When you look back at draft classes through the Tampa Bay Lightning's history, spanning from 1992 onward, most years have a singular standout name or two. Occasionally there will be a year that's riddled with names of guys who ultimately made the NHL, either with the Bolts or somewhere else.
Over the course of the next several days, we'll be highlighting some of the highs and the lows of the previous draft classes for the Bolts, starting with 1992 and moving forward. This will not be a comprehensive, year-by-year series that covering all 18 draft classes individually. Some years will be grouped together, while strong singular years will be highlighted I also don't pretend to be the ultimate say in judgement of players...
Making it to the NHL and being successful are two different ways to judge a draft class... Simply breaking into the big leagues can label a draftee a success... But breaking in and contributing more than singular games, or outright excelling is another bar of judgment all together.
While history can ultimately tell us how successful the first 15 drafts have been for the Bolts, the success of the previous three draft classes (2007-2009) is largely still to-be-determined. While 2008 has three players to date who have played NHL minutes (Steven Stamkos, James Wright and Dustin Tokarski), 2007 and 2009 mostly have a running list of players in the proverbial pipeline (2007 notables include Dana Tyrell and Johan Harju; 2009 includes Victor Hedman, Carter Ashton, Richard Panik, Alex Hutchings and Jaroslav Janus).
So let me start things off where they belong: At the beginning. Tampa Bay's first draft class.
Lightning Draft Class of '92:
Phil Esposito was overseeing the first ever NHL Entry Draft for the expansion-year Tampa Bay Lightning. Phil took the clear talent of Czech defenseman Roman Hamrlik with the #1 overall pick, opting for him over for talents of Russian forward Alexi Yashin, who would go to the Ottawa Senators, the Bolts expansion brethren.
While Esposito would later note that Roman could not serve as a franchise player for the new franchise, with thanks to of the language barrier (his native Czech and the English language he had not yet learned), he would become a valuable part of the franchise over his five year career with the team. Hamrlik, who has played 1232 NHL games in total over his career, played his first 298 with the Lightning before being traded in a salary dump in 1996-97. 1995-96 was his breakout season with the club, producing 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists), but was also a minus-24 that season. He would not have a positive plus/minus until arriving in Edmonton during the 1996-97 season.
Hamrlik has gone on to play for the aforementioned Oilers, the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens. He has appeared in three NHL All-Star games and has produced 590 points (148 goals, 442 assists) during his 18 year NHL career. Espo may not have gotten his franchise player with the selection, but he got a stud of a player for sure.
While the '92 Lightning draft class didn't produce true standouts beside Hamrlik, it did produce NHL players in defenseman Drew Bannister (164 NHL games played (GP), 98 with Lightning over three seasons]; Forwards Brent Gretzky (13 NHL GP, all with Lightning over two seasons), Aaron Gavey (360 NHL GP, 89 with Lightning over two seasons), Brantt Myhres (154 NHL GP, 62 with Lightning over two seasons); and goaltender Derek Wilkinson (22 NHL GP, all with Lightning over four seasons). They all contributed to the Bolts at one point or another. That's six of the team's 11 draft selections making it to the NHL. Not a bad haul.
All players, sans Gretzky, contributed in one part or another to the Lightning's 1995-96 playoff berth (the first playoff appearence for the franchise), a short four years after their selection. That's a successful start to a NHL team, but it would prove to be far from the norm for the Bolts... As it's far from the norm for most every NHL team.