Espo knew what he was doing
Say what you want about original Lightning owner and general manager Phil Esposito, but at least he knew how to make a first-round pick. If you've watched the Stanley Cup playoffs, you've seen some of Espo's former first-round picks still making an impact. In fact, he swung and missed only once in his seven first-round picks. Not all turned out to be elite players, but all except one have carved out decent-to-solid NHL careers. Here's a look:
1992: Roman Hamrlik (first overall)
Hamrlik has played 1,157 NHL games with five teams and remains a top-four defenseman after scoring 142 goals with 422 assists. He's still going strong. He had six goals and 27 assists for the Canadiens this season.
1993: Chris Gratton (third overall)
Often criticized for never being quite the scorer many thought he would be, Gratton was simply miscast. With his size, faceoff ability and attention to defense, Gratton was meant to be a third-line center, something he became in his later years. Still, he has played 1,092 games. Look, hitting 1,000 games in the NHL remains a major accomplishment.
1994: Jason Wiemer (eighth overall)
Wiemer, who last played in the NHL in 2006, falls into that "decent player'' category. He didn't bring his scoring touch from juniors, but he did bring his aggression and agitator attitude. As a power forward, he only scored 90 goals and 202 points in the 726 NHL games, but did rack up 1,420 penalty minutes.
1995: Daymond Langkow (fifth overall)
You know, this might be Espo's best pick after Vinny Lecavalier. Langkow doesn't get noticed because he plays out in Calgary, but he has played 941 games and remains a top-two-line center. Over the past seven seasons, Langkow has averaged a very impressive 25 goals and 34 assists.
1996: Mario Larocque (16th overall)
The only miss Espo had. The 6-foot-3 Larocque never filled out his frame and struggled physically on defense. He played only five NHL games with no points. He has kicked around the minors and Europe, spending this past season in Italy.
1997: Paul Mara (seventh overall)
The Rangers defenseman might have the thickest beard in all of hockey. And he hasn't been a bad defenseman either. Mara has played 639 NHL games and was a key member of New York’s defense this season.
1998: Vinny Lecavalier (first overall)
Espo's best pick. And let’s not forget that there was some debate whether the Lightning should take Lecavalier or David Legwand, who went second that year . The Lightning made the right choice. Lecavalier's numbers: 787 games, 302 goals, 367 assists. Legwand: 622 games, 141 goals, 228 assists.