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Reflections on past Tampa Bay Lightning draft classes part 5 -- 2002

Jay Feaster took over as Lightning GM in the spring of 2002 after Rick Dudley resigned (brought about because of Dudley's conflict with management while attempting to trade Vincent Lecavalier).

Feaster's objective as GM wasn't to put emphasis on scouting, prospects, and collecting assets like Dudley had. Instead, it was to use those assets and move the team forward at the NHL level. In fact, Feaster would slash the scouting fund in order to save a little money and re-allocate it toward the NHL roster.

Feaster's first draft, while ultimately going in a different direction than Dudley, started off on the same foot as Dudley's previous drafts: Through trades. Jay dealt the Bolts 1st round selection (#4 overall) to the Philadelphia Flyers for RW Ruslan Fedotenko and two 2nd round picks (#34 verall and #52 overall). Pick #34 was dealt to Dallas for defenseman Brad Lukowich and a 2003 seventh round pick.

Feaster was taking a chance on both players, projecting Lukowich as a Top-4 defenseman and Fedotenko as a top-six wing... Both players would ultimately hoist the Stanley Cup with the Bolts.

The similarity to Dudley ended with the trades. Feaster's selection of talent between North American players and Europeans was more balanced (7 North Americans, 6 Euros) compared to Dudley's lopsided European approach the previous three years.

But another part was producing NHL players from picks. While only four have thus-far played NHL minutes, they've at least played NHL minutes at a rate greater than had been seen from Dudley's weak draft classes.

Late round picks Paul Ranger (6th round, 183rd overall), Fredrick Norrena (7th round, 213th overall), Ryan Craig (8th round, 255th overall), and Darren Reid (8th round, 256th overall) have all participated in the NHL since their selection. Ranger, Craig and Reid all broke into the NHL in 2005, while Norrena did in 2006 after being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Three of the four have seen a substantial share of NHL minutes between them (Ranger: 270 NHL games played; Craig: 184 games played; Norrena: 100 games played / 5235 minutes in goal).

Of course, with the good comes the bad... Ranger has disappeared mysteriously during the 2009-10 season, after having shoulder surgery the two previous seasons. Craig has been slowed by injuries and relegated to the AHL... Norrena, an overage selection, has returned to his native Europe and played the past two season in the KHL and Swedish Elite League.

Another selection that still stands out is KHL goaltender Vasily Kochechkin (8th round, 233rd overall). Often rumored as a target to come to North America, he may still break into the NHL before things are said and done.

The 2002 draft class, while nowhere near the potency of the 1998 class, may be one of the most underrated draft years for the team. It produced NHL starters (if not stars) through later round picks.