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A look back at the Lightning's best ever draft in 2011

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

With the NHL Draft taking place Friday and Saturday at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center, we thought now would be a good time to step back and review the greatest class the Tampa Bay Lightning assembled in their 24 attempts at drafting.

Five years ago, the Lightning completed their greatest draft haul, selecting six players who all continue to figure in the Bolts’ plans.

Tampa Bay netted two budding superstars in the 2011 Draft in Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. The Lightning picked up two major contributors during their two lengthy playoff runs in 2015 and 2016 in Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Nesterov. And they acquired a pair of talented prospects in Matthew Peca and Adam Wilcox who will figure to play a prominent role in the Bolts’ future.

Sure the 1998 draft netted an all-franchise player in Vincent Lecavalier, who stands alone atop the Tampa Bay record book for most goals (383) and games played (1,037), as well as long-time pro Brad Richards, who ranks fourth on the Lightning’s all-time scoring (489 points) list. Dmitry Afanasenkov and Martin Cibak each played a little more than 150 games for the Lightning, but of the other seven selections made by the Bolts in 1998, none ever played a game in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning grabbed a pair of superstars in back-to-back drafts after selecting Steven Stamkos with the first overall selection in 2008 and Victor Hedman with the second pick in 2009.

But top to bottom, no draft class was more hit than miss than 2011. NHL.com recently redrafted the 2011 class, and three of the Lightning’s six selections ended up being taken in the First Round in the redraft while Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat cracked the top six picks overall.

Here’s a look back at that bountiful 2011 draft class as Lightning fans cross their fingers the Bolts’ brain trust can produce similar results this weekend in Buffalo.

First Round (27th overall): Vladislav Namestnikov

Vladislav Namestnikov, a native of Zhukovskiy, Russia, comes from a hockey family. His father Evgeny Namestnikov played 43 games in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators; spent parts of three seasons with the Syracuse Crunch (then a Canucks affiliate); and played 18 seasons total between Russia, the NHL, AHL and IHL. Vlad’s uncle Vyacheslav Kozlov is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998) and played 1,182 total games in the NHL, notching 356 goals and 497 assists.

Vladislav Namestnikov is doing nothing to tarnish the family legacy.

The Lightning selected Namestnikov with their first pick in the 2011 Draft after the Zhukovskiy, Russia, native put up 30 goals and 38 assists in his first season with the London Knights of the OHL. Namestnikov played one more season for London before joining Syracuse, where he averaged nearly a point a game for the Crunch in 2013-14, scoring 48 points in 56 games. He made his NHL debut with the Lightning during that season on Feb. 8, 2014, against Detroit.

Namestnikov split the 2014-15 season between Syracuse and Tampa Bay but saw time in 12 of the Bolts’ 26 playoff games on their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

This past season, Namestnikov was a mainstay in the Lightning lineup and played 80 of 82 games, recording 14 goals and 21 assists, both career highs. He scored his first playoff goal in Game 3 of a Second Round series against the Islanders, a tying goal in a game the Lightning would eventually win in overtime.

In their redraft of the 2011 class, NHL.com selected Namestnikov 26th overall, one spot higher than where the Lightning took him.

Second Round (58th overall): Nikita Kucherov

No NHL player has been better over the last two postseasons than Nikita Kucherov, or Clutcherov as he’s become known around Tampa Bay for his playoff prowess.

Kucherov scored 11 goals during the 2016 playoffs, finishing second to San Jose’s Joe Pavelski (14), who also had seven more games than Kucherov.

Over the last two postseasons, Kucherov has scored 21 goals, more than any other NHL player and one goal ahead of teammate Tyler Johnson. Kucherov’s 41 playoff points over the last two playoffs are also most in the NHL and, again, one ahead of Johnson. Kucherov owns the best plus/minus rating (plus-20) over the last two playoffs as well.

But Kucherov’s talents aren’t just limited to the postseason.

The Moscow native who recently celebrated his 23rd birthday on June 17 scored nine goals and added nine assists over 52 games in his first NHL season in 2013-14. He followed that debut year with two monster seasons, going 29-36—65 points in 2014-15 and 30-36—66 points in 2015-16. Kucherov led the Lightning for points in 2015-16 and averaged 0.86 points per game. His 59 goals over the last two regular seasons rank tied for 14th in the NHL, placing him among such household names as Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and teammate Steven Stamkos. His plus-38 rating during the 2014-15 regular season tied with Montreal’s Max Pacioretty for best in the league and his plus-47 total over the last two regular seasons combined is third best in the NHL.

During their redraft of the 2011 class, NHL.com took Kucherov with the fourth overall pick, behind only Johnny Gaudreau, Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad.

Fifth Round (148th overall): Nikita Nesterov

The Lightning didn’t have a selection in the third and fourth rounds of the 2011 Draft, but in the fifth round, they found another gem in Russian defenseman Nikita Nesterov, who has been a regular in the Bolts lineup the last two seasons.

Nesterov spent two more seasons in Russia after being taken by the Lightning. In 2013-14, he joined the Syracuse Crunch and played 54 regular season games, where he tallied 4-12—16 points and was minus-2 with 39 penalty minutes.

Nesterov started the 2014-15 campaign in Syracuse before being recalled to Tampa Bay and making his NHL debut on New Year’s Eve against the Buffalo Sabres. Nesterov stuck with the Bolts for the second half of the 2014-15 season and played in 17 postseason games, scoring a goal in Game 1 of the First Round series against Detroit.

Nesterov spent all of 2015-16 with the Lightning and recorded 3-6—9 points with 41 penalty minutes in 57 games. He started nine of the Bolts’ 16 playoff games. He’s a depth defenseman with good offensive skills who will try to crack a regular top six role this upcoming season.

Sixth Round (178th overall): Adam Wilcox

With their fourth pick in the 2011 Draft, Tampa Bay selected a goaltender, taking Adam Wilcox 178th overall.

Following the selection, Wilcox would go on to become one of college hockey’s top goaltenders over three seasons with the University of Minnesota. As a freshman with the Golden Gophers, Wilcox set a school record for goals-against average (1.88). The following season, he set another, his .932 save percentage the best in school history. He was named a Second Team All-American and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award given to the top NCAA player and the Mike Richter Award presented to the top college goalie.

Wilcox was again a nominee for the Richter as a junior after going 22-12-3 with a 2.42 GAA and .912 save percentage.

On April 1, 2015, after completing his junior year, Wilcox signed a two-year, two-way contract with Tampa Bay, and he made his pro debut with the Crunch 10 days later.

Back in Syracuse for the duration of the 2015-16 season, Wilcox served as the backup to Kristers Gudlevskis and went 9-12-6 with a 3.34 GAA and .891 save percentage in 27 games.

The 23-year-old South St. Paul, Minn., native will likely again split time with Gudlevskis at Syracuse during the upcoming season and, combined with Ben Bishop, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Gudlevskis, provides the Lightning with depth at the goaltender position that is the envy of the rest of the NHL.

Seventh Round (201st overall): Matthew Peca

Tampa Bay owned a pair of picks in the seventh round in 2011. With the first of those selections, they took Matthew Peca, a silky smooth center from Petawawa, Ontario.

Peca completed a stellar four-year career at Quinnipiac University in 2015 and averaged almost a point a game with 143 points (42 goals, 101 assists) in 157 collegiate contests. Peca finished his career tied for fifth on Quinnipiac’s all-time scoring list.

Like Wilcox, Peca signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Lightning on April 1, 2015.

Peca made his pro debut with Syracuse two days later and finished the regular season with the Crunch recording one goal and three assists in eight games.

In 2015-16, his first full pro season, the 23-year-old Peca finished third on the Crunch for assists (35) and added eight goals. His 43 points were tied for fifth on Syracuse. He will be one of the Crunch’s top centers this season and is another in a line of speedy, skilled yet undersized forwards in the Lightning organization.

Seventh Round (208th overall): Ondrej Palat

The steal of the 2011 Draft, the Lightning selected Ondrej Palat with their last pick, seven spots after taking Peca.

Palat needed two years of seasoning with the Bolts’ AHL affiliates in Norfolk and Syracuse before breaking out for a monster rookie NHL campaign during the 2013-14 season, posting 23 goals and 36 assists and finishing second to Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for the league’s Calder Trophy given to the rookie of the year. The Lightning re-signed Palat to a three-year contract after the season.

In 2014-15, Palat cemented himself as a top player in the league after posting 63 points, fourth best on the Lightning, and leading the Bolts in assists with 47 as part of the Bolts’ venerable Triplets line along with Kucherov and Johnson. Palat added 16 points (8 goals, 8 assists) during the 2015 playoffs and was a key cog in helping Tampa Bay reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Although hampered by injuries in 2015-16, Palat still managed to produce 40 points (tied for fourth most on the Bolts) in 62 games and averaged 0.65 points per game, third best on Tampa Bay. A talented two-way left winger who works as hard as anybody on the Lightning, Palat is a perennial Selke Trophy candidate who should continue to thrive for the Bolts for years to come.

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