Because the transition for most NHL draft picks can be measured easier by a calendar than a stop watch, the last three drafts are immune from this review. That said; let’s take a closer look at the drafts by the Tampa Bay Lightning in General Manager, Steve Yzerman’s first three years.
After being named Vice President and General Manager of the Lightning in 2010, Yzerman realized the team at the NHL level was short of talent and the AHL affiliate, then located in Norfolk was short on bodies. That being the case, the draft picks of his regime would have more importance for the first time executive.
One of the first hires in the Yzerman era was Al Murray, Director of Scouting. Murray is a hockey lifer, having spent over a dozen years in the Los Angeles Kings organization as Director of Amateur Scouting. He also was head scout for Hockey Canada and selected the players that went on to win the Gold Medal in both the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships.
In the first draft of the Yzerman era in Tampa, the team went heavy on the defense. Five of the eight picks were blue liners. Of all eight selections, Radko Gudas with the number 66 pick in the third round was clearly the best pick of this draft.
Despite missing numerous games the last couple of seasons, Gudas has seen more NHL action than all of the 144 players selected after him in the 2010 draft except for two. Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens and Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets have laced up their skates more than Gudas who is now plying his trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. Gudas did bring Braydon Coburn in a trade deadline swap last season.
Of the remaining seven 2010 Lightning draft picks, the biggest disappointment has to be Brock Beukeboom. When you see that young and up and coming players like Joakim Nordstrom, Teemu Pulkkinen, and John Klingberg were selected well after Buekeboom who has never played a minute in the NHL and it isn’t hard to say the pooch was screwed on this pick.
The second year of the Yzerman era was a boon for the franchise. The team acquired players like Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov and Vlad Namestnikov during the draft and signed undrafted Tyler Johnson soon after the draft. All five of these players have played significant roles in the team’s overall success the last couple of years with Palat, Kucherov and Johnson forming the Triplets Line in 2014 that helped lead the team to the brink of winning the Stanley Cup.
In the draft with so much talent, the best pick of the draft has to be Ondrej Palat. Of the 210 players selected in this draft, Palat was number 207. Four picks from being the NHL’s Mr. Irrelevant. Perhaps being selected so low fueled Palat to show 29 other teams that they made a mistake.
Taking out the top ten selections in that draft, Palat has played more NHL games than the remaining 196 players selected before him except for two. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw both selected before Palat and have both played more games than Palat.
While there isn’t an overwhelming bad draft pick in the 2011 draft for Tampa, not selecting Saad or Shaw could be viewed as a miss. Not just for the Lightning but for all the teams that missed Saad who was taken in the second round and Shaw who was chosen in the fifth round.
While the jury may still be out of the bulk of the 2012 draft, the Lightning selected C enter, Cedric Paquette in the fourth round with the 101st pick. Paquette has played more NHL games than any player selected after him. He also has seen more NHL time than anyone selected in the second or third round ahead of him except goalie, Frederic Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks.
For the Lightning the biggest disappointment in the 2012 draft has to be Nikita Gusev. Primarily because he has chosen not to bring his game to North America yet, Gusev is a huge question mark from this draft. His best friend, Nikita Kucherov plays for the team that does not shy away from Eastern European players.
In addition to Kucherov, Nesterov, Namestnikov and Andrei Vasilevskiy, Gusev could feel right at home playing for the Lightning, he could even choose to live in St. Petersburg. Maybe Gusev will decide soon to come to this continent to show his wares. Until such time, he is the disappointment of this draft.