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The Tampa Bay Lightning’s worst-ever draft class

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You can’t win ‘em all. But sometimes, you do lose ‘em all.

Nashville Predators v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images

A while back, I saw a comment about how bad the 1999 NHL draft class turned out to be. I had to take a look at the class and see how the Tampa Bay Lightning did. With Patrik Stefan and the Sedin twins leading the way, the 1999 draft class was thought to be a deep class with game-changing talent at the time.

The Lightning actually owned the first-overall pick in the draft, but traded it to the Vancouver Canucks as the Canucks were maneuvering to take both Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin (who incidentally have just announced they will retire after this season). The Atlanta Thrashers ended up with the first overall pick and took Stefan. The Canucks had the second and third picks and took the Sedin brothers.

The Lightning then had the fourth overall pick and traded it off to the New York Rangers who took Pavel Brendl. So the Lightning ended up not really being burned by anyone in the first round that year because they did not end up with a first-round draft pick. While there were definitely some bright spots outside of the Sedins, only seven first rounders played in more than 500 NHL games. Only five made it to 250 career points. Pretty much a swing and a miss for most of the first round.

By contrast, the 2009 first-round draft class ten years later has nine players with 500 NHL games and another three that are likely to make it there next season. There’s also nine players with over 250 points, plus Kyle Palmieri only eight points away and Chris Krieder sitting 31 points away from 250. And these players are all around 27 years old and many still have 5-10 years left in their playing careers.

Moving on from the 1999 NHL Draft, it begs the question, what draft was the Lightning’s absolute worst ever draft class? And there’s really one class that stands out above the rest. In 22 of the Lightning’s first 23 draft classes (1992-2014), they picked at least one player that has played at least 100 NHL games in their career.

That makes it pretty easy to narrow us in to the worst class. But before we get there, we should look at a couple classes where the Lightning had a large number of picks, but just didn’t get very much value out of them.

1999 Draft Class

Well, we already established that this wasn’t a particularly good class. And the Lightning didn’t fair super well in it either despite trading away their first-round picks. Through the first seven drafts of the franchise, the Lightning picked at least one player in each draft class that played in 700+ NHL games in their career and had two classes where they picked two such players. 1999 was the first class they failed to do so. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

The Lightning had ten draft picks over nine rounds of the draft.

  • 2nd - Sheldon Keefe (F)
  • 3rd - Evgeni Konstantinov (G), Brett Scheffelmaier (D), Jimme Olvestad (F)
  • 4th - None
  • 5th - Kaspars Astasenko (D), Michal Lanicek (G)
  • 6th - Fedor Fedorov (F)
  • 7th - Ivan Rachunek (F)
  • 8th - Erkki Rajamaki (F)
  • 9th - Mikko Kuparinen (D)

Keefe and Olvestad both played in over 100 games, 125 and 111 respectively. Neither one was an offensive force and only managed to put up 15 goals, 26 assists, and 41 points between the two of them. Keefe’s career was cut short by injuries and he retired after the 2004-05 season and went into coaching — and is currently the head coach of the Toronto Marlies. Olvestad played three seasons in North America and returned to his homeland of Sweden.

Beyond those two, Konstantinov appeared in two games for the Lightning, one in 2000-01 and one in 2002-03. He returned to Russia following the 2003-04 season. Kaspars Astasenko appeared in 23 games for the Lightning and returned to his native Lativa following the 2002-03 season. Fedor Fedorov, much younger brother of the famed Sergei Fedorov never made it into a game for the Lightning as he was never signed and re-entered the draft and was picked up in the third round by the Vancouver Canucks in 2001. He played in 18 NHL games with two assists and returned to Russia to finish out his career.

The other five draft picks never made an appearance in the NHL.

2000 Draft Class

Following up the 1999 draft class was another really sad looking class. The Lightning had 10 picks in the draft. Those players only managed to get to 233 games in the NHL.

  • 1st - Nikita Alexeyev (F)
  • 2nd - Ruslan Zainullin (F)
  • 3rd - Alexander Kharitonov (F)
  • 4th - Johan Hagglund (F)
  • 5th - Pavel Sedov (F)
  • 6th - Aaron Gionet (D)
  • 7th - Marek Priechodsky (D), Brian Eklund (G)
  • 8th - Alexander Polukeyev (G)
  • 9th - Thomas Ziegler (F)

Alexeyev was the best of the group, but for an 8th overall pick, he was a bust only playing in 156 games in his career scoring 20 goals and 37 points. After splitting his first two seasons between the Lightning and the Springfield Falcons of the AHL, Alexeyev spent the Stanley Cup season in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, but only appeared in 14 games. He spent the lockout season back in the AHL playing 72 games. He returned to Russia for a Season in 2005-06 and returned to the Lightning for one more stint in 2006-07 playing in 63 games with 21 points before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Lightning picked up Karl Stewart and a sixth-round pick that would be used on defenseman Luke Witkowski in 2008.

Kharitonov played in 66 games for the Lightning in 2000-01 and wasn’t bad in a lower line role with seven goals and 22 points in 66 games. However, he returned to Russia the following season. He made one more attempt at the NHl with the New York Islanders at the end of the 2001-02 season, but didn’t stick. He returned to Russia to finish his career.

The only other players to appear in an NHL game were seventh-round goaltender Brian Eklund and ninth rounder Thomas Ziegler. Eklund made his single appearance in 2005-06 for the Lightning before retiring after the season. He’s currently the goaltending coach at Boston University. Keigler spent the bulk of his two seasons in North America playing in the minor leagues for the Lightning, appearing in five games in 2000-01 without recording a point. He returned to Switzerland where he had a successful career winning three NLA championships.

2005 Draft Class

With the draft going from nine rounds to seven following the 2005 NHL lockout, the Lightning still had nine picks in the draft. Only three appeared in the NHL and only one of the three managed to score a goal in his NHL career.

  • 1st - Vladimir Mihalik (D)
  • 2nd - None
  • 3rd - Radek Smolenak (F), Chris Lawrence (F)
  • 4th - Marek Bartanus (F), Blair Jones (F)
  • 5th - Stanislav Lascek (F)
  • 6th - Marek Kvapil (F), Kevin Beech (G)
  • 7th - John Wessbecker (D)

Blair Jones easily comes out as the best from this draft class for the Lightning. He made his NHL debut during his first professional season in 2006-07 for the Lightning. He spent most of six seasons bouncing around between the NHL and the AHL for the Lightning and it’s affiliates the Springfield Falcons and Norfolk Admirals. He spent five games with Norfolk during their 2011-12 Calder Cup championship run, but was traded to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. He continued to bounce between the NHL and AHL through the 2015-16 season before moving to the DEL in Germany. He finished with 132 career games, seven goals, and 17 points.

Mihalik and Smolenak were the only other members of this draft class to make the NHL. After being drafted, Mihalik made the move across the Atlantic to play in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels and Prince George Cougars before moving into hte professional ranks. He spent four seasons professionally with the Lightning from 2007-08 to 2010-11. He played in 15 games in the NHL with three assists. Following his North American career, he returned to Europe where he has played in the KHL, SHL, and is currently playing in his native Slovakia.

Smolenak had already made the move to North America playing in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs when he was drafted. His first two years as a professional, he split his time between the AHL and ECHL adjusting to the professional game. He finally made his NHL debut in 2008-09 playing in six games with an assist. The following season, he was lost on waivers to the Chicago Blackhawks at the beginning of the season who played him in one game and then sent him back through waivers two weeks later. He spent the rest of the season in the AHL and returned to Europe. Since leaving North America, he’s played in the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, and Sweden.

The Worst Draft Class

Now that we’ve covered those other pretty bad draft classes from Lightning history, we can get down to the absolute worst draft class the Lightning have ever had...

2006 Draft Class

Ok. Maybe this one isn’t all that fair since the Lightning only had four picks in this draft. But, it was still the least productive draft class they’ve ever put together. Even the Lightning’s 2015 draft class has more games played than the 2006 class. Let’s check out the picks.

  • 1st - Riku Helenius (G)
  • 2nd - None
  • 3rd - Kevin Quick (D)
  • 4th - None
  • 5th - None
  • 6th - Dane Crowley (D)
  • 7th - Denis Kazionov (F)

Helenius is an interesting case as he dealt with some personal issues during his development. Helenius spent one more season in Finland, but only played in two games after being drafted. In 2007-08, he went to the WHL to play for the Seattle Thunderbirds and put up a strong .915 SV% in 41 games played. He turned pro in 2008-09, and spent most of the season in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals with 25 games played and a .918 SV%. But he was also sent to the ECHL and played 11 games split between the Augusta Lunx and Mississippi Sea Wolves and then played in two playoff games for the Elmire Jackals. He also made his lone NHL appearance for the Lightning in one game stopping both shots he face in 6:52 in a relief appearance.

In 2009-10, he played in 12 games before being loaned to the SHL where he finished out the last year and half of his entry level contract. In 2011-12, Helenius had a resurgence playing for JYP in Finland posting a .936 SV% in 33 games and following it with a .947 SV% in 13 playoff games. With this big step forward, Steve Yzerman brought in back into the fold with the Syracuse Crunch in 2012-13. Unfortunately, he didn’t carry over his success and in 2013-14 was pushed out by Kristers Gudlevskis. He returned to Finland and played three seasons in the KHL and spent last season in Liiga.

Third-round pick Quick was the only other player to appear in an NHL game. After starting his NCAA career at the University of Michigan in 2007-08, Quick left school early in February and joined the Norfolk Admirals for 18 games. He played in six games for the Lightning during the 2008-09 season with a single assist in his only NHL games. The rest of his career was split between the AHL and ECHL, and included two stings in the English EIHL. He finished his career in 2016-17 playing for the China Dragon in the Asia League.

Dane Crowly played five games for the Norfolk Admirals in 2007-08 on an ATO, but was never signed by the Lightning. He played one full year of professional hockey mostly in the ECHL in 2008-09 and returned to the Canadian USports in 2010-11 to get an education. Since graduating, he’s been playing in the SEMHL for the Altona Maroons.

Denis Kazionov never came to North America instead opting to play in his native Russia where he has won a Nadezhda Cup. He has played the last two seasons with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

Since we’ve seen that the Lightning didn’t get much from the draft picks they used, you might be asking what did they get for all of the draft picks they traded away?

Funny enough, their second-round pick was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for two picks from the 2005 draft class. The two picks were a third used for Chris Lawrence and a fourth used on Blair Jones. Their fourth-round pick was also traded in a package for the 2005 third-round pick used to select Radek Smolenak. The Lightning’s fifth-round pick was used for a 2005 sixth-round pick to select Kevin Beech.

So, yeah. I think this pretty well explains why the Lightning bottomed out so hard between the Stanley Cup winning 2004 team and picking Steven Stamkos first overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

And may we also take this moment, once again, to be thankful for Steve Yzerman and Al Murray coming into the Lightning organization?