During its first decade in the NHL, the team saw both great success—finishing with 71 points in only its second year of existence—and total failure, winning only 17 of 82 games in the 1997-1998 season.
In a total turn of events, the team went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2004, having only been in the league for 12 years.
The NHL Entry Draft, like all drafts in professional sports, is a gamble of exceptional magnitude that comes down to scouting, development and, occasionally, luck. The Tampa Bay Lightning have experienced fortune in all three of these aspects, drafting players such as first-overall picks Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos who have gone on to become NHL All-Stars, and other players such as Brad Richards, who was selected 64th overall.
Despite the pickups of excellent players throughout their history as an organization, the team has also faced disappointment and difficulties through the 19 drafts they have selected from. These are the top-five prospects who had big promise, but who came up short.
Andy Rogers was the first prospect chosen following the Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship in 2004, being picked 30th overall.
The defenseman spent time in the WHL playing for the Calgary Hitmen before he was drafted and was then moved to the Prince George Cougars, finally making the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, in 2006. During his tenure in the AHL, also playing with the Norfolk Admirals and Toronto Marlies, he acquired a total of 10 points.
He was never called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning to play. The 2004 NHL draft saw players such as Kris Versteeg, Pekka Rinne, Johan Franzen and Alexander Edler all appear in the later rounds.
Riku Helenius was selected 15th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Helenius showed much promise with his performance in net during the Under-18 World Junior Championship for Finland, earning a silver medal.
However, his stay in Tampa was short lived. He played just over a quarter of a period of one Lightning game, recording two saves in his NHL career. Helenius moved back to Europe where he now plays for the Sodertalje SK club of the SEL, posting a .884 save percentage average over 18 games.
Later on in the draft, players such as Claude Giroux, Semyon Varlamov and Milan Lucic would play for the starting lineups of their respective teams and see playoff action within the first five years of their careers.
Vladimír Mihálik, a Slovak native, crossed the Atlantic to Canada to play for the Red Deer Rebels. He was noted for his size, being 6’7" and 240 pounds, and ability to put up points, notching 26 points in 53 games during his tenure in Prince George.
The Bolts selected him 30th overall in 2005 with their first-round pick. Playing mostly for the Norfolk Admirals from 2007 to 2011, he was called up a total of 15 times to Tampa and scored three assists. By using their 30th overall selection in the 2005 draft, the Bolts missed players such as Keith Yandle, Paul Stastny and Kris Letang, all who have become cornerstones of their respectful franchises.
Nikita Alexeev was another player who put up good points in the minors and added size on the forward line, registering a high of 72 points in 64 games in the OHL prior to being drafted in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
He was selected eighth overall by the Lightning and began his career in the NHL in 2001, where he split the season between Tampa Bay and the Springfield Falcons.
He came short of his expectations, playing only 144 games with the Lightning over five seasons and putting 37 points on the scoreboard.
He also played 15 games for the Chicago Blackhawks where he scored two goals. Alexeev now plays for the KHL club Ak Bars Kazan, where over 120 games he has posted 26 points.
The 2000 NHL Entry Draft would also see the beginnings of the prolific careers of Henrik Lundqvist, Ilya Bryzgalov, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Alexander Frolov—all of whom were selected later on in the draft.
The 2003 NHL Entry Draft was possibly one of the most talented of all time, which saw great and successful players throughout almost every round of the draft.
With players like Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf selected in the first round, the Tampa Bay Lightning had traded their first-round pick to the Florida Panthers who selected Anthony Stewart.
As a side note, last year's Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy recipient Corey Perry was selected three picks later by the Anaheim Ducks.
With their first pick of the draft, the Lightning selected Mike Egener 34th overall. Egener played a total of 158 games over the course of three seasons with the Springfield Falcons before being moved around the AHL and ECHL.
He never played a game for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
By selecting Mike Egener, the hockey club passed on three star-quality defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Shea Weber.
On top of these three premier players who are now entering the prime of their careers, the Bolts also missed prospects David Backes, Joe Pavelski and Shane O'Brien.
Without a doubt, Mike Egener was the first overall of the worst picks of the Tampa Bay Lightning.