Former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was instrumental in the build up of what has become a dominant force in the NHL.
The former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, as addressed in a prior article, made many great trades to acquire high end talent. But, it doesn’t just stop there. Through the years, Yzerman was able to make the right selections at NHL entry drafts, not just in the early rounds, but in late rounds as well. Here are a few of the steals that Yzerman had in his tenure as GM of the Lightning.
2011 Entry Draft
It all started in the 2011 NHL entry draft. The first round had concluded, and the first few selections of round number two were made. Finally, with the 58th overall selection, Tampa Bay was on the board. Picked prior to their second round selection was Tyler Wotherspoon at 57 and Lucas Lessio at 56. Still on the board at that time was Rasmus Bengtsson, Mario Lucia and Shane Prince.
But, there was a Russian hockey player who the Lightning went with at 58 instead. His name? Nikita Kucherov.
He had only played one season prior to the draft in the KHL. He only played 8 games that season and registered just 2 assists. After the Lightning scooped him up, he played 18 games with CSKA Moscow in 2011-12. He racked up a total of 4 points.
The following season, the Russian right winger took his talents across the globe, playing for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He played 8 games for the Remparts before being traded to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Through the 35 total QMJHL games, Kucherov had 63 points (29 goals, 34 assists).
The following year, he joined the Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Lightning, playing 17 games with 24 points, including 13 goals, and was finally called up to join the NHL squad in Tampa. He finished that season with 18 points through 52 games, as well as 1 goal in 2 playoff contests. The following 4 seasons, spanning from 2014-2018, Kucherov recorded 313 games played with 316 points (1.01 points per game), including 138 goals. This season, he is on a historic pace, recording 100 points for the second consecutive season, but this time, there’s still 20 games to play. He is projected to finish with 132 points if he remains at his current rate of 1.61 points per game (40 goals and 92 assists to be exact).
In addition, Kucherov’s career Corsi For % is 54.4 (relative CF is +3.8) and his career Fenwick For % is 53.9 (relative FF is +3.3). That goes to show just how much better the Lightning are with him on the ice. And to think he was a late second round pick…
Also in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Lightning found another gem. It was in the seventh round, 208th overall, directly following the selection of Garrett Haar and Derek Mathers. That selection became Ondrej Palat.
Prior to getting drafted, Palat played two seasons with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, recording 40 points through 59 games in his first year and 96 points through 61 games in his second year. Upon being drafted, he went straight to the Norfolk Admirals, the former AHL affiliate of the Lightning, playing in 61 games with 30 points, including 9 goals. The following year, he played 56 games with the new AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch and tallied 52 points. He was called up to play a total of 14 NHL games with 4 points, but ultimately remained in the minors, going on a tear in the Calder Cup playoffs. He had 26 points through 18 postseason contests, but ultimately falling short in the Finals.
He finally made the final cuts for the NHL roster in 2013-14 and never looked back. He has played a total of 407 NHL games, with 279 points. This season, through 44 games, he sits at 26 points. The Frýdek-Místek, Czech Republic native has a CF% of 52.3 in his career (relative CF is +1.2) and a FF% of 52.1 (relative FF is +0.9). In his career, he has more takeaways (234) than giveaways (230), which shows just how responsible he is with the puck on his stick.
In the 2014 NHL entry draft, the Lightning had one more thing up their sleeves–their 3rd round pick, 79th overall. Prior to their selection, the New York Islanders selected Russian netminder Ilya Sorokin of the KHL. The Lightning decided they would go with the young Canadian center of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Brayden Point.
In his draft year, he recorded 91 points through 72 games. However, it was his size that held him back, as he was 5’9, 160 pounds. He would go on to prove that you don’t have to be physically dominant to be a great hockey player. Point recorded 87 points through 60 games with Moose Jaw in the 2014-15 season. After his Western Hockey League season ended, he joined the Syracuse Crunch in their playoff push. He played the final 9 AHL games, recording 4 points, and played 2 postseason games for Syracuse, but didn’t register any points.
In 2015-16, he returned to the Moose Jaw Warriors, putting up 88 points through 48 games and having a stellar playoff run, where he appeared in 10 games with 16 points. In 2016-17, he made the NHL squad and never turned back. He has now played in 210 games in a Lightning jersey with 184 points. He has become a fantastic two-way center. This season he’s been paired with Kucherov, for the most part, helping him hit 78 points in just 60 games, as well as 35 goals.
Point could very well win the Selke trophy this season, and could go on to win more throughout his career. While he does have some tough competition from rival center, Patrice Bergeron, he can pull it off.
He has a career CF% of 52.0 (relative CF is +1.0) and a career FF% of 51.6 (relative FF is +0.9). Like Palat, Point is extremely responsible with the puck, as he has far more takeaways (105) than giveaways (60) in his career.
Other Draft Steals
Some other draft steals that I didn’t mention include Tyler Johnson (Undrafted free agent following 2011 NHL entry draft), Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th overall in 2012, was selected after Teuvo Teravainen, Radek Faksa, and Slater Koekkoek, to name a few), and Yanni Gourde (undrafted free agent, following the 2014 NHL entry draft).
Time For BriseBois To Shine
Steve Yzerman and his scouts have done a magnificent job in building a stellar organization. Hopefully, BriseBois will have the same success.
All stats via hockey-reference and hockeydb
Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals