Steve Yzerman is armed and ready for business as the NHL draft kicks off tonight at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Whether it's on the trade front or at the draft table, the Lightning figure to be plenty busy as the two-day event gets under way, with the first round taking place in prime time Friday and rounds 2 through 7 starting Saturday morning.
Heading into the draft, the Lightning hold eight selections, including two in the first round — 19th and 28th overall. On top of that, Tampa Bay also holds a pair of first-round picks in the 2015 draft, courtesy of the trade that sent Marty St. Louis to the New York Rangers.With those high draft picks tucked into his vest, Yzerman has plenty of options at his disposal.“Regarding the two first-round picks, if we end up using both those picks ... we'd be pretty happy to get a couple of good prospects we hope would help us in the future, so that's a good thing,'' Yzerman said. “Potentially, it also gives you more options, whether it's to acquire more picks, or to trade up or down. Potentially to use those to acquire a player that may help us that another team may deem expendable. So it just gives you more options, they are assets and hopefully we can use them wisely.''
In addition to the extra first-round picks in the next two drafts, the Lightning also have a deep prospect pool, particularly at forward, to tap into if the right deal comes along. As of Thursday, Tampa Bay has 12 forwards who will either be on one-way contracts or would require waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League. And that does not count 2013 third overall pick Jonathan Drouin, who is all but locked into a roster spot heading into training camp, or Nikita Kucherov, who played most of last season with the Lightning.
With an environment ripe for deals to be made, this could prove to be a busy weekend, and Tampa Bay is in the market to upgrade on defense.
Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher told media in Philadelphia on Thursday he expects a lot of trade activity as teams prefer to go that route instead of the often-pricey free-agent pool.
“Some teams look at free agency as not an ideal route,'' Fletcher said. “I think there will be a lot of movement.”
But even if no deals materialize this weekend, the groundwork could be laid before the free-agent market opens.
That would leave Yzerman and head amateur scout Al Murray in the enviable position of making two selections in the first round for the third time in franchise history, and the second time in the past three years, after Tampa Bay picked defenseman Slater Koekkoek with the 10th pick in 2012 and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with the 19th selection.
“We're excited about the potential prospect we can get at both spots,'' Yzerman said. “It's unpredictable ... and to me this (draft) might be more unpredictable than any other draft.''
Murray said that while this year's draft may not have the high-end prospects that are expected next year, he is confident the Lightning will land quality players if they retain the first-round pick.
“There are always good players in every draft, and it's our job to find as many of those as we can,'' Murray said. “It might be a draft that doesn't have the star power at the top end ... (but) there are always some later picks that some of our scouts feel very strongly about that hopefully can develop into the next Ondrej Palat (selected in the seventh round in 2011). So we are very excited and hopeful.''