With the Tampa Bay Lightning reaching the midpoint of their season, January is the perfect time to check back in on their selections at the 2019 NHL Draft. This draft represented an important one for the Lightning, as the franchise needed some positive news after they melted down in the playoffs.
After it was all said and done, the Lightning made seven selections in 2019, including four forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. These players varied in expected skill and quality, but given the franchise’s ability to pull incredible talent out of obscure roots, you never know who could be the next Brayden Point or Ondrej Palat.
First-Round: Nolan Foote
When the Lightning selected Nolan Foote with the 27th overall pick, many saw this as a reach. Even if Foote was a highly-touted forward, he still was expected to go in more of the early-to-mid second round area at the draft.
For his part, however, Foote has showcased why the Bolts decided to take him a little earlier than expected. In 25 games with the Kelowna Rockets, he posted 15 goals and 33 points while showing off some of that promising power-forward game that the franchise needs.
Foote also played at the 2020 World Juniors championship, where he started registered five points in seven games while helping Canada win the gold medal. In all, Foote has been meeting all of the Lightning’s hopes so far, and he is the sort of player who will readily slot into their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, at the start of the 2020-21 season.
Third Round: Hugo Alnefelt and Maxim Cajkovic
First, we will discuss Alnefelt, who is currently playing in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). During his eight games in the SHL this season, he has posted a strong .920 save percentage (SV%) along with a 1.95 goals-against average (GAA).
Where he did some of his best work, however, was with the Swedish World Juniors team. While competing in six games, he posted a .924 SV% and a 2.12 GAA while helping Sweden win a bronze medal at the tournament. Overall, he had one of the best performances from a goaltender at the event, which is encouraging for a Lightning team in need of goaltending depth.
Cajkovic, the Lightning’s other third-round pick, has been showcasing some of the offensive upside that led to his selection. In 16 games with the Saint Johns Sea Dogs, he’s posted 10 goals and 22 points.
While he also represented Slovakia at World Juniors, this was a relatively rough outing for him, as he only posted two points in five games while going minus-nine. Given his strong performances in past years, the Lightning will have to hope that this was just a bad year for him and that his Sea Dogs output is what he will become known for.
Round Four and Six: Maxwell Crozier and Quinn Schmiemann
In round four, the Lightning selected defenseman Maxwell Crozier, who was slated to start his career playing for Providence College in 2019. While his stat line may not be mind-blowing, his 11 points in 20 games is good for second amongst defensemen on the team. Given that this is his first year in the NCAA, that is a great start for a young defender.
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Defenseman Quinn Schmiemann, the Lightning’s sixth-round pick, has been experiencing a bit of a career season with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. In 27 games, he’s posted 19 points and a plus-14, which is a huge improvement from the minus-seven he mustered in 2018-19.
Similar to Crozier, this could be a good sign that this young defenseman is starting to put things together. Given that the soonest he can reach the AHL is 2021-22, there’s still plenty of time for him to continue developing his game.
Seventh Round: Mikhail Shalagin and McKade Webster
With their first pick of the seventh-round, the Lightning selected Russian winger Mikhail Shalagin. As an overager, Shalagin joined Tampa Bay’s ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears, to start the 2019-20 season, where he has posted a middling six goals and nine points.
The Lightning’s final pick of the draft, McKade Webster, is slated to start playing hockey for the University of Denver in the 2020-21 season. Until he starts playing there, it will be hard to judge if he has the upside to become the next Palat. For now, there’s always the chance that he experiences a breakout while playing for a revered college like Denver.
It’s Too Early to Judge the 2019 Draft
Given the fact that the draft only occurred a few months ago, it is still far too early to tell if any of the players selected will ever start a game with the Lightning. However, given this limited sample size, many of the players look to be on track as they continue to develop their game with the franchise.
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.