Today while browsing Twitter, an interesting thought came to me. If I could take a mulligan on any Tampa Bat Lightning first-round pick, what would it be and who would I have picked instead? Seeing as how there have been a number of first round flops in the history of the Lightning, I figured there had to be probably 10-15 good candidates.
The criteria I’m using for this is that the mulligan player must represent a vast improvement over the player the Lightning ultimately selected. That means that a player that had a long career as a lower line forward or third pair defenseman is probably not going to be replaced in my mulligan. Yes, they may not have lived up to their 1st round position as a high end player, but they still came out of the draft and had really good careers.
There are also always those very late round picks like Ondrej Palat, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg just to name a few that come out and end up being big surprises. More what I’ll be looking for here are players that would have been in the realm of possibility for the Lightning to have selected. If the Lightning picked in the top 15, then the player must come from the next 5 picks. 16th to 25th, then the player must come from the next 10 picks. If the Lightning picked from 25th to 30th, then the player must come from the next 15 picks.
This is also to simulate that draft boards are rather narrow in their tiers. With some sort of realism, this gives it more of the feel that these are players the Lightning could have picked if their board had been ranked just a little bit differently.
1994 - 8th overall - F Jason Wiemer
Jason Wiemer had a long and relatively successful NHL career. However, his offensive skills did not translate as well into the NHL. He ended his career with 726 games played with 202 points and 1,420 penalty minutes. His career high in points came in 2001-02 when he scored 31 points for the Florida Panthers. He spent parts of four seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being traded to the Calgary Flames. He finished his career in 2005-06.
There are two names that stick out in the next five picks; Jeff Friesen and Mattias Ohlund.
Ohlund is intriguing because he also ended up with the Lightning at the end of his career before knee injuries forced him into retirement two years into a seven year contract. He ended his career with 909 games and 343 points. Ohlund could have been a big part of the team in the late 90s when he made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks.
The other option of Jeff Friesen would have also presented a nice upgrade over Wiemer at forward. Over 12 seasons, Friesen played in 893 games scoring 218 goals and 516 points. He won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03 and was a consistent producer for the San Jose Sharks early in his career. He put up eight straight seasons with 40+ points over his career.
This one is a coin flip, but I have to give the edge here to Ohlund as a top pairing defenseman would have been very valuable to the Lightning. On the other hand, maybe they aren’t so bad in 1997-98 during Ohlund’s rookie season and miss out on Vincent Lecavalier.
1996 - 16th Overall - D Mario Larocque
This one was easy to look at and know that there would be a big upgrade by taking a mulligan here. Larocque played in five NHL games all with the Lightning as a rookie in 1998-99. He never saw the NHL again and spent a lengthy career in the minors with occasional trips to Europe.
The pick to take instead is a clear one; Daniel Briere. Briere was a standout in the QMJHL. He scored 51 goals and 123 points in 72 games before his draft year. He added a 163 point and 130 point season in the following two years before turning professional. He lit the AHL on fire as a rookie scoring 92 points in 68 games. It took four years in the minors though before he really got his game going in the NHL. In 2001-02, in his second full NHL campaign, he posted 32 goals and 60 points with the Phoenix Coyotes. He scored over 45 points in nine out of ten seasons. His one miss was an injury shortened season in 2008-09.
Briere finished his career in 2014-15 with 973 games played and 696 points. He never won a Stanley Cup, but he played in 124 playoff games scoring 53 goals and 116 points. There’s no question here that Briere would have been a big upgrade for the Lightning if they had taken him instead.
2000 - 8th Overall - F Nikita Alexeyev
Alexeyev was a Russian player that the Lightning drafted out of the OHL with the Erie Otters. He split his first two professional seasons between the Lightning and the Springfield Falcons in the AHL. He missed out on potentially having his name on the Stanley Cup in 2003-04. He was assigned to the AHL to start the season, played in 14 games, and then missed the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. After the 2004 lockout, he spent one more season in Tampa and was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline. After finishing out the 2006-07 season, he returned to Russia.
If we were able to go later in the round, there would have been a lot of interesting choices including Brooks Orpik, Brad Boyes, Justin Williams, and Niklas Kronwall. However, in the next five picks, only one name presents any upgrade over Alexeyev and it’s still a pretty big one.
Ron Hainsey was selected 13th overall by the Montreal Canadiens. As a defenseman, he has put up a good and long career with 987 games played and 276 career points. Hainsey has bounced around playing for six different organizations. He’s still around in the league though and will cross that 1,000 game threshold this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
2001 - 3rd Overall - F Alexander Svitov
Svitov went third overall to the Lightning after the Atlanta Thrashers had taken Ilya Kovalchuk and the Ottawa Senators took Jason Spezza. Svitov played in 179 career NHL games over three seasons and only put up 37 points.
Svitov was followed by three players that played at least 550 games in the next five picks. The best among the three would easily by forward Mikko Koivu. In his career, Koivu has 925 games in the NHL with 193 goals and 659 points. He has spent the whole of his career with the Minnesota Wild and has been their Captain since the 2009-10 season. A consistent performer, Koivu has put up at least 40 points in 11 of his 13 seasons. The two years he didn’t were his rookie season and the 2012-13 lockout shortened season when he still managed 37 points in 48 games.
2004 - 30th Overall - D Andy Rogers
As one of two first-round picks from 2004 to never even appear in the NHL, it doesn’t take much to find an improvement on this defenseman. However, only two players out of the next 15 picks broke the 100 game mark in the NHL, and only six ever appeared in the NHL. That leaves us having to pick from Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell.
Bolland ends up getting the nod here as he has a better points per game production in his career. With 433 career games and 208 points, Bolland has been just under a half point per game player making him a solid middle six contributor. Unfortunately, injuries cut his career short and he has not played in the NHL since 2015-16. He did win two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks though during his career.
2005 - 30th Overall - D Vladimir Mihalik
Mihalik was the last pick in the first round in 2005 for the Lightning. He only appeared in 15 NHL games in his career with three points. Underwhelming to say the least for a first-round pick. Unlike Andy Rogers from 2004, there are quite a number of really good players to pick from that makes it difficult to pick the best from the group.
That group includes forwards James Neal, Justin Abdelkader, and Paul Statsny and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Ondrej Pavelec is an intriguing pick as he could have potentially given Steve Yzerman a decent goaltender going into his first year as general manager.
However, I think the more obvious pick is Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He isn’t the flashiest defenseman in the league, but he is as solid as they come and has a great nickname; Pickles. For many casual hockey watchers, he was a surprise pick for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics. Those in the know realized however that Vlasic is a very good defenseman. He’s spent his entire career with the San Jose Sharks and is a bona fide first pairing defenseman with 893 career games and 286 career points.
2006 - 15th Overall - G Riku Helenius
Helenius had some struggles through his hockey career that included the loss of his mother while he was playing in the United States for the Lightning’s AHL farm club. He did make it into one NHL game in his rookie professional season, but never made it back to the NHL. He attempted a comeback in 2012-13 when he signed back with the Lightning after a couple years playing in Sweden and Finland. His second season back in the States ended poorly when he was pushed out by Kristers Gudlevskis’ ascension from the ECHL to the AHL.
Within the next five picks, the Lightning could have instead selected forward Chris Stewart. Stewart has bounced around in his career playing for six different teams. His best years came early on when he had a 64 point campaign in his second year with the Colorado Avalanche and a 53 point year the next season split between the Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues. After the 2010-11 season, his play diminished. He has 652 games and 321 points in his career with an even split between goals and assists.
2009 - 29th Overall - F Carter Ashton
Many fans forget that in 2009 after the Lightning took Victor Hedman second overall, the team had another pick at the end of the first round with the 29th overall pick. The team traded the 32nd overall pick and a third round pick for the Detroit Red Wings’ 1st round pick. So it adds to the irony here that if they could take that mulligan, they could have gotten a better player at 32nd overall and still had their third round pick.
There are two possible picks here, but one really stands out over the other. Ryan O’Reilly was selected 33rd overall. O’Reilly is one of the best faceoff men in the NHL and is a fine centerman. In 651 games played, he has scored 155 goals and 422 points. The other option would have been Jakob Silfverberg who was selected 39th overall and has 209 points in 419 career games.
2010 - 6th Overall - F Brett Connolly
This one goes a little bit against my significant upgrade criteria as Connolly has played in 346 career games and has established himself with the Washington Capitals. I also recognize that most fans are probably expecting me to put Connolly in here since he is something of a bust from more recent memory. This is also a good opportunity to highlight two potential picks that could have been significant additions for the team instead: Jeff Skinner and Mikael Granlund.
Skinner has been in the NHL longer than Granlund with 579 games and 379 points over nine seasons. Skinner also has 204 goals to his name. Skinner is a high end skater and has proven himself to be a goal scoring breaking the 30 goal plateau three times in his career and never posted less than 18 goals in a full season.
Granlund took a little longer to make it to the NHL and has shown more of a playmakers touch. Skinner’s career high in points is 63 which he has done twice. Granlund’s however is 69 and he also has a 67 point season. Granlund also takes very few penalties.
Honestly, it would be hard to go wrong with either of these picks.
2012 - 10th Overall - D Slater Koekkoek
Koekkoek is another player like Connolly that hasn’t blossomed in the NHL. This one is also hard to pass over as the very next pick was used on a forward that has turned out to be a very good player.
The Washington Capitals selected Filip Forsberg with the next pick in the draft. in 331 career games, he has 117 goals and 255 points. The Capitals have also been much maligned for their trade of Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. The Predators got the far better end of the deal as Forsberg has turned into a first line winger for the Predators. He already has three 60+ point seasons and a 58 point season. He has also scored at least 25 goals in all four of his full seasons in the NHL.
Koekkoek may still make an impact in the NHL, but Forsberg has already made a very large impact for the Nashville Predators.
2014 - 19th Overall - D Tony DeAngelo
DeAngelo still may turn out to be a decent player now on his third organization since the Lightning drafted him. But there is one player that stands out in the next 10 picks that is hard to ignore, just like with Koekkoek in 2012.
Selected 25th overall by the Boston Bruins was David Pastrnak. Pastrnak has made an immediate impact in the NHL only spending 28 total games in the AHL. Over the past two seasons he has 34 and 35 goals and 70 and 80 points. In 12 games during the 2017-18 playoffs, he put up six goals and an astounding 20 points. That playoff production isn’t likely to continue at that torrid of a pace in the future, but Pastrnak has quickly turned into a star in the NHL while DeAngelo has bounced around, been suspended for physical contact with a referee, and had other off ice issues.
This is all hypothetical, but it is quite fun to dream of the what could have beens in Lightning history. There’s always the possibility too that even if the Lightning had drafted the player, something might have happened to that player that hampered their development. Or perhaps one of the former inept front offices would have made an ill advised trade that would have meant that the player made his impact elsewhere.
And that’s the fun of “What ifs.”