There was no doubt that the Lightning were drafting Steven Stamkos with the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft. After all, you don’t build an entire marketing campaign around him unless you’re sure he’s the one you want. What if the draft luck had not been on their side, and Los Angeles (which finished with the same number of points) had ended up with the top pick?
According to Mark Yanetti, it’s a moot point. The Kings’ co-director of amateur scouting said in an interview with the Mayor’s Manor that the Kings might have drafted Drew Doughty even if they had the No. 1 overall pick in 2014:
“Drew Doughty was the best player in the world that year. There is no question in my mind who I would have picked... And we build from the back... It’s not a slight against Steve [Stamkos]. He’s a generational player, but it just happens that there were two generational players in that draft. For me you take the generational defenseman over the forward.”
That is an organizational choice and one that the Lightning have made in the past (Roman Hamrlik over Alexei Yashin). It’s easy, especially in 2014, to say that you would have still drafted Doughty over Stamkos, but you have to imagine it would have been a hard sell to their fans back in 2008 if they had passed over the dynamic young center from the Sarnia Sting.
Would Doughty have developed into the All-Star defender he is today if Tampa had selected him? In a way, it would have been harder for him to be eased into the game as a rookie on the Lightning then it was for Stamkos. Stamkos had Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis to ease some of the workload. Doughty would have had umm... Matt Carle? Andrej Meszaros? Janne Niskala?
From a straight “needs” standpoint, Doughty was a better fit for the Lightning. After all, the team had just traded away a puck-moving, offensively minded defender in Dan Boyle and had a gaping void on the blueline (see list of defense above). Sliding in an 18-year-old coming off a 74-point season with the Guelph Storm would make sense.
However, it’s harder to sell a defender as a savior than it is an electric scorer like Stamkos. The OK Hockey regime needed to make a splash and put butts in seats. When an organization is in that position, they are going to take the offensive player every time. I’m sure they also thought Stamkos was the better player, but marketing had to play a small role in it as well.
As with any speculation or “What if” piece, there are a thousand different scenarios that pop up as you think through things through. You wonder how things would have developed if “B” happened instead of “A.”
For instance, if the Lightning had drafted Doughty then it is more than likely Victor Hedman isn’t a member of the team. Not necessarily because they would have been better and thus not drafting second overall in the 2009 draft, but because they would have already had their franchise blueliner.
If they struggled through the 2008-09 season and ended up with the No. 2 pick, would they have traded up for John Tavares or settled for Matt Duchene? Perhaps they drop down in the draft and tried to collect some assets (not that was the modus operandi for the OK Hockey regime). The point being, this team would look a lot different than it does today.
What about Stamkos? If he spends his rookie year in Los Angeles instead of Tampa, does he ever meet Gary Roberts and then become a workout freak? Even before becoming the first client of the Gary Roberts High Performance Center, Stamkos gave a lot of credit to the NHL veteran as he told the Tampa Bay Times:
“He was great for me. He helped me be a better person and a better player and I can’t thank him enough. Words can’t describe what he did for me this year. He was there when things weren’t going well. He was giving me advice. A lot of stuff came out of his mouth I tried to put in action.”
If he doesn’t have that relationship, does he work out like a freak and come back the next year and score 51 goals? Does he bond with a young Teddy Purcell on the Kings and Brian Lawton doesn’t get to make his greatest Lightning trade (old man Jeff Halpern for Purcell and a third-round pick)? Heck, does he push Anze Kopitar out of Los Angeles. Heck, maybe he doesn’t re-sign with the Kings and ends up with Toronto last summer.
You can drive yourself crazy coming up with alternate scenarios in the sports world. It’s best to just deal with reality and the reality is that the 2008 draft worked out pretty well for both of the teams drafting at the top. The Lightning picked up one of the best goal scorers of his generation and the Kings got a franchise blueliner and two Stanley Cups.