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’ve finally made it. The very first NHL Entry Draft that the Lightning took part in complete with the first overall pick in 1992. With the first pick, the Lightning took Roman Hamrlik and ultimately made 11 picks, one in each round of the draft. The Lightning also did better than some of their other drafts with six of the 11 players eventually making it to the NHL. But was Hamrlik the best pick available? Did the Lightning get that one right? Read on to find out.
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, 1st Pick, 1st Overall
Original Pick: D Roman Hamrlik, 1,395 GP, 155 goals, 483 assists, 638 points
New Pick: D Sergei Gonchar, 1,301 GP, 220 goals, 591 assists, 811 points
This one was pretty close, but ultimately, Gonchar’s greater offensive upside won out for me. Hamrlik was able to join the Lightning right away, but it took until his fourth season that he really broke out offensively putting up 65 points in 82 games in 1995-96 after three years of scoring 21-23 points. Hamrlik also didn’t last long with the Lightning as he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers during the 1997-98 season after just five and a half seasons with the Lightning.
His best offensive season would be 1995-96 as he recorded career highs in goals, assists, and points, though he would match his 16 goals again in 2000-01 and put up six 40+ point and 11 30+ point seasons in his 20 year career. Hamrlik’s only international success came at the 1998 Olympics when he won a Gold Medal with Team Czech Republic.
Gonchar, by contrast, didn’t get his start in the NHL until 1994-95 when he spent half a season with the Washington Capitals. His first full season in the NHL was 1995-96 when he recorded 15 goals and 41 points. But that wouldn’t be the high point of his career. Gonchar set a career high of 26 goals in 2001-02, which was the second time he broke the 20 goal plateau in his career. He finished with six seasons of 15 or more goals and 12 seasons with at least 10.
Gonchar twice made it to 67 points both in 2002-03 and 2006-07 and also set his career high in assists with 54 in 2006-07. In total, Gonchar had nine 50+ point seasons over his 20 year career. He finished with less than 20 points only three times; his first partial season in 1994-95, 2008-09 at 34 years old when he scored 19 points in only 25 games; and in his final season of 2014-15 at 40 years old when he recorded 14 points in 48 games.
While Gonchar was never a Norris winner or finalist, he finished fourth in the voting three times and was top 10 in the voting a total of seven times. He was also a second team All-Star twice in his career. In addition, in international play, he won a Silver and Bronze medal in both the Olympic Games and the World Championships for Team Russia.
Second Round, 2nd Pick, 26th Overall
Original Pick: D Drew Bannister, 164 GP, 5 goals, 25 assists, 30 points
New Pick: F Michael Peca, 864 GP, 176 goals, 289 assists, 465 points
While a pretty capable defenseman in Boris Mironov went with the next pick after Bannister, Michael Peca drew my attention. Of the players available, he has the most games played and the most points, though not the highest points per game. What he does have though is two Selkie trophies and a total of seven top 5 finishes in the voting. Peca scored in the 40-60 point range through the prime years of a career that spanned six teams and 14 seasons. He also won an Olympic Gold Medal with Team Canada.
Third Round, 1st Pick, 49th Overall
Original Pick: F Brent Gretzky, 13 GP, 1 goals, 3 assists, 4 points
New Pick: F Sergejs Zoltoks, 588 GP, 111 goals, 147 assists, 258 points
Perhaps Phil Esposito was trying to catch Lightning in a bottle with Wayne Gretzky’s younger brother. It didn’t really work out. He had been a stud in the OHL, and he put up great numbers in the IHL with the Atlanta Knights for the Lightning’s minor league affiliate. But he only got into 13 games over two seasons for the Lightning.
On the other hand, Sergejs Zoltoks had a decent career. He immediately made an impact in the minor leagues through his four professional seasons, but had only played in 25 NHL games. He made it to the NHL on a more full time basis in 1996-97 with the Ottawa Senators. He mostly scored in the 25-35 point range in his career. Sadly, Zoltoks passed away due to heart failure in 2004.
Fourth Round, 2nd Pick, 74th Overall
Original Pick: F Aaron Gavey, 360 GP, 41 goals, 50 assists, 91 points
New Pick: F Jere Lehtinen, 875 GP, 243 goals, 271 assists, 514 points
If you’re a big fan of enforcers, you probably would have picked Matthew Barnaby here with his 834 games, 300 points, and 2,562 penalty minutes. Instead, I went for a player that showed an ability to play the game at a higher level. Lehtinen won three Selke trophies in a career spent entirely with the Dallas Stars including Stanley Cup championships. He also has four Olympic medals, three Bronze and a Silver, with Team Finland.
Fifth Round, 1st Pick, 97th Overall
Original Pick: F Brantt Myhres, 154 GP, 6 goals, 2 assists, 8 points
New Pick: D Adrian Aucoin, 1,108 GP, 121 goals, 278 assists, 399 points
The very last player available with this selection, he was also clearly the best player. Aucoin also played for the Lightning briefly in 2000-01 when he was acquired mid-season from the Vancouver Canucks. His point production depended on his power play usage through his career, but he was most often in the 20s for points with a handful of seasons getting into the 30s and his career high of 44 points in 2003-04.
Sixth Round, 2nd Pick, 122nd Overall
Original Pick: F Martin Tanguay, Never appeared in NHL
New Pick: F Derek Armstrong, 467 GP, 72 goals, 149 assists, 221 points
One other forward available lasted longer in the NHL, but still ended up with less points than Armstrong. Armstrong was a massive point producer in the AHL, but only got occasional call ups by the New York Islanders and New York Rangers playing a combined 86 NHL games in his first eight professional seasons. That included two 80 point seasons and a 101 point season in the AHL. Armstrong went to Switzerland and played with SC Bern for a year in 2001-02 to prove himself with 17 goals and 53 points in 44 games. He managed to get a deal with the Los Angeles Kings and for the first time in his career, established himself at the NHL level.
Over the next five seasons (besides the 2004-05 lockout) in the NHL, he scored from 35 to 44 points. His production declined in 2008-09 with just nine points in 56 games at 35 years old. He lasted one more year playing six NHL games and the rest of the season in the AHL before retiring. With his AHL success early in his career, you have to wonder if he might have produced more if he had been given a chance before he went to Switzerland.
Seventh Round, 1st Pick, 145th Overall
Original Pick: G Derek Wilkinson, 22 GP
New Pick: F Ian Laperriere, 1,082 GP, 121 goals, 215 assists, 336 points
Laperriere got into his first NHL game at the end of the 1993-94 season after his QMJHL season finished. He spent the next season split between the NHL and the minors. He was then traded twice during 1995-96 going from the St. Louis Blues, to the New York Rangers, and finally to the Los Angeles Kings. He found a steady home with the Kings playing full time from 1996-97 through 2003-04 as a consistent 15-25 point bottom six forward that put up triple digits in penalty minutes.
After the 2004 lockout, he had an offensive surge in 2005-06 with the Colorado Avalanche recording career highs with 21 goals, 24 assists, and 45 points. Over the next four seasons, he went back to his normal production and was out of the NHL after 2009-10 due to concussion issues as well as nerve damage to his eyes from being hit in the face twice by pucks. He received the 2011 Bill Masterton Trophy.
Eighth Round, 2nd Pick, 170th Overall
Original Pick: F Dennis Maxwell, Never appeared in NHL
New Pick: F Stephane Yelle, 991 GP, 96 goals, 169 assists, 265 points
When you get this far into the draft, you’re lucky to find a player that lasts in the NHL as long as Yelle did. Of the 21 players available with our pick, only five made it to the NHL with Yelle leading in games played by a lot with his 991. The next player had 310, then 133. The last two players have seven and three games respectively in the NHL.
Ninth Round, 1st Pick, 193rd Overall
Original Pick: D Andrew Kemper, Never appeared in NHL
New Pick: Nikolai Khabibulin, 799 GP, 333-334-97, .907 SV%, 2.72 GAA
The Bulin wall. Khabibulin was never really viewed as one of the upper echelon goalies during his time in the NHL, but he had some of his best seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning including winning the Stanley Cup in 2003-04. He was also a member of the 1992 “Unified Team” that represented the former Soviet Union countries in the Olympic Games that won a Gold Medal, though he didn’t play. He also lead his team to a gold medal at the 1992 World Junior Championships. He added an Olympic Bronze Medal as the starting goaltender for the 2002 Russian Team.
Tenth Round, 2nd Pick, 218th Overall
Original Pick: F Marc Tardif, Never appeared in NHL
New Pick: F Anson Carter, 675 GP, 202 goals, 219 assists, 421 points
Carter was a solid forward that dominated Michigan State University (despite being Canadian) for four years after being drafted. After a year of paying his dues in the minors and then getting 19 games each with the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins, Carter stuck in the NHL with the Bruins in 1997-98 scoring 16 goals and 43 points in 78 games. He put up at least 40 points over each of the next three seasons.
In 2001-02, he recorded 60 points for the Edmonton Oilers and then tied it the following year with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers. After a rough 2003-04 year when he played for three different teams and then did not play during the 2004 lockout, he recorded 33 goals, a career high, and 55 points in 2005-06 with the Vancouver Canucks. A year later, he was out of the NHL and two years later, he was retired from hockey.
Eleventh Round, 1st Pick, 241st Overall
Original Pick: F Tom MacDonald, Never appeared in the NHL
New Pick: D Nathan Dempsey, 260 GP, 21 goals, 67 assists, 87 points
Dempsey is the winner by default as the only player available that made it to 50 games in the NHL. He also won a DEL Championship in Germany during the 2004 NHL lockout.