When Steve Yzerman was hired as the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he was handed a roster that had a decent amount of top end talent, but little else. He had Vincent Lecavalier on a contract that would become suffocating. He had an aging Martin St. Louis. And then he had two young stars in the making in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.
The Lightning had been looking for any goalie that could be even league average since Nikolai Khabibulin left after the lockout. Years of poor drafting decisions had also left the Lightning with little on the farm.
You can throw the 2010 draft out the window when evaluating Yzerman’s performance. He didn’t have enough time to do a proper job of getting a scouting staff into place and left the old group in place until after the draft. He tapped Al Murray, whom he had worked with for Team Canada, as his Director of Scouting. The two of them had similar outlooks on scouting and developing players and they went to work.
The 2011 draft will go down as one of the best drafts in Lightning history, if not the best, until some draft in the future proves otherwise. The following years saw the duo pick up some solid prospects that have since turned into NHLers or are on their way to becoming NHL regulars.
It’s still too early to fully evaluate the 2014 draft. But we’re going to take a look at it anyways.
At the time, the Lightning desperately needed some defense in the system. Slater Koekkoek had faced multiple shoulder injuries that had hampered his development, but was still the top defense prospect in the organization. Dylan Blujus and Jake Dotchin hadn’t quite developed as well as anticipated in their two years since being drafted, but both had done enough to earn contracts. Nikita Nesterov had just finished a disappointing first year in North America. Beyond them, the Lightning didn’t have a whole lot. Other than Koekkoek, the defensemen in the system were mostly projected as third pair or fringe depth defensemen at best.
Yzerman and Murray did a solid job of identifying forwards, and made a superb pick with Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal. But they still needed defense to fill in the gaps that would be ready in three to five seasons. And that’s exactly what they focused on. Unfortunately, their picks didn’t turn out to be the greatest.
With seven picks in the draft after trades, the Lightning took four defensemen. I’ll take a slightly different path and work my way from the end of the draft to the beginning.
Sixth and Seventh Rounds
The last two picks for the Lightning in the draft were used on forwards Cristiano DiGiacinto in the sixth round and Cameron Darcy in the seventh round. Darcy was an overage pick and was sent back to juniors for an overage season. He’s spent his professional time mostly as a bottom-liner for the Syracuse Crunch and does not look like he has a NHL career ahead of him. DiGiacinto failed to produce enough in the OHL to earn a contract. He went back into the 2016 NHL draft and went undrafted the second time around.
In the fourth round, the Lightning took defenseman Ben Thomas. Thomas was an offensive defenseman in the WHL. There were some doubts that he would earn an entry level contract after a couple sub-par seasons. However, the Lightning’s scouting staff still saw enough in him to convince Yzerman to sign him to a contract. He has played this season for the Syracuse Crunch and still has a lot of room to grow. He’s still got some potential in his game as a puck mover, and could be a third pair guy, although he could just as easily end up being a career minor-leaguer that might get a cup of coffee in the NHL somewhere along the way.
Brayden Point was selected in the third round and included Yzerman trading a seventh round pick to move up a spot to select the small center. I don’t think anyone expected Point to develop the way he has, and so quickly, when he was drafted. You had a blueprint of Tyler Johnson to follow for a small, crafty center with incredible offensive instincts. His skating wasn’t the greatest and he’s worked hard to improve it. That, plus his work ethic, led him to making it with the Lightning as a 20-year-old without putting in his dues in the AHL first.
The second round saw Yzerman selecting two more defensemen, after Yzerman traded away the Lightning’s extra first-round pick to get both second-round picks. At the end of the second round, the Lightning took big Jonathan MacLeod. MacLeod was slated to play college hockey with Boston University. A stay-at-home defenseman, there’s not much offense in his game. He’s got good size though at 6’2” and just over 200 pounds. His sophomore season was a let down that saw him a healthy scratch over portions of the season. He still has another year of eligibility and likely will use it up before turning pro.
At 35th overall in the second round, the Lightning took Czech defenseman Dominik Masin. Masin showed a decent amount of offense in the OHL after being drafted and also dealt with some injury issues. In his rookie season with the Syracuse Crunch, he hasn’t shown much offense and that isn’t much of a surprise. The offense could come as he gets more comfortable in the professional game. He has the potential to become a second pair two-way defenseman if he can round out his game on both ends of the rink.
That brings us to the first round and one of the few early-round draft picks where I think we can say Yzerman made a bad decision. At 19th overall, the Lightning selected defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo had offensive skill to spare. His defensive game was nearly nonexistent. His character also came with giant question marks. He was suspended twice for off-ice behavior in the OHL.
At the time of the selection, Yzerman said that they had spoken with DeAngelo’s coaches and others surrounding him and thought that he was maturing. The thought was that he had outgrown his attitude issues and that he was a talent that the team could develop into an all-around NHLer and give the team a coveted right shot, power-play quarter back that could shoot and pass the puck.
That didn’t turn out to be the case. During his first professional season with the Crunch, he was a coach’s decision healthy scratch on multiple occasions. He put up great offensive numbers while continuing to have big defensive zone lapses. There were definitely questions about his attitude and if he had the work ethic to improve his craft or if he felt entitled to more. DeAngelo and his father requested a trade to give him a fresh start with another organization.
Yzerman acceded to his request and traded him to the Arizona Coyotes at the 2016 draft for a second-round pick which the team used to for defenseman Libor Hajek. Arizona initially sent DeAngelo to the AHL for further development. He received a call-up in the first couple months of the season and was subsequently sent back down to “work on his defensive game.” Surprise, surprise. When he did make it back to the NHL for a longer stint, he didn’t do himself any favors in getting a suspension for an Abuse of the Officials call.
So, the pick of DeAngelo was a mistake. But what could Yzerman have done differently? The 2014 draft wasn’t particularly ripe with first round defensive talent, and only five defensemen were taken in the first round. Aaron Ekblad was taken first overall, and there was talk that Yzerman attempted to make a trade with Florida for the pick. Florida reportedly asked for Jonathan Drouin or Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Yzerman wisely declined.
In fact, there were no defensemen taken inbetween the Lightning taking DeAngelo and Masin. So it’s not like there was another defensemen on the board that Yzerman could have taken instead. He could have traded up and tried to select one of the other defensemen besides Ekblad. But what would it have cost?
Could Yzerman have traded up?
Several years ago, Eric T. of Broadstreet Hockey wrote an article about the value of draft picks. For fun, I looked at the two trades Yzerman made to move out of the first round in 2014 and 2015. The values of those trades lined up with Eric’s value chart including the trade made for the 28th overall pick that Yzerman turned into the two second round picks to take Masin and MacLeod.
That gives us a good starting point for determining what it would have taken for Yzerman to move up in the first round. Let’s start with the picks that Yzerman had available on draft day. To give us some more flexibility, we’ll have the options of the 28th overall pick or the 35th and 57th overall picks in the second round assuming that Yzerman could have made that trade at any point and used those picks to trade up. Yzerman also had a second-round pick that he traded to Vancouver for Jason Garrison that will not be included here. To keep things simple and easier to read, I will refer to picks in Round-Overall nomenclature.
- 1-19 (first round, 19th overall)
- 1-28 OR 2-35 and 2-57
- 3-80 (prior to the trade up to 3-79 with MIN to select Point)
- 5-140 (traded to NYR for 4-119 on second day of draft)
- 5-142 (traded to NYR for 4-119 on second day of draft)
- 7-200 (traded to NYI for 7-185 on second day of draft)
Option 1 - Philadelphia Flyers, 17th Overall, Travis Sanheim
Sanheim has yet to make it to the NHL with the Flyers. He is having a solid rookie season in the AHL producing at around a half point per game. He is a bigger defenseman at 6’4” and has good offensive skill. Moving up two spots in the first round isn’t too unreasonable for the cost to get Sanheim.
According to the chart, the cost for moving from the 19th to the 17th overall pick would cost a late second-round pick plus the 19th pick. Yzerman could make the trade with the Islanders to get 2-57 and traded 1-19 and 2-57 to get 1-17 from Philadelphia. Instead of DeAngelo and MacLeod, the Lightning would have Sanheim, which isn’t the worst trade off in retrospect.
Option 2 - Dallas Stars, 14th Overall, Julius Honka
Early in the season, when we talked about a trade with the Dallas Stars for Ben Bishop, Honka is often a name mentioned as being a potential centerpiece in a potential trade. That trade never materialized either because Dallas didn’t have great interest in Bishop or the two teams couldn’t line up on a price earlier in the year before Dallas fell out of the race.
Honka is an offensive defenseman in a similar vein as DeAngelo, but without the character questions. The Finnish defenseman was also in a different developmental position because he’d been on loan to the CHL by his Finnish club. That meant he didn’t fall under the CHL/NHL agreement and allowed him to go straight to the AHL as an 18 year old. Even as a sub-20 year old player in the AHL, he produced at a half-point-per-game pace. In ten NHL games, he’s had four assists, but hasn’t quite broken into the Dallas lineup. That won’t last.
Moving up to the 14th overall pick would have been a bit more costly for Yzerman, but getting a talent of Honka’s level instead of dealing with DeAngelo’s character issues could have been worth it. The trade up though would have cost a mid-second-round pick or a combination of picks worth about that. With no single pick in that value range, Yzerman would have a few options.
A trade of 1-19, 2-35, and 3-80 for Dallas’ 1-14 and 2-45 would have been close in value. The downside is that it would leave the Lightning either reaching for Point at the end of the second round with the 2-57 pick or making some other trade to move back into the third round to select him, or not getting him at all. With the 2-45 pick, the Lightning would be in a position to select defensemen Julius Bergman, Ryan Collins, or Roland McKeown, who all went within the next six picks.
Another option would have been to send 1-19, 2-57, and 3-80 for Dallas’ 1-14. That would have left them with Honka and MacLeod, but no Point, barring another move.
Option 3 - Carolina Hurricanes, 7th Overall, Haydn Fleury
Fleury is a big defenseman that doesn’t have the same kind of offensive skill that Honka or DeAngelo bring to the ice. Moving up that far also would have been very cost prohibitive for Yzerman and very likely not worth the cost. It would have cost the Lightning both first-round picks and either their third-round pick and another future third-round pick or a future second-round pick. That would have been a high price to pay to move up that far for a defenseman and seems like the least likely option that Yzerman would have pursued.
Option 4 - Prospects
Of course, the other option that Yzerman could have gone after was including a prospect in a trade. That makes it a lot harder to put an exact value on a trade he could have made to move up or even to acquire someone else’s prospect already in their system. At this point in time, it’s impossible to speculate on what it would have taken to get a trade done.
Hindsight is 20/20 and there was certainly a chance that DeAngelo would develop the defensive side of his game and could be up with the Lightning right now producing offense from the blue line. That didn’t happen, and that allows us to look back at the decision with a more critical eye to see what Yzerman could have, and maybe should have, done.