TAMPA BAY’S ALL-TIME DRAFT TEAM: MIND THE GAP

The Lightning have delivered some slam-dunk No. 1 overall picks since their NHL arrival in 1992, but their all-time all-drafted team is hindered by an eight-year dry spell at the draft table.

Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos.|USA Today

Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos.|USA Today

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s all-time all-drafted team includes only one player who was taken in the eight NHL drafts from 1999 through 2006. And it’s backup goalie Karri Ramo, who’s a default pick – with the shining exception of reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Bolts have never drafted an NHL-calibre netminder.

So, when you consider the Lightning began drafting when the franchise was born in 1992, that eight-year stretch of draft futility is a long time to go without adding much of anything to the team’s development pipeline.

The good news is, Tampa Bay plucked some gems earlier in the ’90s, and Steven Stamkos’ No. 1 arrival in 2008 marked the beginning of some solid years at the draft table. The end result is a Lightning all-time all-drafted team that has a handful of high-end forwards, a big and mobile defence corps…and a crease tandem that’s basically “Vas or bust.” Add it all up and this is a respectable club, although not full-on fearsome.

Let’s get into it.

Up front, the first line features Vincent Lecavalier – Tampa Bay’s original franchise player and hyperbolically called “the Michael Jordan of hockey” by the team’s owner when Lecavalier was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998 – between left winger Stamkos and right winger Nikita Kucherov. We moved Stamkos, a natural centre, to left wing as he also plays at that position – and the Lightning have picked plenty of solid centres over the years, but not so much on the wings (more on that in a moment). In any case, this is a lethal trio featuring the three best forwards the Lightning have ever drafted.

On the second line, it’s Brad Richards, whom Tampa Bay took 63 picks after Lecavalier in 1998, skating between Daymond Langkow on the left side and Jonathan Drouin on the right. Langkow is another centre we’ve shifted to the wing, while Drouin is a natural left winger who can play the pivot position when called upon. This isn’t a real big line, but they’ve got some grit and a defensive conscience, not to mention enough offence to keep opponents on their toes.

The third line is the checking unit, led by the superlative two-way talents of centre Brayden Point and left winger Ondrej Palat, and supplemented by the offensively inclined Vladislav Namestnikov, who’s another centre we’ve moved to the wing. Point and Palat are the first two forwards over the boards on the penalty kill, with their defensive abilities only surpassed by their scoring acumen. Don’t sleep on this line.

The fourth line does the heavy lifting, with big-bodied Chris Gratton crashing and banging between right winger Brett Connolly and left winger Alex Killorn. They’ve got some offence, to be sure, but this bunch is about physicality first and foremost.

The blue line is, in the universally timeless words of Ilya Bryzgalov, humongous big. And the couple of D-men who aren’t huge make up for it by playing an edgy, hard-hitting style.

The first pair features the two most important blueliners in the history of the franchise in Victor Hedman and Pavel Kubina. Hedman is the total package – size, skating, offence, defence – and one of the NHL’s best blueliners of the 21st century, while Kubina’s dedication to the defensive side of the puck frees up his partner to join the rush. The second pair is led by Tampa Bay’s first-ever draft pick, Roman Hamrlik, who went No. 1 overall in 1992. He gets hard-shooting Paul Mara as a partner, completing a top-four with average dimensions of 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. The third pairing features the “little” guys, but opponents would be wise to still keep their head up when Radko Gudas and Tony DeAngelo are on the ice, plus DeAngelo is coming off a breakout year in his fourth NHL season (albeit with the New York Rangers) so this duo offers some offence, too.

In net, as mentioned, it’s Vasilevskiy (260 career NHL games) and Ramo (159 career NHL games). The only other netminder drafted by the Lightning to have played at least 100 NHL games is Frederik Norrena, and he played 100 bang-on in parts of three seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Here’s a look at Tampa Bay’s all-time all-drafted team. The 20-player lineup is based on players’ entire NHL body of work.

CENTRES
Vincent Lecavalier (1st, 1998)
Brad Richards (64th, 1998)
Brayden Point (79th, 2014)
Chris Gratton (3rd, 1993)

RIGHT WINGERS
Nikita Kucherov (58th, 2011)
Daymond Langkow (5th, 1995)
Vladislav Namestnikov (27th, 2011)
Brett Connolly (6th, 2010)

LEFT WINGERS
Steven Stamkos (1st, 2008)
Jonathan Drouin (3rd, 2013)
Ondrej Palat (208th, 2011)
Alex Killorn (77th, 2007)

DEFENCEMEN
Victor Hedman (2nd, 2009)
Pavel Kubina (179th, 1996)
Roman Hamrlik (1st, 1992)
Paul Mara (7th, 1997)
Radko Gudas (66th, 2010)
Tony DeAngelo (19th, 2014)

GOALIES
Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th, 2012)
Karri Ramo (191st, 2004)