Last month in Las Vegas, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager, Steve Yzerman was awarded the 2015 NHL GM of the Year. This announcement was thought to be well deserved, especially in the Tampa Bay area.
Looking back at the incredibly productive year by Yzerman, he bolstered his roster through free agency with the likes of Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and Brenden Morrow. He also traded for key defensive players such as Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn.
Sure a GM can change the makeup of his team quickly with free agents or through trade but the best GMs in the business are usually among the best in drafting the bulk of their rosters.
Almost doubling Glen Sather, who came in second in the voting (80 points to 49), Yzerman ran away with this prestigious award. Knowing that the free agents he signed and the players he traded for were integral in the Lightning success, I wanted to review the brief history of the Yzerman era drafts for Tampa.
Excluding the last two years simply because players have a developmental curve, let’s look at the drafts from 2010 through 2013 to see exactly how the Lightning GM fared.
The very first pick for Yzerman as the Lightning GM was the number six pick in the 2010 draft. With that selection, Brett Connolly was taken. Traded to the Boston Bruins at the March trading deadline for two second round draft picks, which allowed Yzerman to package one of those picks along with Radko Gudas to Philadelphia for the aforementioned Coburn.
Connolly never lived up to the potential he showed in the juniors as a scorer. As a point per game producer in the WHL, Connolly did not come close to that in the NHL and the team eventually gave up on him leading to the trade. In Connolly’s defense, the team did not have any depth whatsoever and turned to Connolly much sooner than they should have and learning on the fly in the NHL can be harmful to the development of any young prospect.
That said, here are some of the NHL players selected after Connolly in the first round in 2010: Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nick Bjustad, Jaden Schwartz, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. All of these players have shown to be much more prolific NHL scorers than Connolly.
In the third round, the Lightning had two picks (#63 and #66). Chosen were Brock Beukeboom and Radko Gudas. Beukeboom has never played a single NHL game and Gudas is currently in Philly playing for the Flyers. These two are a wash for Yzerman since Buekeboom hasn’t seen the show and Gudas has played more NHL games than any player picked after him in both the third and fourth rounds.
In rounds four through seven, Yzerman made four selections and none of those four players ever played a game in the NHL. A sampling of the players that the Lightning passed on is: Petr Mrazek, Brendan Gallagher, and Mark Stone.
In his first draft, I would have to give Yzerman a grade of a C+. Yes, Gudas was definitely a serviceable defenseman and both he and Connolly led to the team acquiring Braydon Coburn for the recent playoff push but looking at some of the names that the team could have had and that drops the grade down. Additionally, not one player from this entire draft is still with the team.
If 2010 was a bust, then 2011 was the boom. In this draft, Yzerman selected Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov, Adam Wilcox, Matthew Peca, and Ondrej Palat. Of these six players, four have seen ice time with the Lightning, totaling 378 NHL games. In fact, of the nine NHL teams that saw at least four of their 2011 draftees play in the NHL, only the players selected by Chicago and Edmonton have more NHL games from their 2011 draft than the Tampa players.
Chicago’s 2011 draft should be considered the best so far by any NHL team that year. Playing a grand total of 499 NHL games, led by Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw who both have played over 200. Edmonton’s 2011 selections have totaled 411 NHL games, but 258 have been played by the number one pick in the entire draft that year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The other four Oilers who have seen NHL playing time are Tobias Rieder, David Musil and Oscar Klefbom.
When you add the fact that after the draft, the Lightning and Yzerman signed undrafted Tyler Johnson in 2011, then anyone would have to give Yzerman a grade of an A+ for this year.
In the first round in 2012, the Lightning had two picks. At number ten, the team chose defenseman, Slater Koekkoek and with the number 19 pick, they drafted goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
No doubt that Vasy was a great pick with tremendous upside but he has only played in 16 NHL games. He appears to be the heir apparent between the pipes for the Lightning. Koekkoek on the other hand was up last season for a three game cup of coffee with Tampa when injuries depleted their blue liners.
Koekkoek vindicated himself in that small sample but a quick look at some of the players picked between him and Vasilevskiy may point to what could have been for the Bolts. Filip Forsberg, Zemgus Girgensons, Tomas Hertl and Teuvo Teravainen were all chosen in this group after Koekkoek and before Vasy.
In the subsequent rounds in 2012, the Lightning chose six players with Cedric Paquette being the only player seeing any NHL ice time. Some of the other players should be on the roster of the Syracuse Crunch this season. The AHL affiliate of the Lightning should see Dylan Blujus and Tanner Richard during the season.
Aside from Anaheim’s goalie, Frederik Andersen chosen in round three, there were no players in the bottom half of this draft with any significant NHL playing time other than Paquette.
Yzerman’s grade for this draft should be a B- with the upside potential of some of the younger players that will play for the Crunch in Syracuse this year and could eventually see time in Tampa.
This draft is an enigma for the Lightning. With the number three overall pick, Yzerman selected Jonathan Drouin. Bypassing the likes of Seth Jones, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm. Many people in the NHL see the unbelievable offensive potential possessed by Drouin. Yet, he is still prone to mental lapses on the defensive side which has led to his limited playing time. Take a look at the amazing skills Drouin has which once made consistent will turn him into a genuine NHL star.
The additional 2013 picks should sway the overall grade to a big plus. Adam Erne selected in the second round should play in Syracuse this year and impressed in the recent development camp. Krister Gudlevskis actually played a playoff game in 2014 subbing for Anders Lindback in the painful sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. Guddy is penciled in as the number one goalie for Syracuse this year.
Overall grade for this draft is a C+ but with some upside, mainly on Drouin’s shoulders to get this to a solid B.
So there you have it. Given the fact that the draft beyond the first few picks is largely a crap shoot, Yzerman has fared pretty well early in his tenure with Tampa. It also contributed to the GM of the Year award. This season will directly affect the perception of the 2013 draft and could begin to impact those of the 2014 draft. the guess here is that Yzerman will continue to impress the Tampa fan base as well as his peers throughout the NHL.