The 2019 NHL Draft represented a true changing of the guard for the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the first time in close to a decade, the Lightning had a new general manager, Julien BriseBois, calling the shots.
With six picks, a looming cap crunch, and a number of big-name free-agents needing to be signed, BriseBois had a lot on his plate heading into his first draft. If handled properly, the team could bring in a fresh batch of needed talent while clearing out some contracts. If mishandled, though, Tampa Bay could end up giving away key assets for little to no return.
With the dust now settled, how did BriseBois fare after his first draft at the helm of the Lightning?
How the Lightning Drafted
It’s impossible to know how a drafted player will affect an organization on the day of the draft. As the Lightning have shown over the years, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed first-round pick or a throwaway seventh-rounder.
However, judging on face value alone, BriseBois and company produced a strong draft in his first year. The selections hit every area of the franchise, adding four forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender.
The interesting part of these selections, though, is how they all weren’t ‘Yzerman-era’ picks. Many of these players had larger builds, led by Nolan Foote and his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. Alongside Foote, forward Maxim Cajkovic, defensemen Maxwell Crozier and Quinn Schiemann and goaltender Hugo Alnefelt all come in above 6-feet and 180 pounds. By Lightning standards, these are some big prospects.
Out of all of their selections made, Cajkovic could represent the best value pick for Tampa Bay. Despite being a third-round pick, he is a fantastic skater who has the skillset to develop into an NHL player.
It’s also worth noting that days after the draft, the Lightning signed undrafted free agent Peter Abbandonato to a two-year contract. As the top-scorer of the QMJHL, Abbandonato fits Tampa Bay’s mold of a high-skill, undersized forward who was overlooked at the draft. Given their track record with this style of player, there is reason to believe that he could be the next undrafted standout to find success within the franchise.
Lightning Hit the Perfect Trade
Heading into the draft, it was a well-known secret that the Lightning needed to trade a player. Even with the shocking announcement of Ryan Callahan’s placement on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), the team still needed to deal at least one of their long-term contracts to clear space for raises to their core players.
However, while they had a number of veteran players who they would have liked to trade, these moves were mostly impossible. Due to no-trade clauses, players like Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson would have to agree to a trade, which they really had no reason to do. This left J.T. Miller as one of the only Lightning forwards on a big-contract without a no-trade clause at the draft.
Knowing all of this, the fact the BriseBois was able to return a premium for Miller and his $5.25 million cap hit was a bit of a shock. Yes, he can be a good, to even great, player, but given the Lightning’s situation, one would have expected the Vancouver Canucks to get the trade done without giving up a first-round draft pick.
Alas, the Lightning got not just a 2020 first-round pick from Vancouver, but a 2019 third-rounder without retaining any salary. For Tampa Bay, this was easily the best case scenario.
This is also an impressive move by BriseBois since it was his first major trade since taking over the Lightning. This move has to reassure fans that he will continue Yzerman’s legacy of smart trades even when at a disadvantage on the market.
Brisebois Succeeded in His First Draft
Considering what BriseBois had on his plate for his first NHL draft, one has to be impressed by the moves he made. In the draft itself, he brought in promising talent that will have years to develop as they enter the NCAA, play overseas or continue on at juniors. On the trade front, he managed to sell high on a player who didn’t have a solid role within the franchise.
If I had to put a grade on BriseBois’ first draft, it would be a B-plus. Yes, a few reaches were made, but it’s also possible that those reaches will be looked back on as steals in a few years.
However, finding a way to clear a meaningful amount of cap space while bringing back two prime draft picks makes this draft a success. Not a bad first draft for BriseBois at all.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.