The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the NHL for the 1992-93 season. Their first draft came with the 1992 draft class. EliteProspects.com has a lot of great information for looking at draft selections and stats for players by a variety of different categories; year, team, and even country of origin. A quick scan will show you how many players have been drafted from each country. For example, there have only been 28 Austrian players drafted, while there have been 6,092 drafted from Canada.
It got me curious about what players the Lightning have drafted from countries other than the big hockey super powers of the world. But then I wanted to go a step further and take a look at each player that was the first Lightning draft pick from his country.
Czech Republic - Roman Hamrlik
Hamrlik was the first Lightning draft pick and selected first overall in 1992. He played 1,395 career NHL games putting up 155 goals and 638 points. Hamrlik spent 377 of those games with the Lightning and scored 185 points. He still holds the number four spot on the Lightning’s all-time defensemen goals, assists, and points list. He also has the third most games played all-time in the NHL by a first overall pick and has the second most points by defenseman selected first overall.
Canada - Drew Bannister
The Lightning’s second ever pick was their first from Canada. In fact, every other Lightning pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft besides Hamrlik was a Canadian. Bannister played in 164 career NHL games with 30 points before heading overseas to play in Finland, Russia, and Germany starting with the 2002-03 season. He returned to North America to play for the Binghamton Senators in the AHL in 2009-10. He finished up his career with two seasons in the EIHL playing in England and Scotland. Bannister appeared in 98 career NHL games for the Lightning with 15 points over two stints.
Russia - Vadim Yepanchintsev
We jump ahead to the 1994 NHL Entry Draft to get to our next new country. The 1993 NHL Entry Draft was all Canadians and one player from the Czech Republic for the Lightning. Yepanchintsev only played in one season in North America in 1997-98. He scored 15 points in 25 games in the ECHL and nine points in 34 games in the IHL. He then returned to Russia where he was a 0.65 point per game player in the Russian Super League and the KHL. He retired after the 2010-11 season and became a coach. He started in the Russian MHL juniors league before being promoted to the VHL minor league first as an Assistant and then as a Head Coach. He became the Head Coach of Spartak Moskva in 2017-18. He was released by Spartak in October of this year.
USA - Dan Juden
Juden is another pick from the 1994 NHL Entry Draft as the Lightning had more variety from this draft class. The Lightning picked five Canadians, four Russians, and two Americans. Juden was selected in the 6th round, 137th overall. At 6’3” and over 230 pounds, Juden was a big winger in an era where size was important. He spent four years playing NCAA hockey at UMass Amherst and scored 38 points in 97 games with most of his points coming as a junior and senior. After graduating, he spent one season playing in the WPHL before retiring from hockey.
Finland - Eero Somervuori
In the 7th round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, the Lightning selected their first Finnish player. Breaking some of the trends, he was selected despite being listed at 5’9” and 176 pounds at the end of his career. So you have to imagine as an 18 year old, he was even smaller. Somervuori spent one season playing North American hockey with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL. He scored 33 points in 79 games, but never made it to the NHL. The rest of his career has been spent in Finland, Switzerland, and Sweden where he carved out a very nice career for himself. He even played into the 2017-18 season for four games before retiring because of injury.
In his career, he won a World Junior Championships gold medal, an SHL championship, and two Liiga championships. He also scored the clinching goal for the SHL championship.
Slovakia - Martin Cibak
The other half of the former Czechoslovakia gets it’s first Lightning draft pick at the end of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Selected 252nd overall in the ninth round, Cibak made it to the NHL for 149 career games with 23 points. He spent two seasons playing in the WHL after being drafted before becoming a professional with the Detroit Vipers in the IHL for the 2000-01 season. He played in 63 games for the Lightning during the 2003-04 season as well as six playoff games securing himself a place on the Stanley Cup. He played one more season for the Lightning after the lockout and then went to Europe. He has played in Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, and finished his career in 2016-17 with a single season in the Slovakian league.
Sweden - Jimmie Olvestad
Olvestad was a good sized left winger selected in the 3rd round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft to become the Lightning’s first Swedish draft pick. Olvestad remained in Sweden for a couple seasons after being drafted and jumped straight to the NHL with the Lightning in 2001-02 with 74 games. He didn’t stick for long though and only played in 37 games in 2002-03 and then spent all of the 2003-04 season in the AHL missing out on the Lightning’s Stanley Cup season. After 2003-04, he returned to Sweden and finished his career in 2012-13 after winning two SHL Championships. He’s now a Strength and Conditioning Coach in the SHL.
Latvia - Kaspars Astasenko
When we started this, you may have been thinking that Kristers Gudlevskis was the Lightning’s first Latvian draft pick and I wouldn’t blame you since he was pretty well known for Lightning fans. But Astasenko beat him by a number of years as a fifth round draft pick of the Lightning in 1999. Astasenko had actually come to North America and played 74 games in the IHL with 14 points and 166 PIMs before being drafted. He appeared in 23 games over the 1999-00 and 2000-01 seasons for the Lightning with three points for his only NHL games.
He remained in North America playing in the minor leagues through the 2002-03 season before returning to Europe. He has played in Latvia, Finland, Denmark, Russia, Slovakia, Italy, Kazakhstan, and England over his career. He has won a Latvian and Liiga championship in his career and retired after 2011-12.
Switzerland - Thomas Ziegler
A centerman, Ziegler only spent one full season in North America. He appeared in his only five NHL games for the Lightning during the 2000-01 season and spent the rest of the season in the IHL. After just three games in 2001-02 in the AHL, he secured a release from his contract and returned to his native Switzerland where he has played in 505 career games and won three NLA championships. He retired after the 2011-12 season.
Kazakhstan - Vitali Smolyaniov
At this point, we’ve hit pretty much all of the major hockey nations of the world and are getting into some of the smaller countries. Smolyaniov was selected in the 9th round of the 2001 NHL Entry draft. He never appeared in North America and while he has played for some Russian teams in the Russian Super League, he has mostly played in Kazakhstan in his career split between the KHL, VHL, and Kazakhstan league. He continued to play up through the 2017-18 season and has one Kazakhstan league championship as well as a VHL Championship. He is now an assistant coach in the Kazakhstan league.
Belarus - Kirill Gotovets
The last country on our list is Belarus with 2009 7th round draft pick Kirill Gotovets. Gotovets had moved to the United States to play for Shattuck St Mary’s, the same high school program that Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards played at before they went to the QMJHL. He played two seasons there before attending Cornell University for four seasons.
Gotovets played two seasons in the minors for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL and the Indy Fuel in the ECHL. he returned home in 2016-17 to play for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL. He played in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose last season, and has returned once again to Dinamo Minsk for the 2018-19 season. At 27 years old, Gotovets still has some years left to play in his career.
Countries the Lightning have not drafted from
There are too many countries to list that the Lightning have not had a draft pick from. But there are a few minor hockey countries that have produced some very good NHLers that the Lightning have not had a draft pick from. And maybe in a future draft, we’ll get a player to add to this list.
- Austria - 28 NHL Draft picks
- Denmark - 23 NHL Draft picks
- Germany - 72 NHL Draft picks
- Norway - 21 NHL Draft picks
- Ukraine - 29 NHL Draft picks