Which forwards should the Tampa Bay Lightning target at the 2020 NHL Draft?
The Tampa Bay Lightning currently own the 59th, 89th, 90th, 94th, 121st, 157th, 183rd, and 214th overall picks, giving them eight total selections in the 2020 NHL draft. Before we get into the selections, let’s take a look at what the Lightning should be looking for based on what they don’t currently have in their pipeline.
On offense, they have a young core down the middle in Brayden Point (24-years-old), Anthony Cirelli (22), Mitchell Stephens (23) and a future center in Alex Barre-Boulet (23). On the wings, they have young NHLers in Nikita Kucherov (26), Mathieu Joseph (23) and Carter Verhaeghe (24), with Alexander Volkov, Boris Katchouk, and Taylor Raddysh (all under 22) waiting for their chances.
Meanwhile, on the blue line, they have two veteran defensemen locked up long-term on the left side in Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh. Also on the left side is upcoming restricted free agent Mikhail Sergachev, who has elite upside and is still just 21.
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On the right side of their defense, they have upcoming RFA Erik Cernak (22) filling in between a few veterans who aren’t locked in and likely won’t be in Tampa for much longer in Kevin Shattenkirk, Jan Rutta, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn.
In the pipeline, they have Cal Foote and Dmitri Semykin on the right side, both holding NHL potential. They also have Dominik Masin, who has NHL potential on the left side.
Meanwhile, in net, they have 25-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy locked in long-term, and he is considered an elite goalie at this point in his career. Last year, they drafted a pair of Swedish goalies in Magnus Chrona and Hugo Alnefelt.
Ultimately, the Lightning shored up their goaltending pool and currently have a long-term option in Vasilevskiy at the NHL-level, making me believe that a goalie being taken at any point would be a wasted pick. Meanwhile, it’s blatantly obvious that the Lightning have both a short-term and long-term need for wingers and a right-shot defenseman.
One more time, before I continue, I have been working on a project. Julien BriseBois, the current general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has been a part of the organization since 2010. That said, I went back and gathered the heights, weights, nationalities and stats from every prospect drafted by the Lightning since 2010.
By stats, I mean career stats that they had in whatever junior league they played in prior to being selected. For example, Point was selected in 2014, and played in the WHL in his draft year. I gathered all his stats from the WHL from when he started (2011-12) to his draft year (2013-14). I then averaged out every selection’s pre-draft stats, as well as their heights and weights, to see what a Lightning prototype was.
To keep everything comparable and fair, as league’s vary in difficulty, I separated each prospect based on the leagues they played in. For example, the Lightning drafted four WHL players since 2010 (Point, Brett Howden, Brett Connolly, and Nolan Foote) and I averaged their measurements and pre-draft stats to see what a WHL prototype was.
Then I listed out 16 draft-eligible WHLers and compared their stats with the average of the four WHL draftee’s mentioned. I did this for every league, based on the players selected in their respective leagues, and here’s what I found for forwards.
Dark red means the Lightning have never drafted a player with numbers that low before in the category that it’s listed in. For example, Cole Perfetti has a dark red for his height because the Lightning have never taken someone as short as Perfetti before in the OHL.
Light red means the Lightning have drafted someone with numbers lower than what’s listed, but that number is still below average. It also means that they’ve never drafted a player from that team before, or drafted a player with that nationality in the league before.
For example, Simon Knak has a light red for being a Swiss-born forward in the WHL because the Lightning have never taken a Swiss-born player from the WHL before.
White means that the player matched the exact average number of what the Lightning selected from that respective category. For example, Ryan Francis has a white for assists per game (A/GP) because his stat there (0.51) matches the average of Lightning draft picks out of the QMJHL.
Light green means that the prospect measured above average in the respective category, but did not record what would be the best number among previous Lightning draft picks in that league.
For example, Mavrik Bourque got a light green mark for playing 113 QMJHL games before being drafted because 113 is above the Lightning average of 89.6, but not more than the highest number the Lightning selected in that category, as Lightning draft pick Bokondji Imama played in 162 QMJHL games before being drafted by Tampa Bay.
Light green also means that the Lightning have selected a player from that team in the past, or that the Lightning have selected a player of that nationality in that league before. For example, Perfetti got light green for being Canadian because the Lightning have drafted Canadian-born OHLers before and he also got light green for playing on the Saginaw Spirit, as the Lightning have selected a player from Saginaw before (Stephens).
Dark green means that the prospect recorded what would be the best mark in the respective category if the Lightning selected them. For example, all of Alexis Lafreniere’s statistical categories graded out as dark green because if he were to be selected by Tampa Bay, he would have played the most games, scored the most goals, assists and points, as well as the highest per game stats, of all previously drafted QMJHL prospects for the Lightning.
Once all the scores are marked, I tallied it all up under “Draft fit score.” The higher the score means that player has a higher chance of being selected by Tampa, if available than anyone with a lower score. Every dark green was one point, every light green was 0.5 points, white was 0 points, light red was -0.5 points and dark red was -1 point.
I then sorted it all based on the prospects draft fit score to make it easier to read. Using the scores, I decided to figure out what players the Lightning have a good chance of selecting with each of their picks.
But I thought to myself, Bokondji Imama didn’t end up becoming an impact player for Tampa, yet his stats change what a prospect could score, as he played a ton of games prior to being drafted. Plus, it’s common knowledge that teams try to copy previous picks that have worked to see if they can repeat the success they had with that prospect.
For example, Chicago continuously takes chances on European prospects as they have lucked out on Artemi Panarin, Dominik Kubalik, David Kampf (sort of), Michal Kempny, and Dennis Rasmussen Managers try to repeat what has worked for them, so why wouldn’t BriseBois do the same?
That said, I took all the best Lightning draft picks from 2010, narrowing the list down to nine CHLers and one MHL/KHLer. The nine CHL prospects were Brett Connolly, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Cedric Paquette, Jonathan Drouin, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, and Brett Howden, and the MHL/KHL prospect was, obviously, Nikita Kucherov.
I averaged out the 9 CHLers on their own, as Russian league production is vastly different from CHL production. Then I took the 53 CHL prospects I had in my other lists and compared them to the new averages, using the same scoring system. However, I added an additional qualification: whether the prospect is in his second draft-eligible year or not.
Only one “over-ager” or prospect who is in his second year of draft-eligibility after going undrafted the year prior, landed positively of the 53 prospects. I gave all over-agers, such as Gogolev, a direct -1 due to their age, simply because their production would be inflated. Despite that, Gogolev still showed enough to grade positively. Of the 53 prospects on this list, just 19 graded positively, and one landed at 0.
Taking out the clearly unrealistic draft picks, like Lafreniere and Byfield, the top fits for the Lightning, among CHL players, is Pavel Gogolev, Tyson Foerster, Ryan Francis, Brandon Coe, Will Cuylle, Tyler Tullio, Jean-Luc Foudy, Tristen Robins, Ozzy Wiesblatt, and William Dufour.
As for MHL/KHL prospects, using the same system, but compared to Kucherov’s pre-draft stats, they certainly didn’t do so well.
When combining the scores from both the MHL and KHL numbers, there was only one positive player – Maxim Groshev. As for other leagues, there was no player previously drafted by Tampa that went on to have a relatively successful season, so they were all based on the averages you saw above from individual CHL leagues, except for leagues like the USHL and Finnish leagues. Here’s what I got from those leagues.
In the Finnish leagues, only two realistic Lightning picks graded positively when their SM-Liiga and Liiga stats were combined, and those were Kristian Tanus and Roni Hirvonen. Meanwhile, in the USHL, there were quite a few positively graded guys, as shown.
For the most part, they’re all realistic draft picks, but of them, the most intriguing names are Ryder Rolston, Same Colangelo, Sean Farrell, and Daniil Gushchin. Mathieu De St. Phalle, despite being the top fit, is projected to go undrafted, and it’s his second time around in the draft, going undrafted in 2019 as well.
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All-in-all, the Lightning have some intriguing options littered throughout the draft. This is looking at strictly forwards, and my next piece will be looking at potential fits on defense. Using the data I gathered, I will be posting a Lightning-specific mock draft over the next couple of days.