We are 12 days away from the 2014 NHL Draft. Counting down to the draft, the Hockey Wilderness staff will be rotating a pick per day, drafting the entire first round. Today, we're on pick 19, where Tampa Bay is on the clock.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are quietly one of the scariest young teams in the league. Steven Stamkos is only 24, and he's a Top-10 player in the league, a lock for 50 goals. Victor Hedman broke out this season, emerging as one of the best defensemen in the league. He's 23. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, J. T. Brown, Nikita Kucherov, and Mark Barberio all contributed in big roles for the team. Both their goalies are under 27. So, just at the NHL level, they have two franchise cornerstones, and a glut of young talent capable of filling roles.
So, let's look at their prospects. Jonathan Drouin was drafted last year, and he may be the best prospect in hockey. It's a testament to how well off the Lightning are that he wasn't playing for them this season. It's not unreasonable to think the offensive wizard could have given an 18-year-old or two a run for their money in the Calder race.
But beyond that? In the NHL Vladislav Namestnikov and Brett Connolly had near point-per-game seasons at Syracuse. Adam Erne and Slater Koekkoek both had fantastic seasons in Juniors. These are all players that could be extremely productive regulars in the NHL.
Throw in the fact that the Lightning have not only this pick, but the 28th pick as well, and the Lightning are clearly a team that has an embarrassment of riches.
The Pick: Julius Honka; D; Swift Current Broncos, WHL
I wanted to either land a big centerman for the Lightning, or a defenseman. Ivan Barbashev was considered here, but it's not entirely clear what his position was. Also, the Lightning are absolutely loaded throughout their system, especially with forwards.
So, the Tampa Bay Lightning will use the 19th pick to select Julius Honka from the Swift Current Broncos.
Julius Honka is a diminutive defenseman, measuring only 5'11, 178 lbs. He also doesn't have a very physical game. People may over-look him for that, and there's a decent amount of risk with Honka.
But, remember, not only do the Lightning have a ton of prospects, as well as another pick later this round. The Lightning can take a chance on Honka.
And there's good reason to do just that. Honka's favorite player is Erik Karlsson, and while Karlssons don't grow on trees, Honka shows that kind of promise. He's a very good skater who moves the puck extremely well. Not only does this allow him to break out of his own zone, but he also has the offensive skills to take the fullest advantage of this. This is especially true on the power play, as his highlight reel is full of plays where he used his good shot from the point to not only score, but create rebound opportunities for his teammates.
Would He Fit with the Wild?
Talent is talent, and no one should be upset if the Wild scooped up Honka at 18, but there are things that make me think the Wild will go in another direction. The Wild have been looking to infuse more size in the defensemen they draft, and drafting Honka would go in the opposite of that trend.
When you look at the prospect pool, defensemen are the Wild's strength. Gustav Olofsson, Christian Folin, and Mathew Dumba are all getting close to the NHL, and Dumba brings a lot of the offensive game Honka brings, with a more physical game. The Wild would be doing more to fill a system need by drafting someone like an Ivan Barbashev or a Josh Ho-Sang at 18.
On the other hand, the JHonka is a power play specialist, and if there's anything the Wild could use more of, it's Power Play Goals. Drafting the Finnish blue-liner could lead to more... FINNISHING... on the Wild's Power Play a few years down the road. The Wild would be taking a risk with Honka, but you can dream on him being a Karlsson-type talent if everything works out.