until Hugo Alnefelt or Amir Miftakhov are ready to assume that role.
Defense could be an option, but that’s boring. They’ve done well over the last few years of finding some possible depth pieces that could be ready in the next couple of seasons (looking at you Jack Thompson). If they are able to re-sign Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak to long-term deals, the defense should be set until the 2025-26 season when Victor Hedman is a free agent.
With the forwards in the system and their ability to talk veteran forwards to take cheap deals for a shot at the Cup, they are set in the defense-first forwards. What they do seem to need is someone who can fill the back of the net. Of course, every team needs that and those type of players tend to be hot commodities in the draft.
Drafting late in the first round will take some creativity and a little risk to find a top-six forward. The Lightning seem to excel at that ability in the mid-rounds, hopefully they’ll be able to duplicate that in the top round this year, because if they do trade this pick away prior to the draft they won’t be drafting until the fourth round.
So, assuming they keep the pick here are three possible names they might be calling out on July 7th.
Owen Beck, Center, Mississauga Steelheads
Listed at 5’11” and 190 lbs. Beck has decent size for a prospect. According to profiles he also has excellent skating. He’s posted 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 57 games as the Steelheads second line center behind Luca Del Bel Belluz, who is also a top prospect in this year’s draft.
Beck seems to have the skating and scoring ability to make an impact at the professional level as his ability to process the game and make the correct reads is at a high level. The Lightning have always prized high hockey IQ in their draft picks and Beck seems to fit the bill. As our friends over at Pension Plan Puppets wrote back in February, offense isn’t his only calling card:
“He is a very strong skater and capable carrying the puck, and the most tantalizing thing about him to help project him at higher levels is his ability to make plays at speed and under pressure. Defensively, he is a puck hound when pressuring a puck carrier, and has very good positioning to block passing lanes and support the defense.”
He also has the endorsement of our former prospect expert as well and that’s good enough for us.
Guys. Owen Beck is so good. I cannot stop hyping him even when I’m not intentionally watching him for reports. #2022NHLDraft— Lauren Kelly (@laurkelly24) March 18, 2022
Nathan Gaucher, Center, Quebec Remparts
The Lightning did pretty well drafting a 6’3” center from the QMJHL back in 1998 so why not roll those dice again? Okay, so Gaucher doesn’t quite have the same pedigree and potential as Vincent Lecavalier, but he is a strong two-way center who can excel in front of the net and other high-danger areas.
In his third season with the Remparts he’s posted a 37 point (22 goals, 15 assists) in 47 games, not elite numbers but he plays the type of game that can transition to the pro level. Anyone that can have success playing physically in front of the net while also displaying the skill to deke around defenders should find a spot on a top line.
Although he may have to think about changing the number on his sweater. The “91” likely won’t be available in Tampa.
Isaac Howard, Left Wing, US National Development Team
If the NHL has truly migrated away from the infatuation with “size = success” in prospecting, Howard could be gone by the time the Lightning draft. If not, he could be another productive player they snag because other teams overlooked him based on the fact that he is 5’10.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth commit has posted 58 points (23 goals, 25 assists) with the US National U18 team this season and possesses an above-average shot and quick decision-making skills. Those are traits you want to see in a winger playing with other skilled forwards.
In all likelihood the Lightning would be able to wait for him to develop in college for at least a few seasons before bringing him into the pros a la Alex Killorn. Once he did turn pro it wouldn’t take him long to make it to the NHL if his skills continue to develop along the way.
If the Lightning make it through the summer with the pick intact, we’ll keep an eye on these players, and perhaps a few more, as we get closer to the actual draft.