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Reflections on past Tampa Bay Lightning draft classes part 3 -- 1998

In what would be Phil Esposito's final draft as GM of the Lightning, he didn't just hit pay dirt with a superstar franchise player as the #1 overall pick, he selected two of them.

The Lightning secured rights to the #1 overall pick by way of trade with the San Jose Sharks at the 1998 NHL trade deadline. The Bolts sent them the #2 overall pick, defensemen Bryan Marchment and David Shaw in exchange for the #1 overall selection in the 1998 entry draft and Andrei Nazarov.

With the selection of Vincent Lecavalier, the Bolts were already well off for the future with a stud forward to rebuild the franchise around. Esposito had long sought a franchise player to be the true face of the franchise and grow with the market. Someone who could help sell the sport, be a member of the community, as well as be competitive on ice.

After 869 games with the Lightning through 11 seasons, Lecavalier has amassed 326 goals, 413 assists, 739 total points, and is the all-time offense statistical leader for the Lightning. Lecavalier has hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup as well as won the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in an NHL season.

At this point in time, it's easy to focus on his huge contract instead of his accomplishments, but for the sake of talking draft and draft only, Lecavalier has met most expectations that were laid out for him upon his selection (the exception being he is not "the Michael Jordan of Hockey").

The Bolts went into the third round of the 1998 draft, and young Lecavalier went to bat for a friend and teammate from Rimouski Oceanic. He helped sell Phil Esposito and the scouting staff on selecting quiet, Prince Edward Island native Brad Richards.

Written off and played down because of his size and playing with Lecavalier on the Oceanic, Richards' selection may be the coup of the '98 draft. In 700 NHL games with the Lightning and Dallas Stars, he has scored 192 goals and 447 assists for 639 career points. He has won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and won the 2004 Conn Smythe trophy as well.

There is a debate to be had, and it has been had over and over again, which center is better: Lecavalier or Richards? Vincent Lecavalier has two more NHL seasons under his belt than Richards (who debuted in 2000-2001), but his rate of scoring (.85 points per game) is eclipsed by Richards (.91 points per game) over their careers. Just something to think about when comparing the two... This is just one aspect.

Yet while we can go on debating about the two players and their value, to stay on topic of what this post is supposed to be about, answer me this: How many teams end up with this quandary from members of the same draft class? Selecting two centers who would ultimately be worthy of building the team around?

In total, the Lightning obtained four NHL'ers in the 2008 draft class. Lecavalier and Richards are the most notable, but late round picks Dmitry Afanasenkov and Martin Cibak were also both taken during the 1998 entry draft and all four players would end up contributing to the 2004 Stanley Cup winning team. While Afanasenkov's career numbers (227 games, 27 goals, 27 assists) and Cibak's (154 games, 5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points) pale in comparison to what Lecavalier and Richards have amassed, their contributions to the Bolts helped lead to a championship.