The 2012 NHL Draft is one that the Tampa Bay Lightning should feel great about. Although many of the picks did not pan out, the importance of adding Andrei Vasilevskiy and Cedric Paquette to the organization cannot be overstated. Lightning fans did not know it at the time, but both players would go on to play key roles in the Lightning’s 2019-20 Stanley Cup win. Let’s take a look at each draft pick and where they are now.
Round 1, 10th Overall: Slater Koekkoek
Arguably one of the most disappointing draft picks during the Steve Yzerman era, Koekkoek never quite lived up to his potential with the Lightning. Seven defensemen were selected before Koekkoek, more than anyone expected that early in the draft. This left Yzerman in a difficult situation but picking Koekkoek, who was plagued by a nagging shoulder injury, was an unnecessary reach by the general manager. Lightning fans will be forever left with the “what ifs” of this pick knowing that several top talent players followed the pick of Koekkoek, including Filip Forsberg.
Koekkoek spent much of his time with the Lightning in the AHL, even helping the Syracuse Crunch to an Eastern Conference Championship in 2017. In five seasons with the organization, he played just 85 games and tallied 14 points at the NHL level. Unable to break into the starting lineup permanently, he was given a fresh start when he was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan 11, 2019. After playing 64 games with the Blackhawks during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Koekkoek inked a one-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers this offseason.
Round 1, 19th Overall: Andrei Vasilevskiy
It is safe to say that selecting Vasilevskiy was one of general manager Steve Yzerman’s best draft picks during his time with the Lightning. At pick 19, “Vasi” was the best goaltender available in the draft. In what was a tumultuous time for the franchise, he was a beacon of hope for the future.
After playing two seasons in Russia, predominantly the KHL, Vasilevskiy made his debut with the Lightning organization during the 2014-15 season. He split time between the Crunch and the Lightning, playing 25 games and 16 games, respectively. He split time between the clubs again the following season, but spent more time in Tampa, skating in 24 games at the NHL level.
Ultimately, the departure of Ben Bishop paved the way for Vasilevskiy to take over as the franchise’s starting netminder. He has been nothing short of dominant ever since. For example, he played 35 games in a row for the Lightning from Mar. 8, 2020, to Feb. 8, 2021. During that time he posted a 25-9-1 record, a .929 save percentage, and played every minute, a sum of 2,309.
Vasilevskiy is the franchise leader in games played and wins by a goaltender. The “Big Cat” has become one of the best netminders in the world, accumulating accolades such as the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy and, of course, engraving his name on the Stanley Cup. Fortunately for the Lightning, his contract will keep him with the team through the 2027-28 season.
Round 2, 40th Overall: Dylan Blujus
Blujus is another defenseman that did not quite pan out for the Lightning. Before making his professional debut, he had a successful, four-season stint in the OHL, notching 119 in 256 games with the North Bay Battalion. In his rookie season, also his most productive season, he tallied 22 points in 67 games in Syracuse. He played three seasons with the Crunch, recording 49 points in 151 games with the club.
After the 2016-17 season, the Lightning did not tender a qualifying offer for the 6-foot 3-inch blue liner and he became a free agent. The Buffalo, New York native went on to play 123 games for the Utica Comets over the next three seasons before signing a one-year deal with the Rochester Americans for the 2020-21 season. The 27-year-old defenseman has yet to see action in the NHL.
Round 2, 53rd Overall: Brian Hart
Brian Hart played three seasons at Harvard University before making his professional debut in the AHL during the 2015-16 season. He was unable to maintain a full-time roster spot with the Crunch, playing many games in the ECHL, too. In total, he played 58 games in the AHL and 69 games in the ECHL during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
With one year left on his entry-level deal, the Lightning decided to release Hart. Following his release, he played two seasons in the EIHL. Most recently, he played in the ECHL for the Maine Mariners during the 2019-20 season. With names like Chris Tierney, 55th overall, and Jordan Martinook, 58th overall, coming after Hart, this is another pick the Lightning would have liked to take a mulligan on.
Round 3, 71st Overall: Tanner Richard
Richard was passed on in his draft year, 2011, but the Lightning gave him a chance in his second year of eligibility. He caught their attention by playing well in the OHL, recording 48 points in 43 games for the Guelph Storm during the 2011-12 season. The following season, Richard played 52 games, scoring 11 goals and 51 assists. He also made his professional debut, featuring in eight games for the Crunch.
Richard played 253 games for the Crunch over the next four seasons. During the 2016-17 season, the Lightning got bit by the injury bug and he finally made his NHL debut. He played a total of three games at the top level but did not record a point.
Although he once looked like a candidate to replace Brian Boyle on the fourth line, Richard fell out of favor with the organization by the end of the season. He was even a healthy scratch during the AHL playoffs. He ultimately decided to head back home to Switzerland and is currently in his fourth season with Genève-Servette HC.
Round 4, 101st Overall: Cedric Paquette
The Lightning hit a home run by picking Paquette in the fourth round. No, he wasn’t a flashy player nor could he be found on the scoresheet consistently, but he had a major impact on the ice. After the draft, he spent 2012-13 with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada “A” in the QMJHL and made his professional debut with the Crunch in the subsequent season. In addition to debuting for the Crunch, he also played in two games for the Lightning during the 2013-14 season.
Paquette hit his stride during the 2014-15 season, playing in 64 games for the Lightning while playing just five for the Crunch. He did not look back, taking the ice in 311 games over the next five seasons. However, injuries kept him from reaching his full potential. He played more than 65 games in just one season during his time with the Lightning.
Lightning fans will remember Paquette, also known as “Dump Truck”, for the physicality he brought to the lineup. A nightly force to be reckoned with, he registered 956 hits during his seven seasons in Tampa. He even had an impressive 112 hits in 25 playoff games during the Lightning’s 2019-20 Stanley Cup run.
The Lightning needed to clear cap space this offseason in order to re-sign several key players, including Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Unfortunately, this meant that someone had to go and one of them was Paquette. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators, who traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes after just nine games.
Round 6, 161st Overall: Jake Dotchin
Dotchin’s lack of success with the Lightning has more to do with his actions off of the ice than his actions on it. After being drafted, Dotchin spent two seasons in the OHL before being promoted to the AHL, where he played full-time for the Crunch for another two seasons. He made his NHL debut during the 2016-17 season, splitting time between the Crunch and the Lightning, playing 35 games for each.
Dotchin only played 48 games for the Lightning during the 2017-18 season. Although there were moments where he showed good potential, he fell out of favor with the organization and played in just nine of the final 32 games of the season. When training camp rolled around for the next season, the Lightning management was unhappy with his fitness and ultimately terminated his contract for a “material breach”. The Anaheim Ducks went on to sign Dotchin, where he played at both the NHL and AHL levels. He most recently spent the 2019-20 season with the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL.
Round 7, 202nd Overall: Nikita Gusev
Gusev never played a game for the Lightning organization. During his time under contract with Tampa, he only played in Russia. Most notably, he played 206 games over four seasons for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. In the summer of 2017, while still playing in the KHL, the Lightning traded the rights of Gusev to the Vegas Golden Knights. He never made a start for the Golden Knights, either, and was ultimately traded to the New Jersey Devils.
It is hard to not look back and wonder what could have been if Gusev had played for the Lightning. Based on his performances in the KHL, it appeared he would able to transition to the NHL quite easily. However, it was reported that the Lightning wanted him to start in the AHL and spend some time developing before joining the NHL squad and he was not open to that.
Although it is disappointing not to have seen him get a shot in Tampa, the introduction of Gusev to the roster would have caused a financial strain in an already tight salary cap situation. The 5-foot 11-inch winger, who led the KHL in scoring during the 2018-19 season, is in the midst of his second campaign with the Devils.
Important Draft for the Franchise
Although this draft led to several disappointments for the Lightning, it was critically important to the success of the franchise. Their recent Stanley Cup success is in large part due to the superlative play of their backstop, Vasilevskiy. Moreover, Cedric Paquette, although no longer with the team, brought physicality to the Lightning’s depth that they could not have won without. With Vasilevskiy under contract long-term and another Stanley Cup in hand, Lightning fans should look favorably upon the 2012 NHL Draft.