After selecting first and second overall in consecutive drafts in 2008 and 2009, the Lightning earned the sixth overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. After selecting two cornerstone, franchise-altering players in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, the Bolts looked to solidify their core with the sixth-overall choice in 2010.
However, as with all drafts, things don’t always turn out the way we hope. Case in point, the Lightning’s 2010 first round draft choice, Brett Connolly. It wasn’t only this selection that was a bust, but a significant number of other clubs found themselves in similar situations, as well.
An interesting note about this draft is that the first six selections were all traded within just six years of the draft. Taylor Hall was dealt from the Oilers to the Devils; Seguin from the Bruins to the Stars; Gudbranson from the Panthers to the Canucks; Johansen from the Blue Jackets to the Predators; Niederreiter from the Islanders to the Wild, and Brett Connolly from the Bolts to the Bruins.
With the sixth-overall selection, the Bolts chose Connolly out of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars. In his draft year, Connolly suffered an injury that kept him out for a significant portion of the season. He only played in 16 games, tallying 19 points — not eye-popping numbers for a star junior player in the WHL. The Lightning were lacking skill up front and took a risk with this pick even with knowledge of Connolly’s injury history. In addition, Yzerman was just hired a month earlier as GM of the club and did not have his feet fully under him in the scouting operations.
The Bolts sent Connolly back to juniors for the 2010-11 season, and he put up 73 points in 59 games. Connolly made the Lightning’s opening night roster in the 2011-12 season and put up 15 points in 68 games as a rookie. For the next two seasons, he would bounce between the Bolts and the Syracuse Crunch, where he lit up the AHL’s scoring sheet, putting up 52 goals and 120 points in 137 AHL games.
At the start of the 2014-15 season, Connolly did not see time in the minors and was scratched quite frequently with the Bolts. Looking to shore up his defense, Yzerman used Connolly as trade bait, sending him to the Bruins for two second rounders, and sending the injured Radko Gudas to Philly with a 1st and a 3rd round pick in 2015 for Brayden Coburn. Those deals in combination occurred around 3 a.m. but were both thoroughly thought out and executed.
Connolly is now a third/fourth-line role player for the Washington Capitals, and is having a career year in terms of production—15 goals and 21 points in 59 games. But, it is safe to say the Bolts selection with the 6th overall pick was quite the bust.
There were a handful of other players that would have been better choices for the Lightning, especially given their desire to find another offensive weapon. Does Vladimir Tarasenko ring a bell? Yeah, he went sixteenth overall to the Blues—easily the biggest steal of the draft.
Other players to go after Connolly were Jeff Skinner at number 7, Mikael Granlund at number 9, Cam Fowler at number 12, Jaden Schwartz at number 14, Nick Bjugstad at number 19, Kevin Hayes at number 24, Evgeni Kuznetsov at number 26, Charlie Coyle at number 28, and Brock Nelson at number 30. Any of those players would have certainly made the Lightning’s chances at winning a Stanley Cup that much better in the Spring of 2015.
More notable players drafted past the first round of the 2010 Draft were Tyler Toffoli, Justin Faulk, John Klingberg, Brendan Gallagher, and Mark Stone. Again, each of those players would have made a huge impact on the Bolts’ Cup chances.
The most significant, undrafted player who could have been selected in this draft was Artemi Panarin. Wow. Looking back and seeing how he was passed over is remarkable. In his "draft year," Panarin put up 9 points for the KHL’s Vityaz Chekhov club. The fact that no NHL team signed him until 2015 is also remarkable. What he’s been able to do in today’s NHL as an undrafted player is a testament to his skill [and Chicago's scouting ability! - Acha].
Now for a quick mention of the other busts of this draft, which is why it was such a disaster for several team’s scouting staffs. The Rangers selected D-man Dylan McIlrath with the 10th overall pick, and he has done very little at the NHL level. His potential looks like a top-pair AHL d-man or an NHL tweener.
The first goaltender taken off the board came by the Dallas Stars at pick number 11 was Jack Campbell. Campbell has played in a total of two NHL games in his career and is putting up pedestrian numbers for the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
The Coyotes selected D-man Brandon Gormley at pick number 13. Gormley has only played in the AHL this season and has likely the same potential as McIlrath.
Joey Hishon, a center, was chosen 17th overall by the Avalanche. He barely saw any NHL ice time and currently players for Jokerit in the KHL. Jarred Tinordi, a defenseman, was selected 22nd overall by the Habs. He, too, has seen limited NHL ice time and has not played in the NHL this season. The likelihood of him making it back to the big leagues are slim.
Quinton Howden was selected 25th overall by the Panthers, their 3rd selection of the first round. Howden put up decent points for a fourth liner last season for the Cats but is struggling to produce a lot of offense for the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets.
Mark Visentin, the second goaltender selected in this draft, has played a grand total of 1 NHL game, and it came in the 2013-14 season for the Coyotes, who drafted him. He has split time in the AHL and ECHL this year.
Emerson Etem was chosen 29th overall by the Ducks. Etem is an interesting case. He has put up some decent numbers in the NHL, while shuffling between the minors and the big leagues, but he can’t seem to put it all together. He has played 3 NHL games and 1 AHL game this year in the Ducks organization to which he returned after being dealt to the Rangers and Canucks.
Analyzing this draft just goes to show how different the NHL landscape could look had teams known how their selections would pan out. But, as we all know, that is the beauty of the draft, and there are always diamonds in the rough.
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