Obliterating The Myth About Tampa’s Drafting
I feel my stuff can get stale. I don’t feel at all as though I’m a great, or even good writer. I feel as though I might have interesting insight, but just as a pure writer I’m not good and haven’t improved all that much since I started doing this. One thing I feel I could do to offset that is speak on more topics that I can not only give interesting insight/opinions on, but topics that don’t get wrote about that often. Draft coverage has really taken off in the last three years or so, but I don’t feel as though there is much in terms of writing on it. Taking deeper looks at prospects, looks back, certain narratives (which I’m hitting on today), and looking at scouting itself. So this is hopefully the first of many pieces I do on the draft. I’m still doing my own rankings, still going to do mock drafts as I really believe that’s where I shine the most, but add more to the coverage in general.
So to start this, I’ll hit on what is perhaps my favourite draft narrative going today. “Tampa Bay gets it because they don’t care about the size of a player, they just take the most talented kids available”. It was during last season when this piece was really sparked. Corey Pronman had said something on Twitter. I can’t remember what it was, but something along the lines of “what would you like to see me write about on the draft”. And something I don’t often do is read the responses, but I scrolled through those ones, and came across Ryan Pinder of Sportsnet 960 in Calgary asking him to do a piece as to why other teams don’t follow the Tampa model of simply drafting the best player on the board regardless of size. So as a guy who can list off just about every first round pick in order and the team that took them since maybe 2008, and knows the history of the draft VERY well since I started writing on it in 2012, I knew the answer to this. I loved it, because I absolutely LOVE taking the completely lazy and unfounded narrative and destroying it. Pinder was the straw that broke the camel’s back, he’s far from the only one to think this way. So I’m not going to waste anymore time trying to think of a witty transition and get right to it. Steve Yzerman started working for the Lightning in the spring of 2010. Let’s take a good look at their drafts.
Now, before I begin on this one, this was Steve Yzerman’s first draft, so I’m going to talk about. However, this wasn’t Yzerman’s scouting staff. Al Murray wasn’t hired as of this time, and I doubt many of the scouts they had at the time were with the organization much longer. But I will include it thanks to Yzerman being there. They took Brett Connolly with the 6th pick. Today, Brett Connolly is scraping together a real good career after appearing to be a bust early on. If I had to guess, some of that has to do with his hip injury in his draft year setting him back a lot longer than most believed it would. But this wasn’t a good pick. And it wasn’t a good pick in the moment, not just in hindsight. Going into that draft, the consensus pick for Tampa was Brandon Gormley. Before you say “that would have been WAY WORSE!!!” keep in mind that this was pre-draft. Cam Fowler shouldn’t have got past the 5th pick in that draft, and he was still on the board at six where they should have been all over him. They took Radko Gudas in the 3rd round, easily their best pick of this draft, and took two players sub six feet (both 5’11), and none of the other picks ever came close to playing in the league. Not just didn’t play in an NHL game, but rather of the six other draft picks made those players only played a combined 19 games in the AHL. Not the NHL, the AHL.
This was probably their best draft to date, and was truly the first draft for Yzerman, and literally was for Al Murray. 2011 was all them, and they crushed it. Namestikov with the 27th pick, Kucherov was a grand fucking slam at pick 58, Nikita Nesterov at 148 played 119 games for them, at 201 (7th round) they got Matthew Peca who they weren’t able to keep this past off-season but is looking like an NHL regular, and finally another grand fucking slam with Ondrej Palat at 208th overall. Even goaltender Adam Wilcox taken in the 6th round and 178th overall has played in one NHL game. So every pick they made has played in one NHL game, five of the six have played over 100, and four of the six are regular NHL players. So that is an amazing draft, easily one of the best all time. But let’s look at the size which is the point here. For my money, as a guy who has been bias towards size (much more in the past than I am now obviously), my cut off is 5’11. 5’11 never felt “small” for me. 5’10 was dependent on the weight, and 5’9 I would consider a guy “small”. Matthew Peca is the only player who qualifies for that in this draft. Great pick where they got him, but I’m not sure there is a team in the league that would have passed on a highly skilled guy who was 5’9 by the 201st pick in the draft.
The Andrei Vasilevskiy pick is what is remembered, but that wasn’t their first pick, and they messed up their first pick in this draft just as they did in 2010. Filip Forsberg fell all the way down to 10. That was a HUGE shock at the time, and by the time the Lightning picked there was no doubt he was the clear cut BPA. Much like Evan Bouchard falling to 10 for the Oilers in this past draft, it was that surprising. Yet the Bolts passed in favour of Slater Koekkoek. Something I wonder about in hindsight is if they had a philosophy early on that they wouldn’t allow injuries to affect their thought process on players as much as others would? Because with both Connolly and Koekkoek, injuries derailed most of their draft years. Anyway, they messed up that pick, got it right with Vasilevskiy. This draft sure wasn’t 2011, as really the only players still kicking around are Vasilevskiy, Cedric Paquette and the controversial Jake Dotchin. Keep in mind though, this was still a very good draft. Not Yzerman, Murray or their scouting staff’s fault that 2012 was a bad draft year. They walked out with a star goaltender, a regular, and a guy in Dotchin who is still going to be hanging around the league as long as he can get his weight under control. Again though, I’m here to talk about the size of these players. Nikita Gusev was the only sub 6’0 player they took in the draft (5’11, not small in the eyes of a “sizest”), and all but three of the eight picks were players under 6’2.
This is the one that probably keeps them awake at night to this day, despite the success they’re having. They walked in with the 3rd pick in the draft. The top two picks for everyone were Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones. But the Florida Panthers badly needed a big two way centre, and as we seen in this last draft and the 2016 draft, if you need that guy then you better step up and grab him early (Pierre-Luc Dubois to Columbus, Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Montreal, Barrett Hayton to Arizona), which as you know they did and took Sasha Barkov (and it was the right pick). This left the door WIDE ASS OPEN for the Lightning to step up and steal Seth Jones at three…and they took Jonathan Drouin. And hey, all these years later, the Canadiens may have bailed them out for the mistake by giving them Mikhail Sergachev for Drouin. Sergachev has that kind of upside. But if they had Seth Jones and Cam Fowler on that blueline already, this team wouldn’t have needed to pony up for Ryan McDonagh. This team might have a couple of Cups already under this regime. And while you can play the “what if” game with so many teams, we aren’t talking about hindsight here. In the moment, with all three of Connolly, Koekkoek and Drouin were suspect picks over the players which fell to the Lightning. Anyway, again they took nobody tiny. Drouin wasn’t considered a great skater for his size, but he was still 5’11 (is what I had him listed at pre draft, now listed at 6’0). If you include Drouin, three kids they took (six total) were under 6’0, though again all three were 5’11 which I don’t know who would consider 5’11 small. This wasn’t a good draft for the Lightning. Drouin over Jones was a big mistake despite it being somewhat righted (I’m sure they’d move Sergachev for Jones right now), Adam Erne is very close to playing, and really that’s it.
Its about to get better…right? Nope. Anthony DeAngelo. At 19. When everyone had bailed on him as a first round prospect. Now, it wasn’t a GREAT draft, but there were pretty clear cut kids on the board most, if not all, had ahead of DeAngelo. And I’m not going with the “hindsight” guy. Easy to say now that they should have taken David Pastrnak. Pastrnak really didn’t stand out above any of the other high ranked/undersized wingers that this draft class was flooded with. But Robby Fabbri, Kasperi Kapanen, and Nick Schmaltz PROBABLY would have been my top three on the board, and likely for most (this was the year before I was doing prospect rankings, just mocks). Again, not hindsight because if you’re going hindsight then the pick obviously should have been Pastrnak. One thing about DeAngelo though was that he was under 6’0 (5’11 again). This is the draft that gives them the reputation I’m speaking on today. They took Brayden Point with the 79th pick. Didn’t take him 19th, or 35th, or 57th, no they waited until the 79th pick, but they did take him. He was the only sub 5’11 pick they made, but they did take Point who I love, I can’t believe that he’s not only a centre but a tremendous centre, and is maybe the most underrated player in the league right now.
Once again, nine picks in this draft, none of them have their full story written yet as we get into the years with prospects still developing. But two players sub 6’0, no players sub 5’11. Anthony Cirelli so far looks like a terrific pick. Other than Cirelli though, they have a couple of “maybe’s”, but they were in the final that season and looked to have done ok as they normally do. Hey, I’m not looking to bash their drafting, just kill a myth about their drafting.
This one is my favourite. Obviously I’m reaching here if I’m saying who they hit on and who they missed on for a draft featuring players who are currently 20 years old. We have no idea. But I love this one that narrative which in case you forgot is “the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best drafting team in hockey and its because they simply just take quickness and skill. They don’t care about size!” OH. REA. LLY. They had 10 picks in the 2016 draft. You know how many of those picks were both under 6’0 and under 200 lbs? 0/10. Their first pick in the draft was Brett Howden, who projects to be a third line centre/Shawn Horcoff type player. Undersized/highly skilled Sam Steel went three picks later. Libor Hajek projects to be a stay at home, number four/five type D-man, he was the second pick. Undersized/highly skilled Alex DeBrincat was taken two picks later. Boris Katchouk, power forward. Undersized/highly skilled Sam Girard was taken three picks later. Taylor Raddysh, 6’3, Chris Paquette 6’2, Oleg Sosunov 6’8, Otto Somppi 6’2, Ryan Lohin 6’0. The only pick…of 10…in the entire draft for Tampa who was under 6’0 was Ross Colton at 118 who was 5’11, 200 lbs. If you’ve been reading and thought “sure, but what has it been like lately, that’ll tell the story” shit are you dead wrong!
Again, let’s not for a second suggest we know after one damn year that we know how their draft went. But Cal Foote was the top pick. Cal Foote is 6’4 and projects to be a shutdown/top four D-man. I believed prior to the draft that they wouldn’t pass on Timothy Liljegren because he was much higher skilled yet still a RH shooting D-man (which it seemed pre-draft to be the obvious need/want with the 14th pick). And again, much like 2016, this team didn’t take a smaller guy until their fifth pick which was 180th overall in the draft when they took Cole Guttman. Guttman and Samuel Walker were both only 5’10, but again I’m going to say that I’m not sure any team WOULDN’T roll the dice on kids of that stature late in the draft.
This is insanely early to look at what they did this past June, but I will anyway just for fun. The top pick was Gabriel Fourtier and he’s only 5’10, so a good start for the false narrative. Then they didn’t take another skater who was under 6’0 (though they took 5’10 goaltender Magnus Chrona at 152).
Again, this exercise isn’t done to shit all over Tampa and attempt to make anyone suggest they’re doing bad. I’d be an absolute dip shit to suggest that. Drafting is TOUGH. Developing is TOUGH. For me, the Lightning are in the elite tier in this league when it comes to the draft. I’d probably say there are four teams in that tier, and the Lightning are one of them.
Having said that…
The narrative that this club simply drafts skill and don’t care about size is a COMPLETE crock of shit! They have hit on a few of those types in the draft, but mostly they draft similar sized kids at the same rate as everyone else. They just simply scout extremely well as an organization. Yanni Gourde was a free agent signing, they didn’t draft him. Tyler Johnson was another free agent signing. Cory Conacher was too and the truth is that after an impressive stretch at the start of the 2013 season he has essentially been irrelevant in the league. They drafted Matthew Peca, and let him walk as a UFA this off-season. I can’t stress enough how horse shit the narrative is with Tampa. They simply do a tremendous job of scouting, and a tremendous job of developing. Al Murray is their head amateur scout and one of the best in the business (we’ll see if he stays on now with Yzerman gone), and Yzerman was a tremendous GM for them. That’s it. Its not some magic formula. Its not out of the box thinking. Its just simply a well run organization. If you want to rave about the way they draft, then what you should be raving about is the fact that they are always looking to stock pile picks. That’s it. They didn’t hesitate to trade the aging Marty St.Louis in 2014 while firmly in a playoff spot. They got two first rounders. They constantly trade back in the draft and load up with picks. They’ve never had less than six picks in the draft under Yzmeran. 26 picks from 2014-2016.
So let’s just put the nail in this coffin, shall we? They aren’t reaching in the draft to take undersized/skilled kids where nobody else ranks them and having those picks perform incredibly. They really just took ONE kid over all these years who was really undersized (especially for his position) and has crushed it. By the way, the Jets took Nic Petan in what was considered a better draft with the 43rd pick. So higher than Point, where is the narrative that the Jets just took the highest skilled players on the board? But because Petan hasn’t worked to this point and the Jets are big, they don’t get credit for taking the undersized skill guy. So weird how that works…
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