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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)
Published Jun. 18
Updated Jun. 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)

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)

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)

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)

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 )

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]

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]

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)

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.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. In this March 24, 2010, file photo, hockey personality Don Cherry, right, speaks during a news conference as actor Jared Keeso is displayed on a video screen while playing Cherry in the bio film "Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story" in Toronto. Sportsnet cut ties with Cherry on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, after the veteran hockey commentator called new immigrants "you people" on his "Coach's Corner" segment while claiming they do not wear poppies to honor Canadian veterans. DARREN CALABRESE  |  AP
    Cherry has not apologized for his remarks.
  2. The Stockholm City Library turned out to be the perfect place to get engaged. SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
    Stockholm City Library has a beautiful round hall that turned out to be the perfect place to get engaged
  3. Patrick Maroon of Tampa Bay Lightning against Buffalo on Nov. 9 in Stockholm. JONAS LJUNGDAHL  |  Bildbyran via ZUMA Press
    The team got practice, a reset and bonding from the week in Stockholm.
  4. Members of the Tampa Bay Lightning look on during the 2019 NHL Global Series Sweden, at the Ericsson Globe on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. DAVE SANDFORD/NHLI  |  TNS
    Plus, a challenge to the NHL Challenge system, Tyler Johnson’s Sweden highlights and a Jon Cooper question. | Diana C. Nearhos
  5. A full-color model of the Vasa sits in front of the 391-year-old reconstructed Swedish warship at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. DIANA NEARHOS  |  TIMES
    Swedish travels continue with two of the most popular attractions in Stockholm.
  6. Tampa celebrates after Victor Hedman, left, scored, during a NHL Global Series hockey match between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning at the Globen Arena, in Stockholm Sweden, Saturday. JESSICA GOW/TT  |  AP
    Yanni Gourde scored twice and Pat Maroon once as Tampa Bay swept the Globe Series back-to-back against the Sabres
  7. Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends goal during practice at Ericsson Globe on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. BILL WIPPERT/NHLI  |  TNS
    Ondrej Palat, Erik Cernak, Andrei Vasilevskiy and others get to play nearer to home.
  8. Stockholm Ice Hockey Federation project leader, Simon Stigenberg, was recognized with some local children as the Community Hero alongside Lightning owner Jeff Vinik during the first period of Saturday's game in Stockholm. Courtesy of NHL Images
    Tampa Bay recognizes Stockholm Ice Hockey Federation for its effort to make hockey accessible to immigrants.
  9. Buffalo Sabres' Vladimir Sobotka (17) works the puck as Tampa Bay Lightning's Ryan McDonagh (27) and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy defend during an NHL hockey game in Globen Arena, Stockholm Sweden. Friday. Nov. 8, 2019. (Anders Wiklund/TT via AP) ANDERS WIKLUND/TT  |  AP
    Lightning 3, Sabres 2: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 20 saves help lift Tampa Bay in the first game of Global Series.
  10. Buffalo Sabres' Vladimir Sobotka (17) works the puck as Tampa Bay Lightning's Ryan McDonagh (27) and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy defend during an NHL hockey game in Globen Arena, Stockholm Sweden. Friday. Nov. 8, 2019. ANDERS WIKLUND/TT  |  AP
    Victor Hedman felt the emotions strongly, playing in his home country
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