The Tampa Bay Lightning's 2014 first-round playoff exit showed the team its biggest needs to address in the upcoming draft. After having used 12 rookie skaters last season, the Lightning will need to replenish the minor league system to help build a perennial playoff power.
Tampa Bay had eight different rookie skaters play in more than 40 games. The Lightning's AHL affiliate Syracuse felt that pain first hand. Coming off back-to-back Calder Cup playoff appearances, the Crunch struggled this season, finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning will need to restock their previously loaded prospect system, while keeping the big club's needs at the forefront. Here are the Lightning's biggest needs in the 2014 NHL draft.
The NHL is a quickly evolving game. Defensive players like P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson and Seth Jones are becoming increasingly valuable to a team's playoff chances. All of these defensemen can move the puck well and put up big numbers on offense.
The Bolts are a team that struggles occasionally to get the puck out of their defensive zone. Coach Jon Cooper also has no issue with allowing his defensemen to make plays in the offensive zone. That makes an offensive defenseman increasingly valuable for the Bolts.
One of the biggest names on that front would be Haydn Fleury of the Red Deer Rebels. He finished the year as one of the top-rated North American defenseman, though, so it's a stretch to see if he would be available for the Bolts in the first round.
A player with size and skill can change a game. Tampa Bay needs to look no further than Alex Killorn, who at 6'2" and 205 pounds draws a lot of attention. He has that elite combination.
The Lightning don't have much size up the middle, however. Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula and Nate Thompson all top out at 6', but other centers like Tyler Johnson (5'9") and Tom Pyatt (5'11") aren't providing much size.
Tampa Bay likes to be as patient as possible with their prospects, as was proven by the handling of Jonathan Drouin last season. If they can develop a player over the next few years, Alex Tuch of the USHL/US National Development Team would be a huge addition.
Tuch is 6'4" and nearly 215 pounds, but he has a scoring touch as well. In 53 games last season, Tuch put up 25 points. Committed to Boston College for his next step, the Lightning could have a solid forward here.
This may seem a bit odd, but the Lightning need to add additional scorers to their already potent offense. The rationale is even more strange. Tampa Bay needs a stronger fourth line.
Two of the teams battling for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston and Montreal, have found lines that roll one after another wearing down a team. Tampa Bay is still working to complete the first three.
In a roundabout way, the Tampa Bay community has to be cheering for the New York Rangers to make the Eastern Conference Finals. If New York makes it to the finals, the Bolts get the Rangers' first-round pick in 2014. That additional first-round pick could go a long way in restocking the Lightning's system.