NEWARK, N.J. - Franchises adapt and evolve. Players come and go. But the transformation of a team can take place with one move, one right selection on draft day. The Lightning have that chance this afternoon when the 2013 NHL Entry Draft takes place at Prudential Center. While each draft has its own personality, strengths and weaknesses, there is one consensus heading into today - holding the No. 3 pick gives Tampa Bay the chance to reshape the roster with a franchise player.
"You are going to get a player that can potentially impact your franchise for the next decade,'' NHL director of scouting Don Marr said of holding a top-three pick this season. Tampa Bay has been here before in previous drafts and is holding a top-five pick for the 10th time in franchise history after making seven previous selections. There have been varying degrees of success with those picks: Vinny Lecavalier, Roman Hamrlik, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman made substantial and positive impacts. But Alex Svitov, Daymond Langkow and Chris Gratton did not have the same sort of impression on the franchise. Of those seven selections, Lecavalier, Hamrlik, Stamkos and Hedman were taken with a top-two pick. Svitov and Gratton were selected with the third pick and Langkow was a fifth overall selection. There are no guarantees that Tampa Bay's selection - assuming it holds on to the pick - will turn into a star player or help turn the Lightning into a perennial playoff contender. But the potential is there. "This draft is very strong at the top,'' Lightning director of scouting Al Murray said. "If you have a pick in the top five, you might be getting a star player who can really help carry your team to another level. "We are going to get one of those guys and hopefully that guy can come in and have that kind of impact on our organization. ... Lots of impact players in this draft and you don't get that every year.'' This year's draft class is already drawing comparisons to the 2003 draft that produced Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards and Corey Perry, among others. Marr believes there is the potential for some of the top players in this year's draft to have an even bigger impact on the league than the class of 2003. In particular, playmaking winger Jonathan Drouin out of Halifax has drawn some heavy comparisons. "A lot of older scouts in the business have told me, and I agree with them, I think Joe Sakic is a good comparison,'' Marr said. "(Drouin) has the potential to be a Hall of Fame player.'' With Drouin's ability to make plays, find seams and set up teammates in the offensive zone, the potential of him playing alongside center Steven Stamkos could prove a dynamic combination. "Oh for sure, (Drouin) would set him up all night and day, all day long,'' Marr said. "Anyone that gets to play alongside Jonathan Drouin really appreciates him, and there will be guys who want to play with him. "Everyone talks about playing on the third line, but you may have some of those first- and second-liners wanting to play with him because he will feed him the puck.'' There is the same potential impact, albeit in a different manner, with players such as defenseman Seth Jones, center Nathan MacKinnon, center Aleksander Barkov or winger Valeri Nichuskin. And with the Lightning holding a top-five pick, one of them has the potential to help steer Tampa Bay back in the right direction. "We are hopeful in that top five that you will be getting a player that will play for you for 15 to 18 years and be a real good player for you,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "And I think if you go back and analyze the drafts every year, there are very few that really kind of turn a franchise around. "Everybody picking that high, we are all hoping we get one of those couple of guys. Real impact players are hard to get, so it's important, and there is a little bit of luck involved, but you can really set yourself up for a long, long time.'' Rumor of the day The days leading up to the draft are as rumor-filled as the days leading up to the trade deadline. One of the biggest rumors Saturday had Tampa Bay showing interest in acquiring Boston winger Tyler Seguin. The third-year pro was the second overall pick in 2010 and will begin a six-year, $34.5 million contract next season that carries a $5.75 million salary cap hit. In three seasons with the Bruins, Seguin has 56 goals and 121 points in 203 games. Draft party The Lightning are hosting a draft party from 2-5 p.m. today at Champps at International Plaza. Team broadcasters Rick Peckham, Bobby Taylor and Dave Mishkin will be on hand for a special edition of "Lightning Hockey Night" that will air from 3-5 p.m. on 1250 AM. Former Lightning all-star Brian Bradley also will be present. Fans in Lightning attire will receive a 10 percent discount on food and beverage, while season-ticket holders wearing their jerseys or who present their STM card will receive a 15 percent discount. There will also be giveaways and raffle prizes. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7835 twitter: @erlendssontbo