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Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Mulligan: The 1996 NHL Entry Draft

The defensemen edition.

Tampa Bay Lightning Vs Boston Bruins At TD Garden Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What if we could take a mulligan on a Tampa Bay Lightning draft, and re-do the picks the team made? Maybe the team isn’t where it is now. Maybe some of it’s future draft picks don’t get made because the team ended up being better and got worse picks in future drafts. Maybe the team has another Stanley Cup in the trophy case. There are lots of trickle down effects that could happen in such a case. But it’s still fun to ask “What If?”

We continue to work our way back through the Lightning’s draft history, this time with the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. The Lightning ended up with only six picks in this draft, and the team picked up four defensemen and two forwards. Only three players made it to the NHL and the Lightning’s 7th round pick ended up being the best 7th round pick the Lightning have ever made.

The top of this draft was actually kind of weak. Prior to the Lightning’s selection at 16th overall, only three players reached 1,000 games: defensemen Chris Phillips and Derek Morris, as well as forward Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus also had the most points in his NHL career of the first 15 picks with 581 points, and was also tops in goals with 228. Four of the first 15 picks failed to reach 100 games in the NHL, and six failed to reach 100 points in their careers.

The rules for this Mulligan are that I can only select a player that was drafted within the next 20 draft picks after the Lightning’s selection. This is to give some reality to the possibility of having made the “right” pick according to who was available and who might have been on the draft board at the time. That means that I can’t turn a bust of a first round pick into a super star long shot seventh rounder. Any trades that were made at the draft, including trading draft picks away, can be undone if there is no player worthy of the pick the team traded for, or if there is a star player the team could have selected instead of trading away the pick.

All stats are as of the regular season finale of the 2018-19 season.

First Round, 16th Pick, 16th Overall

Original Pick: D Mario Larocque, 5 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points

New Pick: C Daniel Briere, 973 GP, 307 goals, 389 assists, 696 points

Larocque was one of the many first round disappointments in this draft. A big left handed defenseman, he put up a LOT of penalty minutes. His draft year of 1995-96 was his rookie season in the QMJHL with the Hull Olympiques and he put up seven goals, 16 assists, and 26 points over 68 games played, to go with 196 penalty minutes. He played in two more seasons in the QMJHL before turning pro. He played all five of his NHL games during 1998-99 in his rookie pro season and spent the rest of the year in the IHL. He never made it back to the NHL, playing in the IHL, AHL, ECHL, and UHL over a career that ended after the 2014-15 season. He also played in Austria, Italy, England and Scotland over four seasons in Europe.

When looking at our possible new picks, Briere stood out as the player that had the highest end seasons of the group available. Marco Sturm was also up there for longevity, and was just behind Briere in production. Eventual Lightning Stanley Cup winner Cory Sarich was also available here. The other big name, though, is Matt Cullen. He has played in 1,516 games and 731 points, eclipsing Briere in both categories.

Cullen certainly has the longevity argument, but I ultimately went with the player that was a higher-end talent. Cullen never reached 50 points in a season, though he twice had 49 points and two more seasons with 48. He also only broke 20 goals twice, with a career high of 25 goals.

Briere, by contrast, was a bona fide top six forward for more of his career. His best season game in 2006-07 when he had 32 goals and 95 points in 81 games. He reached the 50 point plateau in eight seasons and recorded at least 20 goals in eight seasons. He also topped the 30 goal mark four times.

Second Round, 21st Pick, 47th Overall

TRADE: The Lightning traded Jeff Reese, this pick, and a eighth round pick (205th overall) for Corey Schwab. Schwab was mostly a back-up goaltender for the Lightning over three seasons before he was lost to the Atlanta Thrashers in the expansion draft. Reese had only played in 19 games for the Lightning after being acquired mid-season from the Hartford Whalers. Funnily enough, Schwab and Reese both ended up being Goaltending Coaches for the Lightning later and both were with the team together for three seasons following the 2004 lockout. At that time, Schwab was the goaltending coach and Reese was an Assistant Coach.

VERDICT: Undo the trade! Ultimately, Schwab wasn’t a difference maker for the Lightning, and Reese probably wouldn’t have been, either, if he was kept, as he only played in five more NHL games after the Lightning traded him. So, let’s keep the draft picks so that we can pick...

New Pick: D Zdeno Chara, 1,485 GP, 200 goals, 442 assists, 642 points

A sure fire Hall of Famer, Stanley Cup winner, Norris and Messier trophy winners, and a seven time All-Star. There’s no denying that Chara is one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game and he likely should have won more than the one Norris Trophy he owns during his career.

Averaging 24:48 TOI on his career, they don’t come much stouter than Big Z. Whatever you think of him now with his long career with the Boston Bruins, he is a player you would absolutely have loved to have had on the Lightning blue line for all of these years.

Only Matt Cullen has more games played in this draft class, but with Chara just 31 games behind him and still under contract to continue playing, he should pass Cullen this season. His 200 goals are the 7th most in his class and first among defensemen by 90 goals. With 442 assists, he comes in 3rd in the draft class and second among defensemen behind Tomas Kaberle’s 476. He also sits third in the class in points behind Cullen and Briere.

Third Round, 17th Pick, 69th Overall

Original Pick: F Curtis Tipler, never appeared in NHL

New Pick: F Mark Parrish, 722 GP, 215 goals, 172 assists, 387 points

Parrish played all over the NHL following his NCAA and WHL career after being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs traded him before he reached the NHL and he played for the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Buffalo Sabres. He only played in 16 games with the Lightning during the 2009-10 season with two assists.

At the height of his career, Parrish put up 30 goals, 30 assists and 60 points in 2001-02 with the Islanders, all of which were career highs. He put up three other seasons in the 40 point range and five over seasons with at least 30 points. Parrish was also a part of the Islanders and Panthers trade that sent Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen from the Island to Florida.

Fifth Round, 17th Pick, 125th Overall

Original Pick: D Jason Robinson, never Appeared in NHL

New Pick: F Andreas Dackell, 613 GP, 91 goals, 159 assists, 250 points

Robinson was picked amid a fair wasteland of talent. He was not an offensively talented defenseman in the OHL and didn’t go far as a professional in North America, mostly playing in the ECHL with a couple stints in the IHL. He spent seven of his 15 professional seasons playing in the EIHL in England.

Dackell is one of only five of the 21 available players for us to pick to make it to the NHL. The only other reasonable pick to look at is goaltender Robert Esche who was a career back-up with a 78-64-22 record with an .899 SV% over eight seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers.

Dackell only played eight seasons in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens. He returned to Sweden to play in the SHL during the 2004-05 lockout and remained there, playing with Brynas IF through the 2011-12 season. Dackell was a good middle of the line up player with six 30+ point seasons. He set career highes with 35 assists and 50 points in 1998-99 with the Senators. His career high in goals was 15, which he did in three different seasons.

Sixth Round, 17th Pick, 152nd Overall

Original Pick: D Nikolai Ignatov, never appeared in NHL

New Pick: D Brett Clark, 689 GP, 45 goals, 141 assists, 186 points

This one was another easy pick. The only other viable alternative was forward Dan Hinote who played in 503 career games, but only recorded 90 points in his career. Ignatov was a Russian defenseman that never came to North America to play.

Clark was drafted out of the University of Maine where he had 38 points in 39 games. Instead of returning to school, he continued his development with Team Canada in the Canadian National Team program at the behest of the Montreal Canadiens front office.

Clark made his professional debut in 1997-98 season, playing 41 games with the Canadiens and only recording one goal. The NHL did not track time on ice until the following season, but it’s safe to bet that he was not given a whole lot of ice time. He also played 20 games in the AHL. He returned with the Canadiens the next season and recorded four points in 61 games while averaging 13:11.

The Canadiens then made a trade of a sixth round pick in exchange for the Atlanta Thrashers picking him in the expansion draft. He was not given much opportunity with the Thrashers, though, and spent more time in the IHL and AHL. It wasn’t until after the 2004 lockout that Clark finally started finding his stride. He joined the Colorado Avalanche full time for the 2005-06 season and recorded nine goals and 36 points. He followed that up with a 39 point season. His offense dropped off after that into the 20 point range.

Now, some of you might feel like Clark’s name is familiar, and it is. After finishing the 2009-10 season with the Colorado Avalanche, Steve Yzerman and the Lightning signed him to a two year contract. He recorded 31 points in 2010-11 and then 15 points in 2011-12 as the Lightning’s roster quality took a step back after reaching game seven of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. Clark played eight games for the Minnesota Wild in 2012-13, and those were his last games in the NHL. He played another season in the AHL and then retired after the 2013-14 season.

Sixth Round, 22nd Pick, 157th Overall

Original Pick: F Xavier Delisle, 16 GP, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points

New Pick: F Trevor Letowski, 616 GP, 84 goals, 117 assists, 201 points

Letowski and Samuel Pahlsson were our two best selections here. Pahlsson had almost 200 more games in the NHL, but finished with two less points than Letowski. I ended up picking Letowski just because he had the higher points per game average through his career and had a higher peak, despite the shorter career. His best season came in 1999-00 when Letowski scored career highs with 19 goals, 20 assists, and 39 points. He reached 30 points one other season and at least 20 points in four other seasons. Pahlsson by contrast topped out at 26 points in 2006-07. His best goal scoring season came in 2005-06 when he recorded 11 goals, his only season with double digit goals.

Seventh Round, 17th Pick, 179th Overall

Original Pick: D Pavel Kubina, 970 GP, 110 goals, 276 assists, 386 points

New Pick: D Pavel Kubina

Nobody else comes close for this pick. Fellow defenseman Willie Mitchell was the last player available to pick and was the next best pick with 907 games played and 180 points, but that doesn’t come close to Kubina’s production. If this pick was five picks later, then we would have been going with a different player in Tomas Kaberle.

Kubina was still playing in the Czech Republic when the Lightning drafted him. He came over to North America though and put up 44 points in 61 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL. He moved to the professional ranks in 1997-98 playing 55 games with the Adirondack Red Wings in the AHL and also playing in 10 games for the Lightning. In 1998-99, Kubina became a full timer for the Lightning with 21 points in 68 games.

Kubina stayed with the Lightning through the 2005-06 season when he recorded his best points total up to that point with 38 points in 76 games and also set his career best assists mark with 33. He set his career high in goals during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup season of 2003-04 when he scored 17 goals, but only 18 assists.

Kubina left the Lightning as an unrestricted free agent signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs for four years. With Toronto, he set and then matched his career high points totals with 40 points in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Kubina was traded to the Atlanta Thashers prior to the last year of his Maple Leafs contract and recorded 38 points with them.

He then re-joined the Lightning for the 2010-11 season with a two year contract. He recorded 23 points over 79 games and three points in eight playoff games. In 2011-12, he put up 11 points in 52 games before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline. He played 17 games for the Flyers and five playoff games. Kubina played three games in Switzerland during the 2012-13 season before retiring coming up just short of 1,000 games played in the NHL.

Eighth Round, 16th Pick, 205th Overall

TRADE: This pick was involved in the earlier trade of a second round pick that we overturned.

New Pick: F Craig Adams, 951 GP, 55 goals, 105 assists, 160 points

Adams had a long career playing 14 seasons in the NHL while averaging just 10:55 as a fourth liner. He played with the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, and Pittsburgh Penguins over his career. He retired after the 2014-15 season after winning two Stanley Cups: 2006 with the Hurricanes and 2009 with the Penguins.