The Tampa Bay Lightning have risen as one of the top teams in the NHL in the past few years and are considered to be Stanley Cup contenders by many. A lot of their success comes from drafting so well. Most of the players, especially forwards, that you see on Tampa’s roster have all been drafted and developed to play important roles in building a Stanley Cup team.
However, despite the Lightning’s successful drafting in recent years, most of their success has come after the first round. Sure, they hit the jackpot drafting their core players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman at the top of the 2008 and 2009 drafts, but haven’t really gotten much from first round picks otherwise. Since 2000, most of the Lightning’s first round picks have hardly played in the NHL, and that could be a big reason why it took them so long to find success again since their 2004 Stanley Cup Championship.
This list takes a look at the could have’s and would have’s of the Lightning’s last 15 first round selections and gives you an idea of how much better this team could actually be today. With the exception of just a few picks, there are many times where the Lightning failed to pounce on opportunities to make their team better. Here is a re-draft of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s last 15 first round picks.
15. 2000 – Henrik Lundqvist
Original Pick: Nikita Alexeev
Henrik Lundqvist has been the best player from his draft year no questions asked. A former Vezina Trophy winner in 2011-12, and 3-time NHL All-Star, “The King” would have been the right pick for any team in the 2000 NHL Draft.
The Lightning who struggled most notably with goal-tending after they won their first Stanley Cup in 2003-04, could have avoided their struggles with the All-Star goaltender in their system. Lundqvist finished with 30 wins in 53 appearances in his 2005-06 rookie season, with a .922 save percentage, and 2.24 goals-against average and was a consideration for the Vezina and Calder trophies. Overall, “The King” has a solid .920 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average in his career and his still playing with the team that drafted him, the New York Rangers.
As for Alexeev, he failed to live up to his draft ranking and was constantly shifting between the Lightning’s NHL roster and AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons. He played three seasons with the Lightning and finished the 2006-07 season with the Chicago Blackhawks whom he was traded to at the trade deadline before leaving for the KHL. Alexeev finished his NHL career with 37 points in 159 games.
14. 2001 – Patrick Sharp
Original Pick: Alexander Svitov
Patrick Sharp went missed by many before finally being selected 95th overall in the 2001 draft. Although he took a little while to get his career going, it was a trade from Philadelphia to Chicago duringthe 2005-06 season that ignited Sharp’s career. The three-time Stanley Cup winner turned into a legitimate 30+ goal scorer in the prime of his career.
The Manitoba native would have definitely panned out better for the Bolts than Svitov, who couldn’t even last two seasons in Tampa before being traded to Columbus in 2003-04. Sharp’s goal scoring abilities could have made him a long-time offensive threat in Tampa and given the Lightning an extra offensive boost when needed. Instead, Sharp is now applying his craft down in Dallas as a member of the Stars.
13. 2004 – Alexander Edler
Original Pick: Andy Rogers
The Lightning went with another disappointing selection in the first round of the 2004 draft. They chose defense-man Andy Rogers who turned out to be a hit and miss as he played zero games in the NHL. Assuming the Lightning would like to re-select a different defense-man, Alex Edler would be the best guy available.
Edler is known for his big slap shot from the point and his offensive contributions. It didn’t take long for the Swedish defender to prove himself to be a legitimate top four defender on the Canucks. His career high in points came in the 2011-12 season, where he recorded 49 points. Edler would have easily slid in perfectly to the Lightning’s roster who were in need of defense after they won their Stanley Cup in 2004.
12. 2005 – Kris Letang
Original Pick: Vladimir Mihalik
With the Lightning selecting another defense-man 30th overall a year later, it’s tough to figure out how they missed out on Kris Letang. Vladimir Mihalik played in only 15 games in the NHL in two seasons with the Lightning. He found himself mostly playing in the AHL until leaving for the KHL after the 2010-11 season. The Bolts failed to draft an NHL caliber defense-man at 30th overall for the second straight year.
Another offensively-gifted defense-man, Letang put up 68 points in 60 games during his final year of junior hockey for the Val-D’Or Foreurs. He has transmitted his offensive game to the NHL where he is one of the most dominant scorers from the blue line in the game today.
Letang currently remains with the team that drafted him 62nd overall in 2005, the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he has won two Stanley Cups and is a three-time NHL All-Star. It’s fair to say that if the Lightning were able to add Letang to their blue line, he would have changed their team drastically.
11. 2006 – Claude Giroux
Original Pick: Riku Helenius
Tampa Bay chose to go with a goaltender in the 2006 first round, but since they have Lundqvist already in this re-draft, picking another goalie wouldn’t be necessary. Instead, the Lightning selects Claude Giroux, a center from the Gatineau Olympiques.
Giroux is a gifted center with great play-making abilities and is excellent in the face-off circle. He would be the right fit for the Lightning up front for various reasons. His play-making skills would help the Lightning score more goals and he would also likely get along with French Canadians Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier who were the Lightning’s top forwards at the time and could act as good mentors.
Giroux is currently the captain of the team that drafted him 22nd in 2006, the Philadelphia Flyers and has developed into the Flyers’ franchise center. The 28 year old has 550 points in 614 games in his career so far.
10. 2008 – Steven Stamkos
Original Pick: Steven Stamkos
I don’t think there is any question that the Lightning are completely satisfied with how former first overall pick Steven Stamkos has turned out. The Lightning captain turned into a lethal sniper quickly, scoring 51 goals in his second NHL season, and winning the Rocket Richard Trophy after only putting up 46 points in his rookie season.
Stamkos is also the last player to score 60 goals in a season, doing so in 2011-12, which is the only other time he’s won the league’s goal scoring title. He’s played a large role in the Lightning’s recent success and has proven his loyalty to the team after taking less money to stay in Tampa this past off season. Stamkos has turned out to be a great player and leader for the Lighting, they are just hoping that injuries don’t jeopardize the rest of his career.
9. 2009 – Victor Hedman
Original Pick: Victor Hedman
After the franchise center, came the franchise defense-man named Victor Hedman. The big Swedish defense-man has blossomed into one of the toughest defenders to play against in the NHL these days. His long reach and great skating makes him such a tough player to beat on any part of the ice.
Although many argue that Stamkos is the best player on the Lightning, I truly believe that Victor Hedman is their most important piece. The Lightning are a much deeper team on offense and would have a tough time being Stanley Cup contenders without a number one defense-man like Hedman. If you add a potentially drafted Kris Letang and Alex Edler to the Bolts’ roster with the addition of Hedman, you’ve got yourself one of the most dominant defense cores in the league.
8. 2009 – Ryan O’Reilly
Original Pick: Carter Ashton
The Lightning used their second first round pick to select Carter Ashton 29th overall. Ashton didn’t play in any games for the Lightning, and only played in 54 NHL Games after being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. At number 29 in the draft, there were many better forwards to choose from such as Jakob Silfverberg, Tomas Tatar, Reilly Smith, and Ryan O’Reilly who is probably the best choice out of all.
O’Reilly is a big center who can also be moved to the wing. His combination of aggressiveness and offensive skill is what makes him a great pick for the Lightning. He’s a solid two-way center and a great penalty killer which is valuable to any team. It’s not easy to find these qualities in a player.
7. 2010 – Vladimir Tarasenko
Original Pick: Brett Connolly
It’s pretty obvious that the Lightning missed out big time on the best right winger in the 2010 draft. They decided to go with Brett Connolly, which didn’t work out at all as Connolly struggled to stay with the Lightning in the NHL and was often sent down to play for their AHL affiliate Syracuse. Connolly was finally traded to Boston in 2015 and currently plays for the Washington Capitals. You can also see where the B.C native ranks in our “Top 25 Worst NHLers Since the 2004-05 Lockout” here.
Tarasenko has turned out to be a 40 goal scorer for the St.Louis Blues and will be in contention for the league’s scoring title for many years to come. He’s developed into one of the most dangerous snipers in the NHL, and one can only imagine what Tampa’s team would look like having him playing alongside Steven Stamkos and company.
6. 2011 – Johnny Gaudreau
Original Pick: Vladislav Namestnikov
The 2011 draft was a huge success for the Lightning after drafting guys like Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Nesterov. The problem is, these guys all came after the first round. Namestnikov does, however, currently play for the Lightning, but is yet to find a permanent role on the team as he’s constantly been shuffled around the lineup. Although Namestnikov is not a terrible choice, Johnny Gaudreau is just much, much better.
Gaudreau could have been the future Martin St.Louis for the Bolts as he resembles the former Lightning captain in size and play-making abilities. Gaudreau’s slick hands has caused teams so many problems and he’s proven to be the Flames most important piece, which makes you wonder how on Earth he slid all the way to the fourth round. Watching him set up Stamkos for one-timers would have been fun to watch.
5. 2012 – Shayne Gostisbehere
Original Pick: Slater Koekkoek
Shayne Gostisbehere really came out of nowhere last season, emerging as one of the top rookies of the 2015-16 NHL season with 46 points in 64 games. Gostisbehere is clearly more NHL ready than Koekkoek as he’s already logging the big minutes in Philly and would most certainly find himself in the Lightning’s top four defense core. Koekkoek meanwhile, doesn’t have a permanent spot on Tampa’s roster just yet.
There would still be a prolific scorer like Filip Forsberg available to the Lightning at this point in the draft. However, the Bolts had gone with forwards in their previous first round picks, and it would be more wise to add a defense-man to beef up their back-end, especially if they already had draftedhighly-talented forwards like Gaudreau and Tarasenko with those picks.
4. 2012 – Andrei Vasilevskiy
Original Pick: Andrei Vasilevskiy
The Lightning did well to add a goaltender with tremendous potential in Andrei Vasilevskiy with their other first round pick in 2012. If they had gone with Lundqvist back in 2000, Vasy would be just about ready to take over the 34 year old “King’s” reign, just like he is doing with Ben Bishop’s job in Tampa Bay right now.
Vasilevskiy has shown early signs that he will be ready to take over as the number one net minder for Tampa Bay within the next year. The 22 year old has pretty good numbers for the Lightning this season with a .914 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average, and his numbers will only get better with his experience.
The Lightning could have also opted for other goaltenders such as Matt Murray and Frederik Andersen who were both drafted in the third round and have turned out to be number one goaltenders today as well.
3. 2013 – Seth Jones
Original Pick: Jonathan Drouin
I think about a year ago, every Lightning fan out there would have told you that drafting Jonathan Drouin third overall over Seth Jones was a big mistake. After the issues that were brought up with Drouin requesting to be traded, it looked like the Lightning really did make a terrible mistake by passing on Seth Jones in 2013. Well, both Drouin and the Lightning settled their conflict after the trade deadline when the Quebec native wasn’t traded by Steve Yzerman, and Drouin turned out to be a huge factor in the Lightning’s 2016 playoff run, putting up 14 points in 17 games.
Despite Drouin remaining with the team and now starting to produce at the rate that was expected of him when he was drafted, I still truly believe that Seth Jones would have been a better choice for Tampa. The Lightning could use him to solidify their lacking defense and he would probably be considered as one of the top pairings in the league today playing alongside Victor Hedman.
2. 2014 – Robby Fabbri
Original Pick: Anthony DeAngelo
The 2014 draft was a weak year for defensemen as only five of the top 30 picks were defenders, the last one of them being Anthony DeAngelo at number 19. With the Lightning potentially getting Jones and Gostisbehere in the previous two drafts, I would go with a forward as they are clearly the strongest position in this draft year.
There’s a lot to like about Robby Fabbri’s game and his determination is what convinces me that he’d be the right pick for Tampa here. He’s only been getting better for the St.Louis Blues lately and could potentially become a top line forward for them in the near future.
Some might argue that David Pastrnak, who went just four picks after Fabbri, would be a better choice over the Mississauga, Ontario native, but Fabbri’s quickness and energy gives him more potential to be an impact player in the future and matches the Lightning’s game.
1. 2016 – Brett Howden
Original Pick: Brett Howden
While it might still be too early to fully judge the Lightning’s most recent first round pick, it’s been so far so good for Brett Howden potential-wise. The recently drafted forward is currently still playing in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors where he has 35 points in 24 games. Sportsnet offers a great description of Howden’s game, including a comparison to Ryan Kesler, which gives the Lightning something good to look forward to.
Howden looks like he’ll get a crack at the NHL soon enough if he keeps up this pace. While the Lightning are currently one of the deepest teams offensively in the NHL, they’ve run into injury troubles which have forced them to make many call-ups, especially this season. An opportunity like this may come knocking for Howden in the future as he’s recently signed an entry-level deal with the Lightning.