The 2014 NHL Entry Draft is 3 days away and the Wild are looking to find that next NHL star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a daily mock draft. We are at pick number 28 today.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have had arguably the best drafts in the NHL in recent years. Their young players are looking destined to be excellent players, and they are climbing the standings quickly. They still have some needs, however, and they can meet one of those needs in their 28th pick: Conner Bleackley, of the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.
Bleackley is a 6'1'' 196-pound centerman. At only 18 years old, Conner promises to be a good-sized player, which is something the Lightning could use; while talented, their players lack a bit of size.
This is not a trade-off, however. Elite Prospects describes him as: "a nice blend of size, skill and speed. He's strong and balanced on his skates, uses his size to his advantage and has a very good shot with his quick release. He finds lanes and soft zones well and has quick hands." In other words: Bleackley is big and knows how to use his size. He is not slow and bullish, he is quick and has great hands.
What's more: it is clear that Bleackley is working to improve. He has been a 30-point scorer three times in his career already, and though he struggled his first year in Red Deer, he more than tripled his output in his second year to put up 68 points (29-39).
Hockey's Future describes Bleackley as a "Prototypical 200-foot player with good vision. A high hockey IQ forward who understands positional play. Will drive hard to the net. Leadership skills are an asset."
While he will certainly need some development, his size and well-roundedness mean that Conner could be ready to move to Tampa sooner rather than later. When he does, he will be a formidable, large center for the Lightning. His growth, productivity, and work ethic indicate he could be a brilliant producer for his team.
I mentioned above Bleackley's great hands... that is an understatement. His touch is at an elite level for someone so young, as can be seen here:
Will the Wild Draft Him?
Bleackley would be a great addition for the Wild. He could well be a second Mikko Koivu, though slightly smaller and marginally faster. Conner will almost certainly be available to the Wild at 18, though I would not think they will take him there. There are more dynamically offensive players that will be available.
That said, Bleackley's 2-way play is very good, and fits well with the Wild's play style. He would be a great addition to their center man, and in another draft may well be their pick. At this time, I would hope the Wild aim for a more offensive player, rather than another defensively responsible player.