NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning best draft class.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship seasons. Going into next year, they are still considered by most as a team to beat. This is primarily a result of the amazing talent they have locked up throughout their line-up – Andrei Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. What do these players have in common? They were all brought in via the draft. Other depth players have come via draft and trade as well. As a franchise, they are the owners of three Stanley Cup Championships (2004, 2020 and 2021). They came into the league and had their first draft experience in 1992.
While deciding which draft year was the best, a number of factors came to mind; success of the overall draft; overall career of the players; their contributions while playing for the Lightning; and contributions to the big prize (Stanley Cups). Looking at the overall drafting track record of the team; they have picked many talented players over the years including the ones mentioned already. As an organization, drafting well is a mix of making the selections you have to make. Making the selections you should make, and making the selections that mix things up a bit.
Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Class of 2011
In 2011, the Lightning made six selections in the second draft of the Steve Yzerman era. There is significant international presence in this draft. That is significant even in this day. There can be some hesitation towards international, in particular Russian players, at times.
Vladislav Namestnikov – 1st Round / 27th Overall Pick
He is the son of a NHL defenceman (Evgeny Namestnikov) and nephew of Vyacheslav Kozlov as he watched the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings lift the Stanley Cup. He officially made the Tampa Bay roster in the 2014-15 season and played parts of five seasons with the Lightning. That includes 12 games during the team’s 2014-15 season run to the Stanley Cup Final where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. For a while, coach Cooper was committed to playing him with Stamkos and Kucherov on the top line, which saw some success. However, with Stamkos’ injury woes that line never got a consistent chance and Namestnikov was shuffled around the line-up to find team chemistry.
Time For a Trade
In the end, he was traded to the New York Rangers during his most productive season, producing 22 goals and 24 assists in 62 games for the Lightning. His greatest value to the Lightning is likely being packaged with a 1st round pick to acquire Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller (drafted 15th overall in the same 2011 draft). J.T. Miller was later traded to the Vancouver Canucks which brought in the 2020 1st round pick which landed the team Blake Coleman. Via Ryan McDonagh and Blake Coleman and their contributions to back-to-back championships, you could say Namestnikov provide significant value after all. Namestnikov has hopped around the NHL since with the Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and now the Detroit Red Wings. At the age of 28, he will continue to be a regular and contribute to the NHL; exactly how much depends on how the Red Wings’ rebuild goes.
Nikita Kucherov – 2nd Round / 58th Overall Pick
You already know. What an absolutely brilliant talent this man is. He broke out in his second season (2014-15) which saw him on the dominant Triplets Lines alongside Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat (more on him later). That season, Kucherov scored 29 goals and 36 assists in a full 82-game season. He followed with a stellar playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final. During which, he scored 10 goals and 22 assists in 26 games. He was already an incredible talent on one of the best lines in the NHL. Since then, he has just continued to excel beyond expectations. He has topped 100 points twice in 2017-18 (39 goals, 61 assists, 100 points in 80 games) and 2018-19 (41 goals, 87 assists, 128 points in 82 games). He won the Art Ross, Ted Lindsay and Hart Memorial trophy for that incredible season.
Kucherov is a Balanced Player
Kucherov is an incredibly balanced player with a great shot, great skating, great puck handling, great vision, and more. He produces on even-strength and the powerplay. We would have seen four consecutive 100-plus point seasons if not for the pandemic. And last year’s injury season (everyone has an opinion on this). But the Lightning will trade that for his brilliance in the playoffs. He had 15 goals and 51 assists for 66 points in 48 games on the way to back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship. He could have easily won the Conn Smythe both times but Hedman and Vasilevskiy were well-deserving. Kucherov is a special talent and he seems to continue to look more and more dominant, never missing a beat. He is easily the second best (an argument can be made for best) right wing in the league and that is only because Patrick Kane continues to amaze. Kucherov loves the game, always has a smile, and enjoys every minute of it (sorry Montreal).
Ondrej Palat – 7th Round / 208th Overall Pick
This was an incredible pick in the 7th round. It is not much when you say he has outperformed his draft position. However, Palat is an underappreciated talent on this team. But it is evident that his teammates know his exceptional value. As the second Triplet to be drafted in 2011, he had a career year in 2014-15. He tallied 63 points (16 goals and 47 assists) in 75 games. He has been a regular top-six presence since and a lock for 40 points in a full NHL season. Palat had a stellar 2020-21 pandemic-shortened campaign scoring 15 goals and 31 assists for 46 points in just 55 games. He benefited from chemistry with the superbly talented Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on the top line. This allowed Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli to play in other roles and increase the team’s depth and productivity. In the upcoming year, with the off-season losses of Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Johnson, the likes of Cirelli and Palat will be even more instrumental to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s attempt for a three-peat.
The other three draft picks in 2011 were: Nikita Nesterov (5th round, 148th overall, D), Adam Wilcox (6th round, 178th overall, G), and Matthew Peca (7th round, 201st overall, C). Nesterov has played depth defender roles on Tampa Bay and Montreal. Before that, there was a three-year stint on CSKA Moscow where he won a Gagarin Cup in 2019. He returned to a serviceable role on an underperforming Calgary Flames team in 2020-21 and is set to return to CSKA Moscow in the 2021-22 season. Matthew Peca has been used sparingly at the NHL level but will get a new opportunity on the St Louis Blues this upcoming season. Wilcox has amassed all of 39 minutes with 14 saves and no goals allowed (strong career NHL save percentage) for the Sabres in 2017-18. He is likely destined to be a minor leaguer.
Honourable Mention – Draft Class of 1998
This draft saw the Tampa Bay Lightning draft 11 players. Six of them never played a NHL game. Three others played between 50 to 200 NHL games in depth roles. That leaves two Tampa Bay Lightning legends. They were instrumental in the team winning its first Stanley Cup Championship in 2004. That established the team’s presence in the NHL, and creating more Florida hockey fans.
They drafted team icon and future captain Vincent Lecavalier (1st overall). He amassed 421 goals and 528 assists for 949 points in 1,212 career NHL regular season games. That included 1,037 of them with the Lightning. His awards cabinet holds the NHL Foundation Player Award (2007-08); Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for a 52-goal season (2006-07); King Clancy Memorial Trophy (2007-08) and, of course, the Stanley Cup ring (2003-04). He became the youngest captain in league history at the time when he was anointed in 2000 at the age of 19. In 2018, he had his jersey retired by the Lightning.
Their next pick in 1998 was Brad Richards (3rd round, 64th overall) also from the Rimouski Oceanic. He played 552 of his 1126 career NHL regular season games with the Lightning over seven years. His contributions included 150 goals and 339 assists. In the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship, he led with 12 goals and 14 assists in 23 playoff games and won the Conne Smythe in the process. He also won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy that season. After this, Richards went on to enjoy offensive success with the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers and then winning his second Stanley Cup in 2014-15 as a depth and veteran player on the Chicago Blackhawks.
2021-2022 Roster is rich with drafted talent
The Tampa Bay Lightning have made the right picks which have landed them Steven Stamkos (1st overall, 2008), Victor Hedman (2nd overall, 2009), Andrey Vasilevskiy (19th overall, 2012), Brayden Point (3rd round, 79th overall, 2014), Anthony Cirelli (3rd round, 72nd overall, 2015), and Jonathan Drouin (3rd overall, 2013). Ok so the last one is a bit of a caveat, but Mikhail Sergachev looks like a stud (sorry Montreal, again). This in addition to the 2011 NHL Draft performance has allowed this team to succeed. You could say that some of these were can’t miss opportunities but as we have seen plenty in NHL draft history, even a sure-fire thing can blow up in our faces and sometimes the right and obvious decisions can be just as hard to pull to the trigger on. The NHL draft is an enigma which we get excited for each and every year with the hopes of changing our team’s fortune – sometimes it works out, sometimes it does not.