Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, the NHL's reigning GM of the year, was weaned by the Detroit Red Wings as a player and an executive, so it’s no surprise he puts such a strong emphasis on drafting and developing players. And it should come as no surprise he and the Lightning have had such positive results. Yzerman and his hockey department have restocked the Bolts’ system with a bountiful crop of young players. In the 2011 draft alone, the Lightning picked six players, and four of them – Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov and Ondrej Palat – have turned out to be bona fide NHL players.
Round 1, pick 28
Round 2, pick 44
Round 3, pick 64
Round 4, picks 118, 120
Round 5, pick 150
Round 6, picks 153, 180
Round 7, pick 208
Injuries tested Tampa’s depth on defense and, after trading Radko Gudas, the Lightning lack a physical and punishing force on the back end.
Again, reinforcements on defense. The Lightning are one of the most explosive teams in the NHL, but could use some help on the blueline, especially in the form of right-handed shots. Only Andrej Sustr, Anton Stralman and Luke Witkowski shoot that way among Bolts D-men.
The Lightning should be relieved that the NHLPA activated the five percent escalator, because they have more than $70 million committed in salaries. Namestnikov, Sustr, Witkowski and Barberio are RFAs, and Brenden Morrow is a UFA. Of utmost importance will be negotiating an extension with Steven Stamkos.
IN THE SYSTEM 2015-16:
Center Namestnikov and defenseman Nesterov were called up mid-season and have proven capable of handling the NHL’s level of play. Both will push for full-time employment next season. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, another mid-season call-up, represents the Lightning’s future in goal and will serve as a capable backup to Ben Bishop, who starts a two-year extension next season.
DID YOU KNOW:
Palat was the fourth-last player taken, 208th overall, in the 2011 draft. But only two players in that class – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (taken first overall) and Gabriel Landeskog (second) – have outscored Palat at the NHL level. Brandon Saad (43rd) is tied with Palat in points.