Steven Stamkos was one of the better picks the Lightning have made in the first round but is he the most valuable pick in the last five years?
The first-round pick of any NHL draft can instantly change the complexion of any team, especially the Tampa Bay Lightning. Over the course of five seasons, the opening-round selection can be the difference between a dynasty and a period of darkness.
The Lightning have used their first-round pick to draft players like Vincent Lecavalier, Paul Mara and Roman Hamrlik to name a few. But, recent high-profile draft picks haven’t helped Tampa Bay become that perennial power.
As the 2013 draft approaches, we look back on the first selection from each of the last five seasons and re-grade the picks based on production, potential and consistency.
Already a 60-goal scorer, Stamkos could be one of the most decorated players in Lightning history.
That’s right Lightning fans, it was five years ago the Bolts selected the 6’1” center from the Ontario Hockey League with the first overall pick of the 2008 draft.
In five seasons, Stamkos has 386 points with 208 goals and two seasons of 50 goals or more. He would have a third if last season would have been a complete schedule based on his pace (29 goals in 48 games).
The future of the franchise has provided enough spark and leadership already to earn a respectable grade. If he improves in the faceoff circle (47 percent), he could become one of the most complete centers in Lightning history.
Victor Hedman will be a top-pair defenseman for the Bolts for the next few years.
Victor Hedman was the first-round pick (second overall) in 2009. He wasted no time getting into the Lightning lineup playing in 74 games as a rookie. The big Swede has had an up-and-down career so far.
Despite being a consistent scorer—at least 20 points in each season—Hedman has struggled to keep opponents from scoring. He alternates between negative and positive seasons with a career best plus-three in 2010-11 and a career worst minus-nine the following campaign.
He does log a ton of minutes and will be a top-pair defenseman for the foreseeable future.
Brett Connolly has had a roller coaster first few years in the pros.
Brett Connolly has followed an interesting path since being selected sixth overall in 2010. He debuted for the Lightning in 2011-12 and played in 68 games with 15 points. Last season, he was invited to training camp but spent the majority of the season in the American Hockey League.
Connolly put up 63 points in 71 regular-season games for the Syracuse Crunch this season and picked up a goal in five games with the Bolts. He has the size (6’2”, 200 lbs) and the skill to be a full-time NHL winger. He just has to be more consistent on both ends of the ice.
The injury bug has taken a bite out of the Lightning first-round picks the last few seasons. It started with Namestnikov.
Namestnikov was selected 27th in 2011. He spent the following season with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League picking up 71 points in 63 games. He has suffered from shoulder injuries in his development and was limited to only 44 games with Syracuse this season.
If Namestnikov can put on a bit of weight and maintain his solid skating ability, he will be a force in the NHL. Unfortunately with the physical nature of the Lightning’s new divisional opponents, he will need to put on some muscle quickly if he hopes to survive at the highest level.
Andrey Vasilevskiy is one of the brighter goaltending prospects the Lightning have ever had come into the system. How long until he is NHL ready is unknown.
Slater Koekkoek: C-
Another victim of untimely upper-body injuries is Lightning d-man Slater Koekkoek. One of two first-round picks in 2012, Koekkoek was drafted with the understanding that his left shoulder would heal. It did. But he re-injured it in January and is in the middle of a four-to-six-month recovery. It’s hard to get a solid read on a player if he isn’t on the ice much.
Andrey Vasilevskiy: B
Despite now having two young goaltenders on the Lightning roster, prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy is earning his place. In 27 games with Ufa junior in Russia, he has a 1.93 goals-against average and went 4-1-0 in eight games with Ufa’s Kontinental Hockey League team.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, he still has another year on this KHL contract—though it does contain a buyout option. It’s a holding pattern here for one of the brighter goaltending prospects in the league.