One of the things that really struck me about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s draft strategy this past year was their departure from a “skill first” attitude and their implementation of a “draft intangibles” policy. Maybe it was a coincidence, but there was a definite theme going on when the Bolts made their selections. That whole ‘tougher to play against’ mantra appeared to play a big role whenever Steve Yzerman made a pick.
In the past, the Lightning picked and signed guys with offensive potential who were passed over for whatever reason. “Ondrej Palat only picked up points because he was playing with Sean Couturier,” they said. “Nikita Kucherov isn’t committed to defense,” they said. “Tyler Johnson is too small to make it,” they said. “Anthony DeAngelo has a bad attitude,” they said. The list goes on and on. And, yet, these guys are all either excellent NHL players or blue-chip prospects.
It just goes to show you that, sometimes, picking up the guys who scored the most in Junior is a winning strategy. You can teach a guy to pick the puck out of a corner. You can teach a guy defensive structure. What you can’t teach is skill. Some guys have it, while others don’t. The Lightning’s success during the past two seasons can largely be attributed to the fact that this management group has prioritized skill over almost everything else.
And that’s why I was so stunned by the team’s strategy at the 2015 draft. You can read more of my thoughts on that right here
The reason I bring this up now is because we have just been served another big reminder that drafting skill can (and often does) pay off. Brayden Point, the Lightning’s third round pick (79th overall) from the 2014 draft, put on an absolute show at the World Junior “Summer Showcase” event. From Today’s Slapshot
Point made quite an impact. While all eyes were on recent top-five draft picks Dylan Strome and Mitchell Marner, it was Point who reigned as the offensive king, racking up eight points (three goals, five assists) in only two games. His total was twice as much as the next highest scorer at the camp, and his three goals tied Strome for the most of any participant as well — and Point played one less game than Strome.
Passed over in the draft simply because he was too small, and despite the fact that he put up 91 points in 72 games during his draft season in the Western Hockey League, Point had yet another successful year with his Moose Jaw squad in 2014-15. And, as the quote linked above notes, his performance at the pre-WJHC tournament was no less impressive.
I’m not trying to suggest that one data point (pun intended) means that drafting skill is always more effective, but the Lightning’s recent track record is fairly clear. When the team drafts skill, even in the face of other worries, it has paid off more often than not. It’s looking more and more like Brayden Point might be the next unheralded Tampa gem.
As always, thanks for reading.
Michael Stuart has been the Tampa Bay Lightning writer for HockeyBuzz since 2012. Visit his archive to read more or follow him on Twitter.