Though the NHL entry draft is more than a month away, the Tampa Bay Lightning scouting staff will begin the process of finalizing its list of the top available players.
This week, Lightning director of scouting Al Murray and director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski will meet with the team’s regional scouts to compile a list of the top 40 or so prospects they hope to add.
But the focus for many will be what Tampa Bay does with the third overall pick.
No matter how things pan out with the first two picks – Colorado holds the first pick and Florida the second – the Lightning will be able to add a player capable of skating his way onto Tampa Bay’s roster as soon as next season, Murray said.
“There has been talk for a while about the strength of this draft, and I don’t think it’s been exaggerated,’’ Murray said. “There are probably five ‘A’ players, and I know everybody talks about the big three, but you could add (two more) to that group.’’
While American defenseman Seth Jones seems a lock to go first overall to the Colorado Avalanche – Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, began playing hockey in Denver – Tampa Bay figures to get a forward from the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Alexsander Barkov or Valeri Nichushkin.
Any one of those players, according to Murray, figures to be a top-end addition to the organization capable of making a big impact.
“We feel pretty good,’’ Murray said. “I think this year at three gives you lots of opportunity that you might get the No. 1 player on your list because everybody sees it a little differently. …There is a legitimate chance we could get the No. 1 guy on our overall list at three, which gives (general manager) Steve (Yzerman) the flexibility to look at moving back or moving it for a player.
“I think anybody in the top five has a prospect that is very close to playing in the NHL and playing at a high level, so that’s a very valuable pick this year. And I think teams will look at it that way. So, I think it gives us a lot of opportunity this year because the asset is that good.’’
Vasilevskiy update The Lightning continues to hold out hope that goaltender Andrei Vasilveskiy, the 19th overall selection in last year’s draft, will play in North America next season, Murray said.
While Vasilevskiy has one year left on his contract with Ufa in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League, he holds a buy-out clause in the deal, according to Murray. Vasilevskiy’s junior rights are owned by Mississauga, but those rights could be relinquished, traded or retained. Vasilevskiy could also play next season for Tampa Bay’s American Hockey League affiliate, Syracuse.