While the class of '92 was something to build upon, the following years would not aid the Lightning in the same fashion. None of the next five classes provided much talent (sans single selections), which was a major disappointment for an expansion franchise that should have had an eye on long term building.
While 1st round picks Chris Gratton (1993), Jason Weimer (1994), Daymond Langkow (1995) and Paul Mara (1997) all would contribute to the Lightning for several seasons each between them, none had a truly lasting effect in Tampa Bay.
In fact, it's easier to point out who the Lightning passed over in 1993 (Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott, Rob Niedermayer, Kenny Jonsson and others) than to make a case for who they ultimately picked in Chris Gratton. Gratton's grandest accomplishment on-ice was scoring 62 points (30 goals, 32 assists) in 1996-97. But his off-ice "accomplishment" stands out in Lightning history, and it is nothing that he personally accomplished or directly had a hand in. I'll only say the words Fuzzy Fax and be done with it. Gratton has bounced around the NHL since his departure in the '97 off-season, including two extra stints in Tampa Bay.
Speaking of the 1993 NHL draft, only 3 of 11 picks broke through to the NHL, and only two of those (Gratton and Allan Egeland) with the Lightning.
1994 was even more desolate. The selection of Jason Wiemer (and passing over the likes of Mattias Ohlund, Jamie Storr, Wayne Primeau and other notables) was the Lightning's only selection to make the NHL (of 11 total selections). Wiemer himself, a power forward who came from the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, only broke 30 points once in his career (2002-03). Though he also played as a journeyman through the NHL, he never came close to realizing his full potential.
I cannot put down Langkow and Mara, though. While Daymond was cast off from the Bolts (after doing little to nothing with the team), he excelled once he departed Tampa Bay, scoring 50 points-a-season or more in eight of 11 NHL seasons. He played in his 1000th NHL game during the latter half of the 2009-10 campaign in a game against the Lightning .
Mara played all of 101 games with the Bolts in 3 seasons, bouncing between the big club and the minors, contributing 36 points... His claim to fame is being part of the 2001 trade package that netted then-holdout goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin from the Phoenix Coyotes He's bounced between several clubs (Phoenix, New York, Boston, Montreal) since then, but has contributed offensively from the blue line everywhere he has gone.
In all of this recapping, the 1996 draft was deliberately saved for last. Considered a black-hole of a draft year, the Bolts went into it with no clue who they would pick anywhere at any time... And it showed with the bookend selections from the draft. At #16 of the first round, Phil Esposito picked a QMJHL defenseman by the name of Mario Laroque. At the 17th selection of the 7th round, the Bolts took a chance on a Czech defenseman by the name of Pavel Kubina.
Laroque played a total of 6 NHL games, and was last spotted in the IHL this season after a stint in England. Kubina, 822 NHL games and a Stanley Cup ring later, is one of the few NHL standouts from the '96 draft class. His importance and contributions to the Lightning via free agency in 2006 is unmistakable.
- 1993 (11 selections) - Gratton (1092 NHL GP), Tyler Moss (30 NHL GP), Allan Egeland (17 NHL GP)
- 1994 (11 selections) - Jason Wiemer (726 NHL GP)
- 1995 (8 selections) - Langkow (1013 NHL GP), Mike McBain (64 NHL GP), Shane Willis* (174 NHL GP), Zac Bierk (47 NHL GP)
- 1996 (6 selections) - Mario Laroque (6 NHL GP), Xavier Delisle (2 GP), Pavel Kubina (822 NHL GP)
- 1997 (11 selections) - Mara (681 NHL GP), Matt Elich (16 NHL GP), Karl Betik (3 NHL GP), Andrei Kopintsev (40 NHL GP)
*Willis did not sign with the Lightning and re-entered the NHL draft in 1997, being selected by the Carolina Hurricanes. He was later traded to the Lightning in 2002 with Chris Dingman for Kevin Weekes.
[Note by John Fontana, 06/18/10 4:21 PM EDT ] This story was updated to include omitted players (Xavier Delisle)