Breaking Down Experts' Picks for Tampa Bay Lightning's 2014 Draft
Last season, no team utilized recent NHL drafts like the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts played over a dozen rookies last year without even bringing up top-rated prospect Jonathan Drouin. As the 2014 draft approaches, the experts have weighed in on how the Bolts should utilize their two first-round picks.
Unlike in 2013, Tampa Bay won't be picking in the early part of the draft. The Lightning have the 19th and and 28th selections in the opening round. Tampa Bay has eight selections in this year's draft to help bolster an already deep talent pool.
This year, the Lightning have different needs in the draft. With a surplus of young, talented forwards, the Bolts will look to focus on the back end and get younger on defense. Finding the next Victor Hedman late in the first round will be difficult, but there are some talented blueliners who could be available.
Let's take a look at who the experts expect Tampa Bay to select and break down the potential picks.
In April, Adam Kimelman of NHL.com projected the Lightning would use the 21st pick in the draft to select Finland's Julius Honka. Honka plays for the Swift Current Broncos in the Western Hockey League and stands just 5'7" and 180 pounds.
Not your prototypical NHL defenseman, Honka is versatile for his size. The teenager just finished up his first season in North America and made some good strides. He will be a reach for any team that selects him in the first round based on his size alone, but Tampa Bay is pretty good with undersized players.
NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan had a pretty strong review of the young defenseman (via NHL.com):
Let’s just say that when you go to a game and you see his name in the lineup, you’re excited to watch the game because he’s got about four or five different gears. You think he’s just skating normally and he puts it in another gear, then another gear. Excellent vision and on-ice awareness. He reads the play so well sometimes he’s two or three steps ahead of his own teammates.
NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale projected the Lightning would select left wing Nikita Scherbak. Scherbak hails from Russia but has acclimated well to the North American game. The 6'0", 175-pound winger is known for his ability to crash the net and dish the puck to his teammates.
He had 50 assists last year with Saskatoon, most by a WHL rookie. As is typical with a Lightning prospect, versatility is key. The Bolts have a wide range of forwards who can play multiple positions. Scherbak has similar abilities.
EliteProspects.com notes that he is a:
...skilled but gritty forward who has a strong shot and offensive senses plus the ability to evade would be checkers by using his quick agility and slick hands. He puts pressure on opposing defenses every game. Has some work to do with regards to rounding out his defensive game and effort levels.
Steven Hoffner of NHL.com also projects the Bolts will select a forward with their first selection in the 2014 draft. Jake Virtanen netted 45 goals last season with Calgary in the WHL. He is a big forward at 6'0" and 208 pounds.
The young winger is said to model his game after current NHLer Rick Nash, per NHL.com. That's a pretty impressive NHL comparison, as Nash has been a highly coveted forward for years. Even more impressive might be the review garnered from Peter Sullivan of NHL Central Scouting:
He's got a complete, all-around pro game right now. He's tough to play against, makes things happen on the ice. When you're out there with him, better have your head up because he could put you through the wall. He's got that package of high-end skill that doesn't come along too often; he's like a Jarome Iginla type of player who can do everything.
What team wouldn't want another one of those players? To be able to take a little pressure off Steven Stamkos and add a ton of pressure on opposing defenses makes him worth the pick.
Raw Charge's Kyle Alexander returns to the defense with a first-round selection of Haydn Fleury. If you're thinking you've heard that name before, you have, but he is not related to former NHLer Theo Fleury or current goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
At 6'2" and 202 pounds, Fleury would be an outstanding pick if he is available late in the first round. The other mock drafts referenced have him going early, like the No. 7 pick.
If he's available, the NHL-ready defenseman would be on the fast track to making the Lightning younger and more dynamic on the back end. NHL Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald gives Fleury a scouting report that Lightning fans should get excited about:
"He's got good, strong mobility, great vision and has a knack for making that first good outlet pass. He's composed and calm with the puck and has an ability of knowing when to join the rush at the right moments."
My selection for the Lightning in the first round would be Sarnia Sting defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo is a U.S.-born (New Jersey) blueliner who actually fell in the overall prospect rankings. He was the No. 10-ranked North American skater at the midterm but dropped to 14th in the final rankings.
That slight drop might be just enough to make him available to the Lightning with the 19th selection. DeAngelo led all defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League with 71 points last season. At 5'10" and 170 pounds, he doesn't have a big frame, but with his offensive ability, he is worth it.
If DeAngelo were a few inches taller, you might mistake him for current Lightning star Victor Hedman. NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards gave DeAngelo a solid review:
Anthony is a skilled offensive defenseman. His puck skills and playmaking ability are excellent. He sees the ice very well and creates offensive scoring chances with great passes. He has a very good shot and gets it on net. DeAngelo likes to jump up into the rush and makes good decisions with the puck.
Young, skilled and poised, DeAngelo could be a steal if still available late in the first round.
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