The last full week of June was a busy one for Steve Yzerman, General Manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yzerman was the 2014-15 winner of the NHL General Manager of the Year Award, presented during the 2015 NHL Awards last Wednesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. The voting for this award was conducted among the 30 Club General Managers and a panel of NHL Executives, print and broadcast media at the conclusion of the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I think again it’s recognition not so much of me, but of our organization. A lot of people go into putting a team together – through the draft, through any trades and free agency, the people that you hire. I’m proud of what we have accomplished today, but obviously our ultimate goal is winning the Stanley Cup,” a humbled Steve Yzerman said, post – NHL General Manager of the Year Award win.
Yzerman has most notably been credited with rebuilding a roster that returned to the final four with just two player holdovers (Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman) from the 2011 squad, his first season in charge. The team has been bolstered with key acquisitions through the draft, via free agency and trades. The Lightning set franchise records with 50 wins and 108 points during the regular season and led the League with 262 goals and 32 home wins.
“The expectation is to win. As an NHL team you are competing with 29 other teams for the same group of players. You’re competing at the amateur draft. You’re competing on July 1. You’re competing at the trade deadline. You’re all competing for the same players and you’ve got limited resources to do it. So, it’s really difficult, but it’s a great challenge and really exciting.”
Yzerman also credited the American Hockey League, namely Tampa Bay Lightning’s affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, for contributing to the success of player development. “For us we are trying to run a really good program in Syracuse. We have a really great partner in Howard Dolgon (President of the Syracuse Crunch). We are trying to give our young guys down there every opportunity to become NHL players. We have a tremendous (head) coach in Rob Zettler, good strength coaches – we work hard on our schedule, and our locker room and our gym facility.”
“The players come in–19-, 20-year-olds come in, kids come over from Europe and they are surprised as they get in, the majority of these players are one step away from the NHL, it’s hard for them. For a lot of the younger guys, playing down there for 1-2-3 years–I look at one of our first round picks, Slater Koekkoek from 2012, finished his first full year getting a ton of ice time. Where he started to where he finished, he is playing 20+ minutes a game, in all situations. His goal is to play in the NHL and he is going to do everything that he can. He is in a great league and in a great environment to develop and to let his play develop.”
Being a General Manager of an NHL team combines having a clear philosophy, working hard at scouting and player development and a little bit of luck. Lightning didn’t strike in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft, hosted by the Florida Panthers and held at BB&T Center. Put on the clock for the 28th pick, a trade was made with the New York Islanders for two picks in later rounds. Over chants of “let’s go Lightning”, the Lightning finally took to the stage in the second round with the 33rd overall pick of Mitchell Stevens, a center who last played for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. The rest of Tampa Bay Lightning’s draft choices played out as follows:
Second Round – No. 44 – Matt Spencer – D – Peterborough Petes of the OHL
Third Round – No. 64 – Dennis Yan – LW – Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL
Third Round – No. 72 – Anthony Cirelli – C – Oshawa Generals of the OHL
Fourth Round – No. 118 – Jonne Tammela – RW – KalPa of Liiga (Finland)
Fourth Round – No. 120 – Mathieu Joseph – RW – Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL
Fifth Round – No. 150 – Ryan Zuhlsdorf – D – Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL
Sixth Round – No. 153 – Kristian Oldham – G – Omaha Lancers of the USHL
Sixth Round – No. 180 – Bokondji Imama – LW – Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL
Overall Yzerman is happy with the outcome of the draft, “time will tell if they develop into NHL’ers, but today we walk out optimistic.” Although none of this year’s picks are eligible for the American Hockey League due to age for the upcoming season, the Lightning head into development camp that starts this week with six new forwards, two new defensemen and a new goalie.