Al Murray Hopes To Find Next Elite Player For Lightning

Sunday will be a big day for the Tampa Bay Lighting, as they are scheduled to head to the podium with the third pick in the NHL entry draft. The man who will play a key role in running the Lightning’s draft, director of amateur scouting Al Murray, talked with SportsTalkFlorida about the draft, and the Lightning’s approach with the top pick.

“I think every draft has its own personality,” Murray said. “As far as quality, this one seems pretty high in quality. It has a real solid top 10-to-12 players. People have talked about a big three or a big four but I think its deeper than that even with real quality guys at the top that may challenge for spots on teams next year. Not that anyone has to play, there is no superstar that would be losing or wasting their time back in junior or college or Europe, but there are some very good players that will challenge for spots and then there is another 30 or so that will be very good prospects. I think it’s a deep draft right through the first two rounds and then like most drafts there will be some later players that will develop as well.”

So much has been made of the big three of forwards Nathan MacKinnion and Jonathan Drouin, and defenseman Seth Jones. But history has shown us that just because someone is highly rated before the draft, there is no guarantee that they will turn into a star player. And that is the challenge for Murray and his staff as they head into this weekend.

“I think it’s like any draft,” Murray said. “Just because there is a top three, there is often times guys that are very highly rated that don’t end up making it. That is the challenge of it. Not everybody, even if a guy is rated number one, if you go back though the history of it, there are some that are superstars and there are some that are just average players . You have to do your homework, you have to make sure you know what your organization wants and try to get the players in the right order and find out as much information as you can about them. It’s the same challenge every year.”

One of the big stories that has developed over the past ten days is the Colorado Avalanche going public with what they plan to do with the top pick in the draft. It has led to debates all around hockey as to whether or not it is a smoke screen, or if they legitimately plan to draft Mackinnon with their top pick. Whatever they end up doing may have a direct impact on what the Lightning are able to do with their top pick. So has the Colorado comments changed how the Lightning have prepared for their top pick?

“No, not at all,” Murray said. “We’ve got our list. We’ve put them in the order that we believe they have the best opportunity to become players and we have no control over who the first two picks are. We will just have to wait and see who the first two picks wind up being and we will certainly be ready to react and pick the guy on our list whether it’s our first player, second player or third player and we will be very happy because I know the players at the top are really elite prospects.”

Even with the draft quickly approaching, the Lightning may not have a final list of how they rate the prospects until Sunday morning. The team is leaving open the possibility of making changes in their final meetings over the next couple of days.

“It’s never completed until you hit the print button on Sunday morning,” Murray said. “We have a couple more days of meetings to talk about the players again and we will be ready when the pick comes along. Whether it’s absolutely finalized now or whether we make some more changes, we will discuss that over the next couple days.”

While Murray declined to discuss specific players, the Lightning have almost completely finished meeting with the prospects, and may only have a couple more last minute meetings with players this weekend as the draft approaches.

“Pretty much all the meetings [with prospect] have been done,” Murray said. “If we felt in our discussions over the next couple days that we needed to see somebody else one more time, chat with them about something, we would do that. Our area people met with the players during the season. Myself and Darryl Plandowski, along with Steve Yzerman and Pat Verbeek met with a number of guys up at the combine. With those meetings, with the background information we have been able to acquire on the players, we feel pretty set. But every year there is another player or two that we want to talk to again and we will decide that over the next couple of days.”

Whoever the Lightning end up taking with the top pick, expect them to have the chance to make an immediate impact at training camp, and to potentially make the team right out of camp.

“Any of the players in the top half dozen on our list maybe as far as ten would have a chance to come in and compete for an NHL spot based on what we have seen,” Murray said. “Whether any of them earn that, that would be up to those players and how they have their training camp. We’ve got a management that has a philosophy of not rushing anybody, but when players are ready, you don’t hold them back. It’s always up to the player to earn the spot. Whoever we pick will likely be at training camp with a chance, and we will see if he is ready or not.”