The Tampa Bay Lightning have a reputation at the NHL Draft of being very smart with their picks and getting lots of incredible value with later picks. Brayden Point, Ondřej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Anthony Cirelli, and many more are on that list. That was, for the most part, under Steve Yzerman. Recently, I’ve seen a different identity of the Lightning’s drafts, and it’s not something I’m especially confident in.
Julian BriseBois and his crew haven’t had as many picks as in the past and that’s for good reason — see the rings. But still, the Bolts have often chosen to go big and off the board with the few picks that they do get, skipping over a lot of real talent that could continue to bolster the top-six potentially. Instead, they’ve focused on guys whose ceilings are in the bottom six. And even when those high-reward picks aren’t going to play on the team (see Raddysh, Katchouk, and Joseph as recent examples), they’re still trade value compared to someone like Alex Volkov or Gabriel Fortier.
The recent top picks from the Lightning have all had a commonality to them: beeg. Roman Schmidt 6’6”, Cameron MacDonald 6’2”, Jack Finley 6’6”, Gage Goncalves 6’1”. Size isn’t bad by any means, but it is consistently taken too high in the draft, leaving better prospects for teams to pick up later. That goes for both forwards and defenders.
The bar graphs below show players value (GAR) relative to what their draft position would normally expect. It shows that players 6’3” or more are underperforming their draft position (ie. should’ve been drafted later) while anyone shorter than that gets a boost. The Lightning are playing into this and are letting other teams make great picks after them.
Better yet, it even holds across positional groups too. Small defenders have also crushed their draft position relative to their taller peers pic.twitter.com/TPuOPAx0Lp— Chace McCallum (@CMhockey66) July 5, 2022
We don’t know what the results of the past two drafts will be, but I can already tell you the Lightning’s best player out of the last two drafts has been their seventh round pick Declan McDonnell. Fellow shorter players like Jack Thompson and Jaydon Dureau are also up there. I don’t think reaching for those big players they got were good bets because they got value later on, if they played it straight they could’ve gotten even more.
All that said, the player I have decided to profile is another big defenseman. Someone who I’m not completely sure will be in the Lightning’s spot when their time comes because there’s a possibility someone might reach on him, but someone I think would be very good value and a reasonable bet at the position the Lightning are picking (31st overall).
Sam Rinzel is an American right-handed defenseman out of the USHL and is heading to the University of Minnesota for four years — great program where he’ll be able to grow and build his game in relative peace, and possibly be an impactful NHL player when he graduates.
He was ranked 31st overall by Bob McKenzie, right where the Lightning are picking, so I think it’s a realistic hope for the Bolts management to have him be available at that pick. A reminder, McKenzie’s draft ranking does not come from his opinion, but from a survey of 10 NHL amateur scouts that he compiles at various times during the year. His ranking has been very close to what has actually come out at each Draft over the years and is a good litmus test as to where the teams themselves view each prospect.
Some things that could possibly put a wrench in the Lightning’s hopes is the fact that Rinzel is right handed and pretty big. It just takes one team to reach hard on a player they like because they’re worried someone will take them before they’re back on the mic. Rinzel was 47th in McKenzie’s midterm ranking so he’s been shooting up the boards. This happens all the time and another player I almost took a look at — Ryan Chesley — is almost expected to go way too high on Thursday because of his profile as one of the best safe right handed defensive defensemen.
Here are two profiles that I really enjoyed and that helped me in researching this player. Give them a click and a read!
As a tall, lanky player, Rinzel skates incredibly well. His ability to change direction in clever ways and move around in all three zones is very impressive. It’s led him to having very strong offensive transition numbers (bringing the puck up through the three zones), as for the defensive side, we’ll talk about that below. His footwork and selection of tools, including crossovers and lateral cuts, is very diverse and well developed.
At 6’3” and a good skater, Rinzel has a really impressive frame to work off. At only 181 lbs, he’ll be able to grow into his body and improve in those physical areas of the game. Right now, he’s mostly an offensive defenseman, but as he physically develops it’s very reasonable to assume his defensive game will follow.
At the moment, Rinzel isn’t on his USHL team’s power play, and probably won’t get on it at U Minn, but the potential is there if he can work on his systems and decision making. I think lack of pace in high school hurt him here, as well as just missing out on Team USA at various international tournaments. The learning curve he will have to catch up to NCAA pace will be one he’ll need to prioritize.
Rinzel has the tools to be a much better defender than he’s currently shown in the past in the USHL and Minnesota high school. He’s there, almost there, but not quite with his passing and decision making. Just a little clumsy, just a little off balance. Watching him reminds me of Justin Holl on Toronto.
There are flashes of great things on both sides of the ice with Rinzel, but he’s struggled to make it consistent and have them show in both simple and advanced metrics. His scoring is not as high as you would think it could be if you watched his highlights.
Sam Rinzel possesses the projectable frame & right-shot handedness that every NHL team strives to find in the draft.— Daniel Gee (@DanielGScouting) February 15, 2022
An overwhelming transition player & a true creative planner in sustained pressure. His potential & more - @EPRinkside #2022NHLDraft
: https://t.co/lFkSDjZ4pU pic.twitter.com/H0CfF0PyJn
A few clips from Sam Rinzel's 3-game USHL stint.— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) January 18, 2022
Lots of intriguing qualities: deception + inside lane use, activation + playmaking, draws pressure and passes through it, shooting skill.#2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/cOY0dHapIv
A look at Sam Rinzel (Chaska HS, @BlckHawksHockey) a 6-foot-4, right-shot defender, committed to @GopherHockey.— Daniel Gee (@DanielGScouting) January 11, 2022
Manipulative and inside focused in the OZ. Possesses a mobility/handle blend transitionally. Defensive game is raw currently but base is exciting. #2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/kgPlAIk0gA