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We know the Lightning have done well late in the draft but what about the early rounds?

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Nikita Kucherov and what else?

NHL: MAR 10 Lightning at Maple Leafs Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a well deserved reputation for drafting and developing players since the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. While Steve Yzerman gets a lot of the credit for the drafting that happened during this time, we can’t over look the contributions of Director of Amateur Scouting (and now Assistant General Manager) Al Murray and his scouting staff. The 2010 NHL Entry Draft was technically Yzerman’s first draft with the Lightning, but 2011 was the first one with Al Murray’s finger prints on it.

With names like Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Anthony Cirelli coming from the later rounds, it’s easy to get praise for such picks. Even beyond those bigger names, the Lightning have gotten valuable NHL games out of depth players from the lower rounds like Cedric Paquette, Nikita Nesterov, Jake Dotchin, and Mathieu Joseph. Just off the strength of those contributions, the reputation for drafting and developing is well deserved.

When you get beyond the first 60 or so draft picks, that’s where your lottery tickets are supposed to be. Where you hope to find the diamonds in the rough (*cough* Brayden Point *cough*) that other scouts missed or a general manager was scared away from for various reasons.

But what about the first and second rounds of the draft? Those are the rounds where NHLers are supposed to come from. They’re also the picks that have the most value when a general manager is making a trade at the deadline. That cut line of Top 60 (or Top 62 now with 31 teams) picks is why we value finding those gems in the third round and later so much.

So, we’ve already established that the Lightning scouting staff has been successful outside of the top two rounds. But how have they done in the early rounds of the draft?

Guidelines

For the purposes of this analysis, I’m only going to be looking at the 2011 through 2015 drafts. The reason I picked 2015 is that it means that every draft pick has had at least five seasons to develop and reach the NHL to make an impact. First rounders are more likely to have made it to the NHL in their first or second season. Even for second rounders, that would give them a couple of years to remain in the junior ranks, followed by three seasons of professional hockey.

To keep things as fair as possible, I’ll be comparing draft picks against their peers within their draft class and round as well as within this group of draft classes. To even things out, particularly for games played, I’ll be using a percentage of possible games played. That means 82 games per season since they were drafted with the exception of 48 games for 2012-13 and 71 games for 2019-20, which is the most games played by any team this season.

I’ll also be breaking things up by forwards and defensemen. Forwards tend to make it to the NHL faster than defensemen, and it only seems appropriate to keep the comparisons fair among position groups. Additionally, I’ll mostly be ignoring goaltenders here. They’re special creatures and would require a separate analysis from skaters.

I will also be counting all of the player’s playing time in the NHL regardless of team.

How Do We Measure a Successful Draft Pick?

Not every player or draft pick is going to provide your team value in the same way. Some are going to be valuable depth pieces at the bottom of your lineup that fill in the gaps cheaply. Some are going to be megastars. And others are going to fall somewhere in the middle class of players that are also very valuable in their own ways.

Ultimately, the goal of the draft is to find players that contribute to your team. You can’t contribute if you’re not on the ice. For that reason, a lot of the basic measure for success will be games played in the NHL. To get more granular beyond that, we’ll also use Evolving Hockey’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metrics to give us an idea of how much value players are providing in the NHL.

Below are the averages for percentage of possible games played for reference. For example, if it was possible for a player to have played 500 games since they were drafted, and they’ve played 250 games, they’ve played 50% of possible games.

  • 1st Round Forwards - 50.82%
  • 1st Round Defensemen - 48.11%
  • 2nd Round Forwards - 20.56% Note: This number is spiked a bit by the 2011 class which had a strong group of 2nd round forwards. The average of the other four classes is 16.96%.
  • 2nd Round Defensemen - 15.66%

Grading Scale

Grading will naturally be a little bit subjective. So some of my own opinion about value that the player has generated in their professional career, including as a minor leaguer, will creep into it. I’ll also consider where the player was drafted versus the value you might expect from a player drafted in that position. For example, a player drafted at the end of the first round isn’t expected to provide the same kind of value as a top five pick in the draft. I will also factor in how much better value the team could have gotten by taking another player that was selected shortly afterwards by another team. For grading, I’ll use the ever popular 20-80 scouting scale.

  • 80 - Elite
  • 70 - Nearly Elite
  • 60 - Plus
  • 55 - Above Average
  • 50 - Average
  • 45 - Below Average
  • 40 - Replacement Level
  • 30 - Below Replacement Level
  • 20 - Steve Down the Street

With all of that out of the way, let’s dive into the meat of it.

2011 NHL Entry Draft

  • 1st round, 27th overall - Vladislav Namestnikov, 435 GP, 83 goals, 106 assists, 189 points, 4.1 WAR

Namestnikov has settled in as a middle six contributor that can play center and left wing. He was greatly boosted by a half season of superior offensive output playing along side Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and playing on the first power play. He hasn’t been able to replicate that success after leaving the Lightning.

Namestnikov has played in 61.33% of possible games since being drafted which is better than the 2011 average of 50.07%. His 4.1 WAR is worse than the 2011 average of 6.97. However, this class’ first round WAR is higher than the 2012-2015 classes and is boosted at the top by some very strong WAR performances from Sean Couturier, Mark Scheifele, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jonathan Huberdeau. His 4.1 WAR would be about average in any of the other classes.

Grade: 50. Namestnikov has had a good career. He was the 27th overall pick, so it’s certainly excusable that he didn’t flourish into a superstar, but settled in as a reliable middle of the line up player. He has provided more value by WAR than the 4th and 5th overall pick, and more WAR than 12 skaters selected ahead of him.

  • 2nd round, 58th overall - Nikita Kucherov, 515 GP, 221 goals, 326 assists, 547 points, 18.7 WAR

L. O. L. Ok. You know how this is going to go. This actually was a really strong 2nd round forward class. Kucherov is obviously the gem of the group with 18.7 WAR which is first among 2011 2nd rounders. He’s also played in 74.31% of possible games compared to 34.92% for the rest of the forwards. The only player to have played more games than him from the second round is Brandon Saad as he started in the NHL a little earlier than Kucherov.

Grade: 80. I don’t think I need to say anything more. The Lightning got a superstar in the 2nd round. A player that should have been drafted no doubt within the first five picks of the draft, and more likely in the top three. That’s a great success.

2012 NHL Entry Draft

  • 1st round, 10th overall - Slater Koekkoek, 149 GP, 7 goals, 22 assists, 29 points, 1.8 WAR

Koekkoek has played in 24.39% of possible games since being drafted compared to 53.03% for the other defensemen drafted in the 1st round. His 1.8 WAR is also below the average of 4.6 WAR. This was a very strong defensemen class with a run on blue liners going before Koekkoek. It definitely feels like the Lightning missed out by being the last in the run of eight defensemen drafted within the first ten picks. It hurts even more that the top WAR producer from the 2012 first round was Filip Forsberg who went with the next pick in the draft at 11th overall.

Grade: 45. Koekkoek dealt with multiple shoulder injuries during his junior career before he ever made it to the professional ranks. He’s been a depth player in the NHL and was traded by the Lightning for Jan Rutta. He has provided more WAR than only three players that were drafted before him and has been out WARed by ten players drafted after him.

  • 2nd round, 40th overall - Dylan Blujus, Has not played in NHL

Grade: 25.

  • 2nd round, 53rd overall - Brian Hart, Has not played in NHL
  • Grade: 20.

The most significant player that the Lightning missed out on with these two picks was Colton Sissons (5.1 WAR) at 50th overall, Jake McCabe (4 WAR) at 55th, Chris Tierney (2.1 WAR) at 55th, and Jordan Martinook (2.2 WAR) at 58th.

2013 NHL Entry Draft

  • 1st round, 3rd overall - Jonathan Drouin, 349 GP, 67 goals, 142 assists, 209 points, 1.6 WAR

Drouin has played in 61.99% of possible games compared to 49.02% average for 2013 first round forwards. His 1.6 WAR though falls well below the average of 4.7 WAR and ranks 14th among first round forwards in this class. WAR definitely doesn’t like Drouin. A lot of that has to do with his very poor defensive impacts and his generally poor play at even strength. Much of his strength comes from the power play, which doesn’t make up for his even strength play.

Verdict: 40. This one was tough to grade. Drouin or Seth Jones was a tough debate. I understand what the Lightning scouting staff saw at the time, but it hurts looking back knowing they could have done better with Seth Jones who went with the next pick. Or even with Elias Lindholm or Sean Monahan who went 5th and 6th respectively.

  • 2nd round, 33rd overall - Adam Erne, 170 GP, 15 goals, 17 assists, 32 points, -0.7 WAR

This draft class had a few strong forwards that went in the last six picks of the second round in William Carrier, Artturi Lehkonen, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Zach Sanford. Erne has played 30.2% of possible games which is better than the 19.36% average for second round forwards in this class. He has recorded -0.7 WAR which is the 2nd worst of the 17 forwards drafted in the second round. However, I think we do need to take a small grain of salt with that number because he had 0.4 WAR in 114 games with the Lightning before going to a historically bad Detroit Red Wings for 2019-20 that surely drug him down. 0.4 WAR would put him as the 6th best second round forward for the class.

Grade: 45. The Lightning took a replacement level player here. They certainly could have done better, but all in all didn’t do horribly.

2014 NHL Entry Draft

  • 1st round, 19th overall - Tony DeAngelo, 200 GP, 24 goals, 81 assists, 105 points, 1.8 WAR

DeAngelo was certainly a controversial pick and that controversy hasn’t left him during his NHL career. The start of DeAngelo’s career was rough, but he has turned it around over the past couple seasons due to huge contributions to even strength and power play offense. He’s still weak defensively, but for now he’s outpacing that negative value with his offense.

DeAngelo has played 41.58% of possible games which is slightly behind the 44.7% average for first round defensemen in 2014. He has the third best WAR among defensemen in the first round and is 14th among all first rounders. Both defensemen with more WAR than DeAngelo were drafted before him. He’s also produced more WAR and played more games than two other defensemen that were drafted before him. Only three skaters drafted after DeAngelo in the first round have produced more WAR.

Grade: 55. I feel this grade, like DeAngelo, might be controversial. His time in the Tampa organization certainly didn’t go very well and it took him going to the Arizona Coyotes and then New York Rangers before he found his place in the NHL. While the Lightning didn’t hit a home run with him, they didn’t pick an abysmal failure here either. Who knows how his career would have gone if the Lightning had toughed it out with him, but we can only judge him on what he has done.

  • 2nd round, 35th overall - Dominic Masin, Has not played in NHL

Grade: 30. Masin still has a very slight change of making it to the NHL. But he’s already in his fourth professional season and the likelihood of him making it to the NHL, even for a handful of games is dwindling. Masin has provided some nice value at the AHL level though, so that’s why this pick isn’t getting a 20.

  • 2nd round, 57th overall - John MacLeod, Has not played in NHL

Grade: 20.

Like in 2012, the Lightning missed out on a handful of players here in the 2nd round. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson has accumulated 2.8 WAR over 175 games and went 38th overall just after Masin. Forward Ryan Donato also has 2.7 WAR and went 56th overall just before MacLeod. Forward Christian Dvorak is the most notable second rounder though with 3.7 WAR over 246 games and was selected 58th overall right after MacLeod.

2015 NHL Entry Draft

  • 2nd round, 33rd overall - Mitchell Stephens, 38 GP, 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points, 0.3 WAR

Stephens has taken a while to break into the NHL and finally found some time with the Lightning this season in a bottom line role and killing some penalties. Even with his short time in the NHL, his WAR ranks him as 12th best skater selected in the second round.

Grade: 45. This one is tough, because I really like Stephens for what I think he can bring to the bottom of the lineup. The fact he’s taken two and half professional years to reach the NHL has hurt his grade here. But I’ve also gone back in forth in grading this pick for a few reasons.

For one thing, the Lightning traded out of the 28th overall pick for this pick and a third round pick. The Lightning could have taken Anthony Beauvillier and his 4.2 WAR instead. On the other hand, that third round pick they acquired was used to take Anthony Cirelli who has 6.5 WAR. So that’s a plus in favor of the overall transaction.

But the downside is that even with making the trade and still getting Cirelli, the Lightning could have gotten even more value here. They could have taken defenseman Travis Dermott (34th, 4 WAR) or Brandon Carlo (37th, 4.1 WAR). They also missed on taking Sebastian Aho (35th, 7 WAR) which hurts the grade.

  • 2nd round, 44th overall - Matthew Spencer, Has not played in NHL
  • Grade: 20

Overall

Obviously, the star of the first two rounds is Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning did incredible with this pick. But the rest of their draft picks have been average at best. It’s always easier to pick players when you have 20/20 hindsight, which does make it tough to really grade fairly here.

Realistically, the Lightning have done well enough in the first round. They haven’t hit any home runs (though Andrei Vasilevskiy would be one if I hadn’t disregarded goalies). But they also haven’t really hit any outright duds in the first round. All of these first round picks are in the NHL and providing positive value for their teams.

The four first round picks averaged out to a grade of 47.5, which is just below average on the 20-80 scale. The eight second round picks averaged out to a grade of 35 which gives us a Below Replacement Level grade. The Lightning just haven’t hit that hard on their second round picks outside of Kucherov. If you drop Kucherov out of the average, the grade goes down to a 30.

How do you think the Lightning have done in the first and second rounds? Let us know in the comment section!