Welcome to the second part of a series that looks back on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s draft picks over the years and where they are now. This part will discuss the picks from the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
This draft is one that Lightning fans remember with joy. Although they did not know it at the time, they selected two of the franchise’s best players of the past decade in Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. This was a crucial draft and many believe these picks are what started the Lightning on their path towards respectability.
1st Round, 27th Overall
Projected as the next star for the Lightning from the time he was drafted, Namestnikov may have put too much pressure on himself. Albeit, he has still managed to make an impact in the NHL as a solid depth player.
Splitting his junior hockey years between Khimik Voskrensk (Russia2) and the London Knights (OHL), Namestnikov showed that he had the skill worthy of being selected in the first round. During his draft year, he scored 22 goals and 49 assists in 63 games while playing big minutes for the Knights.
Making the jump to the pros in 2012-13, he spent the better part of three seasons bouncing between the Syracuse Crunch and the Lightning before making the jump to the NHL in 2015-16. During his first full season, he scored 14 goals and 21 assists in 80 games.
Namestnikov played parts of two more seasons with the Lightning before being traded to the New York Rangers at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline in a deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller the other way.
Rangers fans were excited to see what he could bring to the lineup but that did not last long. Playing his only full season with the Rangers in 2018-19, Namestnikov scored 11 goals and 20 assists in 78 games. He started the 2019-20 season with the Rangers but only played in two games before being traded to the Ottawa Senators.
With what seems to be a common trait for Namestnikov, his tenure in Ottawa was short-lived as he only played 54 games for them before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche at the deadline in February. With the NHL season placed on pause, Namestnikov only played nine games for the Avalanche but did put up six points. It will be interesting to see how he plays once the play-in begins as he is a free agent at the end of the season.
2nd Round, 58th Overall
One of the premier players in the NHL today, no one could have predicted how good a player Nikita Kucherov would become. A constant 100-point producer, he has become the focal point of the Lightning offence and a player they rely on to produce on a nightly basis.
In his draft year, Kucherov was playing junior hockey in Russia with Krasnaya Armiya Moskva of the MHL. In 24 games, he scored 24 goals and 19 assists. This output caught the attention of NHL teams and the Lightning pounced on him with their second-round pick.
In 2012-13, Kucherov came over to North America and played his one season in the QMJHL split between the Quebec Remparts and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies where he managed 29 goals and 34 assists in 33 games.
Kucherov made the jump to the pros at the start of the 2013-14 season. He only spent one year splitting time between the Lightning and the Crunch before making the jump to the NHL full time at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. What he has accomplished since then has been nothing short of spectacular. In every season, he has put up more than 65 points and set a career-high with 128 points last season.
Over the course of his career, Kucherov has collected numerous trophies such as the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Trophy as well as having been selected to the All-Star Game numerous times. If he continues to produce big numbers, I believe he will be a Hall of Famer once his career is all said and done. He is without a doubt one of the most important players on the Lightning squad.
5th Round, 148th Overall
Another player who managed to make the NHL, Nikita Nesterov was a solid pick for a fifth-rounder. Although he never made a huge impact during his tenure in North America, he was a solid defenseman on the Lightning.
During his draft year, Nesterov was playing for Belye Medvidi Chelyabinsk of the MHL. In 46 games, he scored four goals and 15 assists to go along with 72 penalty minutes. Praised for his physicality, he was seen as an interesting option heading into the NHL Draft.
After he was drafted, Nesterov spent two more seasons in Russia splitting time between Belye Medvidi Chelysabinsk and Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL before making the jump to the Crunch at the start of the 2013-14 season. He spent the entire 2013-14 season developing with the Crunch befor making the jump to the NHL in 2014-15.
Throughout his time with the Lightning, Nesterov was never viewed as more than a bottom-pairing defender. Yes, he could hit and make a play but he never seemed to have enough confidence to make a big impact. He was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens at the 2017 Trade Deadline. He collected five points in 15 games playing for the bleu, blanc et rouge before leaving the NHL and returning to Russia.
Having spent the past three seasons playing for CSKA Moskva in the KHL, Nesterov has proved he can still play. He has collected 60 points and 85 penalty minutes in 136 games. It will be interesting to see if he returns to the NHL next year as his contract is up.
6th Round, 178th Overall
Heading into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Lightning were looking for their goalie of the future. Although drafting a goalie in the sixth round usually does not work out, the Lightning were hopeful about Adam Wilcox.
Wilcox spent his draft season playing for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. In 24 games, he had a record of 16-6-1 to go along with a 2.20 goals-against average and a save percentage of .922. He guided the Gamblers to a Clark Cup Championship and proved that he was worthy of being drafted.
Wilcox played one more season with the Gamblers before heading to the University of Minnesota. He spent three seasons there and twice eclipsed a goals-against average below 2.00. He was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award in 2013-14 and, although he didn’t win, he proved he was one of the best goalies in the NCAA.
Wilcox turned pro after the 2014-15 season in Minnesota was done and got into a few games with the Crunch. His tenure with the Lightning was short-lived, though, as he only spent the following season playing for them before being traded to the Florida Panthers for veteran goalie Mike McKenna.
Since then, Wilcox has played for many different teams. He joined the Buffalo Sabres organization in 2017-18 and spent the better part of the season playing for the Rochester Americans, appearing in his only NHL game when he posted a shutout. He returned to the Americans in 2018-19 and posted a 2.82 goals-against average to go along with a .896 save percentage. This season, he signed with the San Antonio Rampage and did not have the best year, posting an .877 save percentage in 22 games.
He is a free agent and has not signed with anyone as of this writing, but it will be interesting to see where he ends up. Although he has not managed to make an impact at the NHL level, he has remained a solid depth goalie in the AHL and could provide value in the future.
7th Round, 201st Overall
One of two seventh-round picks for the Lightning in 2011, Matthew Peca has managed to turn in a pretty solid career to date. A seventh-round pick is never expected to make an impact down the road, but Peca has done just that.
Playing for the Pembrooke Lumber Kings of the CJHL during his draft year, Peca managed to score 26 goals and 46 assists in 50 games. He showed that although he was only 5-foot-9, he could play and dominate with his speed and skill. The Lightning took a chance on him and it paid off.
He committed to Quinnipiac University in 2011 and went on to play the next four years there, amassing 143 points in 157 games. He turned pro following his university season and played 11 games for the Crunch in 2014-15.
In the next three seasons, Peca split his time between the Crunch and the Lightning. Never seizing a regular role in the lineup, Peca signed with the Montreal Canadiens on July 1, 2018. Although he only played 39 games in 2018-19, he collected 10 points and proved that he could provide value as an NHL player.
Peca started this season with the Canadiens but was sent down shortly after it started. He played 34 games for the Laval Rocket before he was traded to the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline. Due to the NHL hiatus, he only played in nine games for the Senators, but he did make an impact, collecting two assists.
Although it has been a tough few years for Peca, he has finally managed to make an impact at the NHL level and will look to be a leader on a young Sens team next season. Although he was a seventh-round pick, he has defied the odds and shown the hockey world that he is not one to give up easily.
7th Round, 208th Overall
When the Lightning called Ondrej Palat’s name, no one could have predicted that he would turn out to be one of the best Lightning players over the past decade. After being passed over in the 2010 NHL Draft, Palat was determined to prove his doubters wrong.
In 2010-11, he played for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL where he scored 39 goals and 57 assists in 61 games. Comparing those stats to his 2009-10 season, there was a huge difference as he only put up 40 points in 54 games. Viewed as a player with skill but who has to bring it all together, Palat made the jump to the AHL in 2011-12 and managed to put up a respectable 30 points in his rookie season.
What happened next, no one could have seen coming. He spent the 2012-13 season split between the Lightning and the Crunch and made the full time jump to start the 2013-14 season. In his first full NHL season, he put up 59 points in 81 games and showed that he was a player to be reckoned with.
Palat’s career-high in points came in 2014-15 when he scored 16 goals and added 47 assists in 75 games. Although he has never eclipsed more than 55 points in a season since he has been one of the most important Lightning players on a nightly basis. He seems to excel in the playoffs and has been an important contributor over the past few seasons. He signed a five-year contract in 2017, so he still has a few years before he becomes a free agent.
Related: 10 Best 7th-Round Picks Since 2005
When all is said and done, Lightning fans will look back on his time with the team and be amazed. He deserves to win a Cup with the team that took a chance on him. To me, he is one of the best Lightning players to come along in a while. He is what everyone hopes for when they draft in the seventh round and he has proven that he is a valuable NHL player every time he steps on the ice.
This was one of the better Lightning drafts in the past ten years. They produced depth players like Namestnikov, Nesterov and Peca, and also unearthed some draft gems in Kucherov and Palat. All of their picks have played at least one game in the NHL, and that is no small feat. They should be proud of what they accomplished and would not be one of the best teams in the league today had it not been for their selections in the 2011 NHL Draft.