The 2014 NHL draft is scheduled for June 27th and 28th in Phildelphia. The Tampa Bay Lightning has two first round picks, theirs at 19 and the 28th pick secured in the Martin St. Louis trade in March. This is important, and we’ll get back to this fact shortly, but first, a detour.
First, let’s take a ride in my way back machine and head to the year 2010. It’s February of 2010 and Jeffrey Vinik purchases the Tampa Bay Lightning from Oren Koules and Len Barrie, sending ripples of intrigue throughout Bolt Nation.
In his first 90 days Vinik offers the position of General Manager and Vice President of Hockey Operations to Steve Yzerman. Could our beloved Bolts be turning the corner to respectability?
In the press conference introducing Stevie Y as the GM, we saw him dish out his four priorities for this organization. What tops the list? “Drafting better”.
Now that he’s been on the job for four years, let’s review and grade the draft selections made during the Yzerman regime. The NHL draft nowadays has seven rounds, but for our purposes, I am only going to grade the first three picks of each season.
In 2010, the initial three selections in the Yzerman era were RW Brett Connolly and D-men Brock Beukeboom and Radko Gudas. Gudas, who singlehandedly is bringing back the hip check to the NHL, made significant strides last season and is penciled in to be a top four defenseman for the Bolts next season. While Beukeboom appears to be a bust, Yzerman traded the young blue liner for Eric Brewer less than a year after he was drafted. Connolly saw his share of ice time with the Lightning in the 2011-12 season but his progress has been stalled and he spent all of last season with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.
The following year, Yzerman went all Eastern Bloc on us by selecting Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov. Two of the three Russians drafted in 2011 have already seen action with the top club and the one who hasn’t seen any NHL ice time yet, Nesterov continues to improve with Syracuse. Kucherov played 52 games with the Lightning last year and saw a fair share of ice time in the playoffs. So far, he is the star of this group, but the potential for all three is phenomenal and even brings a smile to Vladimir Putin.
With the exception of goalie Krister Gudlevskis, who played in one regulation game and parts of two playoff games for the Lightning this season, the draft picks in 2012 and 2013 have not yet made the jump to the NHL. That does not indicate in the least that the two draft years were busts. In fact, over the next season or two, these two draft classes will show Yzerman’s acumen for judging talent. Jonathan Drouin, who was arguably the best player in the 2013 draft, has a better than good chance at playing wing for the Bolts this upcoming year. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy recently played in the World Championships for Russia, with one of his saves earning “save of the year” in the KHL. Vasilevskiy just signed with the Lightning.
The rest of the picks from 2012 and 2013 will strengthen the Lightning in the next couple of seasons. Barring any future trades, D-men Slater Koekkoek and Dylan Blujus and left wing Adam Erne should see time at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for years to come.
With five of the twelve total picks already seeing NHL ice time and Drouin, Vasilevskiy, Koekkoek and Nesterov NHL bound, I would give Yzerman an overall grade of A- thus far. I also have to give him credit for identifying a potential bust in Beukeboom and trading him for a solid defenseman in Eric Brewer.
Steve Yzerman is the man who built the Canadian Olympic teams in 2010 and this year. Both of those teams won Gold Medals. Say what you will, Yzerman knows how to build hockey teams. This year he has two first round draft picks. It is a safe bet to think when the NHL draft is over, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have players that will only continue to make the organization a perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender. Lightning fans should feel blessed to have Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman calling the shots.