NHL draft: The best and worst of the Lightning’s picks

Who were the top five and bottom five draft picks in 26 years of drafting by Tampa Bay?
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) during a stoppage in play before a face off against the New Jersey Devils last year. (DIRK SHADD | Time)
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) during a stoppage in play before a face off against the New Jersey Devils last year. (DIRK SHADD | Time)
Published June 18

It’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting in any draft in any sport, but especially one in which you often wait years for a player to even reach the NHL.

With the 2019 NHL draft nearing (Friday and Saturday), we take a look at the Lightning’s draft history, selecting the five best and five worst draft moments over 26 years.

Steven Stamkos (2008) and Vinny Lecavalier (1998), both top overall picks, are two of the franchise’s best players. They are missing from this list because they were the obvious first overall picks that any other team would have chosen in that spot. This list aims to recognize some of the more surprising successes and disappointments.

First up, the good news …

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Best Lightning draft picks

Nikita Kucherov

Second round, 58th overall in 2011

The Lightning expected Kucherov to be good. No one knew Tampa Bay was getting a scoring champion and likely MVP in the second round, though. He likely wouldn’t have lasted until then if he weren’t coming from Russia, but he was and he did.

Pavel Kubina

In this 2013 file photo, former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina waves to the crowd while on the ice along with his wife Andrea and daughter Tereza as he is honored as part of the Tampa Bay Lightning 20th anniversary season. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
In this 2013 file photo, former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina waves to the crowd while on the ice along with his wife Andrea and daughter Tereza as he is honored as part of the Tampa Bay Lightning 20th anniversary season. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

Seventh round, 179th overall in 1996

Seventh-round picks are nearly throwaways, but Kubina turned out to be a key member in the Lightning’s one Stanley Cup season. He had 17 goals that season. Overall, Kubina topped 600 games over 10 seasons with Tampa Bay.

Brayden Point

In this file photo, Brayden Point meets his team after being drafted No. 79 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Day 2 of the 2014 NHL draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
In this file photo, Brayden Point meets his team after being drafted No. 79 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Day 2 of the 2014 NHL draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Third round, 79th overall in 2014

Point recorded his first 40-goal season this year, and has earned respect as a shut-down, second-line center. That’s good return on a third-rounder. If Point, who is negotiating his first big contract, makes $8 million or more, he’ll be the fourth active player picked outside of the second round to do so.

Ondrej Palát

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18), left, celebrates his first-period goal against the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18), left, celebrates his first-period goal against the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

Seventh round, 208th overall in 2011

The Lightning has a knack for these late-round picks. Palát not only made it to the NHL but has become a key contributor in recent years. He has had some injury issues but until this year maintained an average of 0.6 points per game.

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Roman Hamrlik

In this 2017 file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning inaugural team players Rob Zamuner (7) greets Roman Hamrlik (44) at center ice while being introduced a pre-game ceremony to honor the 1992-93 team. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
In this 2017 file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning inaugural team players Rob Zamuner (7) greets Roman Hamrlik (44) at center ice while being introduced a pre-game ceremony to honor the 1992-93 team. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)

First round, 1st overall in 1992

Tampa Bay hit the mark on its first-ever pick. Hamrlik only played six seasons with the Lightning, but they were six good years and he went on to a 20-year career. Hamrlik’s 1,395 games were more than anyone else in the 1992 draft.

Now the bad news …

Worst Lightning draft picks

Mario Larocque

The Washington Capitals' Enrico Ciccone, middle, fights with Tampa Bay Lightning's Mario Larocque, left, during the third period of the Capitals' 10-1 win Feb. 3, 1999. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (The Tampa Bay Lightning lost 10-1 to the Washington Capitals. GAMES )
The Washington Capitals' Enrico Ciccone, middle, fights with Tampa Bay Lightning's Mario Larocque, left, during the third period of the Capitals' 10-1 win Feb. 3, 1999. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (The Tampa Bay Lightning lost 10-1 to the Washington Capitals. GAMES )

First round, 16th overall in 1996

Zero points falls very much short of the expectations for any first-round pick. Larocque played only five games in 1999, then spent the rest of his career bouncing around the minors and Europe.

Nikita Alexeev

The Lightning's (15) Nikita Alexeev on the ice before his team takes a face off against Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 11, 2006. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
The Lightning's (15) Nikita Alexeev on the ice before his team takes a face off against Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 11, 2006. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

First round, 8th overall in 2000

Alexeev neither performed nor lasted long with the Lightning. He totaled 18 goals and 17 assists in 144 games over three seasons, then was traded without much return. He only played 15 more NHL games.

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Ruslan Zainullin

Second round, 34th overall in 2000

Essentially a wasted pick, Zainullin never played in the NHL, instead he stayed in his native Russia. Jarret Stoll, Antoine Vermette and Paul Martin were also available at that pick. Or even Henrik Lundvist, who lasted until the seventh round.

Carter Ashton

Forward Carter Ashton skates during the Lightning 2011 development camp at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum on July 7, 2011.[DIRK SHADD | Times]
Forward Carter Ashton skates during the Lightning 2011 development camp at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum on July 7, 2011.[DIRK SHADD | Times]

First round, 29th overall in 2009

Ashton never played a game for the Lightning and, worse, was traded for little return. The Lightning traded Ashton (which it selected with its second first-round pick in 2009) for Keith Aulie, who played 79 games and left in free agency.

Alexander Svitov

In this 2003 file photo, Alexander Svitov (16) tries to get at the puck being handled by the Canadiens' Mike Ribeiro. (Times)
In this 2003 file photo, Alexander Svitov (16) tries to get at the puck being handled by the Canadiens' Mike Ribeiro. (Times)

First round, 3rd overall in 2001

Svitov vastly underperformed with the Lightning. He scored four goals in 74 games before being traded and had only 13 in his career. Svitov’s saving grace on this list was his return. The Lightning got Darryl Sydor, a key piece in the Stanley Cup run.

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