Reflections on past Tampa Bay Lightning draft classes part 7 - 2007-2009 / epilogue

Like baseball, it's easy to start looking at prospects and hoping for the future. Looking to the next set of players, their potential, their promise, and dreaming how they could ultimately turn the franchise's fortunes around. Lightning fans, those with the interest in such things, have been stuck with for a while now.

Things changed in Tampa... 2006-07 was the Bolts final playoff season before anarchy ensued at Times Palace. With ownership in flux during 2007-08, things fell down, went boom... And you know how things went from that point on with ownership and the constant roster flux. That's recent history.

With the 2007 NHL draft and largely with 2008 and 2009 as well, the weight of each class hasn't entirely been determined yet.

2007's draft class includes recently signed Swedish wing Johan Harju, who will be playing for the first time in North America in 2010-11; AHL prospects wing Dana Tyrell and center Mitch Fadden; collegiate forwards Matt Marshall and Alex Killorn. The opportunity for each is there, and determining the draft class' productivity is still largely incomplete.

2009 is another example of too-recent-to-grade. This is Brian Lawton's only draft class as GM, and while Victor Hedman has already played in the NHL and is on his way, there is opportunity for NHL careers out of more from the class than just him. Forwards Carter Ashton, Richard Panik, Alex Hutchings and goaltender Jaroslav Janus have all had productive seasons after their selection: Janus made the jump from juniors to the AHL during 2009-10; Ashton and Panik both played with the Norfolk Admirals after the conclusion of their junior seasons; Hutchings put up big numbers, and his junior team (the Barrie Colts of the OHL) went deep into the OHL playoffs.

Of these three most recent draft classes, the one that obviously stands out is 2008. This goes beyond the #1 overall draft pick, Steven Stamkos (74 goals, 67 assists, 141 points, 161 GP), who has not only starred with the Bolts but played the past two years in the hockey World Championships for Team Canada.

The 2008 draft class had three representatives in the Lightning lineup this past season, at various times, in Stamkos, forward James Wright (2g, 3a, 5p, 48 GP) and goalie Dustin Tokarski (2 gp, 44 minutes, .813 save%, 4.03 GAA ).

Wright, aka "Killer", surprised everyone last season by winning a roster spot out of training camp. He bounced around with lines - sometimes playing on wing, sometimes playing at center on the third line - before being returned to the Vancouver Giants in January. Wright will be vying for a roster spot again in training camp come September.

Tokarski found himself the defacto #1 starter in Norfolk after the team gave up on Riku Helenius. His appearance in two Lightning games came in mop-up duty while backing up Antero Niittymaki. Tokarski will likely start the 2010-11 season in the AHL, but with the Lightning's own goalie situation in flux, the possibility for him to make the NHL club out of camp is there

Soon, a fourth pick from the 2008 will get an opportunity to play professional hockey. Moncton Wildcats defenseman Mark Barberio (152nd overall pick from '08) signed his rookie deal in May.

Who to Watch:

 

  • 2007 (9 selections): Dana Tyrell (#47 overall), Alex Killorn (#77 overall), Mitch Fadden (#107 overall), Matt Marshall (#150 overall), Torrie Jung* (#183 overall), Michael Ward* (#197 overall)
  • 2008 (8 selections): Steven Stamkos (#1 overall, 161 gp), James Wright (#17 overall, 48 NHL GP), Dustin Tokarski (#122 overall, 2 NHL GP), Mark Barberio (#152 overall)
  • 2009 (7 selections): Victor Hedman (#2 overall, 74 NHL GP), Carter Ashton (#29 overall), Richard Panik (#52 overall), Alex Hutchings (#93 overall), Jaroslav Janus (#162 overall), Kirill Gotovets (#183 overall)

    *No longer Tampa Bay Lightning property

Epilogue

Previous Parts:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

 

In reflection on this series of posts, It should be noted that there was a deeper talent pool, due to fewer NHL franchises, when the Lightning first drafted in 1992. Then again, the draft was longer back then. So the amount of talent being distributed is about the same.

There are so many ways to judge a draft class, if it was successful or not. By the barometer of simply making the NHL... Well, look at the success rate for each GM and their draft picks:

  • Phil Esposito (1992-1998): 70 selections - 25 have played in NHL (36%)
  • Rick Dudley (1999-2001): 33 selections - 9 have played in the NHL (27% )
  • Jay Feaster (2002-2008): 62 selections - 17 have played in the NHL (27%)
  • Brian Lawton (2009): 7 selections -- one has played in the NHL (12%)*

Adding Lawton to this list is almost cruel; he only oversaw the Lightning's most recent draft and it's impossible to say just how many of the class will break into the NHL over time.

As was noted earlier in this post, Jay Feaster's draft classes may still produce more NHL players as the class of 2007 and 2008 have two members just beginning their professional careers in North America.

Simply producing warm bodies for NHL rosters is one thing. The number of NHL regulars (playing more than 5 seasons in the league, or 410 NHL games) produced by three of the four GM's (omitting Lawton for obvious reasons) is striking:

  • Phil Esposito: 25 NHL players, 8 NHL regulars
  • Rick Dudley: 9 NHL players, 0 NHL regulars
  • Jay Feaster: 17 NHL players, 0 NHL regulars*

Jay Feaster's numbers may be worth overlooking at this time, as his draft classes are still very young... Yet between he and Rick Dudley, both failed to find talent with their top selections earlier in the decade. Meanwhile, five of seven Phil Esposito's top picks are still active in the league and contributing NHL minutes (Roman Hamrlik - 1992; Chris Gratton - 1993, Daymond Langkow - 1995; Paul Mara - 1997; Vincent Lecavalier - 1998).

We noted in part four about Rick Dudley picking heavily from Europe... I did a quick count of selections (by GM) and their origin countries. It's lopsided for each of the three major GM's. Lawton is included, but with so few selections, it's really hard to point out a trend:

 

  • Esposito: 70 picks, 53 North Americans (76%)
  • Dudley: 33 picks, 24 Europeans (73%)
  • Feaster: 62 picks, 40 North Americans (64%)
  • Lawton: 7 picks, 4 Europeans (57%)

 

In conclusion... Well, there really isn't a conclusion. The truth is that this is the kind of history the Lightning have with the draft. They're biggest successes are 12 years old (1998), and the more consistent drafting was in the 1990's. That's the history that Steve Yzerman and company need to aim for, and leap over in the coming years.

The 2010 entry draft this weekend will provide him with the first opportunity to do so.

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