Palace Sports and Entertainment's era of ownership ultimately turned fortunes around for the Bolts at the NHL level. It was all part of a five year plan that was launched around the time of Rick Dudley's hiring as general manager (acquired via compensation from the Ottawa Senators).
When Dudley took over in 1999, he stressed the need to collect "assets" for the Bolts: Prospects that the team could use to restock the team's talent coffers. While the Bolts of 1999 had Vincent Lecavalier, Pavel Kubina, Paul Mara, the rights to Brad Richards, and other prospects who weren't yet ready for prime-time, the cupboard was basically bare regarding system depth.
Dudley's task at the draft was to do what he could to restock the franchise for both the immediate and the long term. The picks turned into a high-risk, high-reward gambit that only seldom worked out.
In 1999, Dudley became the first NHL general manager ever to trade the #1 overall pick, dealing it and moving down in the draft to #4 overall. In the process, he passed over either of the Sedin twins (who wanted to stay together) and Patrik Stefan (who ended up going 1st overall to the Atlanta Thrashers). But the dealing wasn't done there. Instead of picking Pavel Brendl with the #4 pick, Dudley traded out of the 1st round entirely. When the dust settled from the trades he had made, Dudley had acquired goaltender Dan Cloutier, defensemen Shawn Burr, and Andrei Zyuzin as well as extra draft picks (including the NY Rangers 1st round pick in 2000).
It was a start. But it was also a finish. The 1999 class produced right wing Sheldon Keefe (125 NHL GP, 12 goals, 12 assists), Russian goalie Evgeny Konstantinov (2 NHL games played in, 1 GA, 6 saves), Swedish right wing Jimmie Olevstad (111 GP, 3 goals, 17 assists, 20 points), and Latvian defenseman Kaspars Astashenko (23 GP). While there was great promise with the Keefe selection, he never quite materialized into a threat at the NHL level.
1999 was not the only time Dudley would trade the Bolts top draft choice. He did it again in 2000 when he traded the #5 pick (and other later-round selections) to the New York Islanders for goaltender Kevin Weekes, defenseman Kristian Kurdroc and the 31st pick in the draft. The later 1st round pick (the one acquired from the Rangers the previous year, #8 overall) was used on wing Nikita Alexeev (159 NHL GP, 20 goals, 17 assists, 37 points).
Once again, after that early flurry of movement, the Bolts draft came up largely empty. Alexandre Khartinov, a speedy and small wing, and goaltender Brian Eklund were the only picks (after Alexeev) ever to play on an NHL rink.
The general principle of drafts under Dudley's guidance was European talent, spending picks on players coming from Europe and hoping they'd both willingly come to North America and would excel in the North American game. Dudley selected a total of 24 Europeans (out of 33 picks) from 1999-2001.
33 Total selections through three draft classes, and of those selections, a total of nine would end up playing NHL minutes. Of those nine, only one was playing in the NHL by the end of the 2009-10 NHL season (Evgeny Artyukhin - 3rd round, 94th overall, 2001 draft: 19g, 30a, 49 points for his career).
While Dudley used the draft to stock his team at the NHL level, his drafts never produced the talent that you'd expect from GM that loves nothing more than to scout prospects.
- 1999 (10 selections) - Sheldon Keefe (125 NHL GP), Evgeny Konstantinov (2 NHL GP), Jimmie Olvestad (111 NHL GP), Kaspars Astashenko (23 NHL GP)
- 2000 (10 selections) - Nikita Alexeev (159 NHL GP), Alexandre Kharitinov (71 NHL GP), Brian Eklund (1 NHL GP)
- 2001 (13 selections) - Alexander Svitov (179 NHL GP), Evgeny Artyukhin (199 NHL GP)