On Draft Day last Sunday, I participated in the Lightning’s Radio Broadcast from Champps in International Plaza. It was a wonderful turnout – as early as 90 minutes before the draft, every table was filled with Lightning fans.
Beforehand, the fan talk was all about defensemen Seth Jones. Some fans asked me if I thought Jones would last until the Lightning’s pick, third overall. It was a possibility. Weeks before the draft, Colorado General Manager Joe Sakic publically stated that the Avs were going to take center Nathan MacKinnon with the first selection. Would it be possible that the Florida Panthers, with the second pick, would also pass on Jones?
The feeling from most fans, though, was that the Panthers would take Jones and then the Lightning would select forward Jonathan Drouin with the third pick.
Steve Yzerman shakes the hand of Jonathan Drouin after selecting the forward third overall.
The draft began. As we now know, Colorado indeed took MacKinnon with the first pick. When Florida GM Dale Tallon shockingly announced that the Panthers were selecting center Aleksander Barkov with the number two pick, there was a perceptible buzz from the crowd. Jones would be available for the Lightning after all.
When the Lightning took Drouin anyway, the crowd seemed not to know how to react. I think they were surprised. Over the past two seasons, the Lightning have not had any problems scoring goals. But Tampa Bay has been near (or at) the bottom of the league in goals against. Why not take a defensemen then, when stocking the blue line seems to be a more urgent need than adding scorers?
But that wasn’t the question that the Lightning brass asked itself on Sunday. Nor has it been the question during any of the drafts with Steve Yzerman as General Manager. Instead, the question is – and has always been – Who is the best player available?
Yzerman has been very consistent and public in expressing this view. He was again consistent later on Sunday, when he addressed the media. He indicated that the choice was not overly complicated. “We know they (Drouin and Jones) are both excellent prospects. We simply rated Jonathan ahead of Seth.”
Perhaps when Sunday arrived, the choice was simple. But in the weeks and months leading up to Sunday, the process was anything but. In-depth scouting, interviews and internal organizational meetings helped the Lightning arrive at their decision.
In case fans might be wondering why the Lightning rated Drouin so highly, one can again look to Yzerman’s own words about traits he looks for in players. Back in 2010, when he was hired as GM, he listed three characteristics that he puts at the top of the list: compete level, skill and hockey sense. So how does Drouin measure up in those categories? Before the draft, TSN’s Bob McKenzie did an informal survey with scouts about which prospects measure the “best” in different categories. In a tweet on June 28, McKenzie wrote, “Drouin was the runaway leader in three categories: best puckhandler, best playmaker and best hockey sense. And it wasn’t close in any of them.”
Make no mistake, the Lightning got an unbelievably talented player. One that figures to electrify NHL fans for many years. And more importantly, one that will help the Lightning win a lot of games.
Thoughts on Lecavalier...
Like many connected to the Lightning, I was very sorry to see Vinny Lecavalier go. The reasons for his buyout have been well-documented and it sounded as though Vinny himself understood that the Lightning needed to give itself more cap flexibility.
For all the hockey I’ve seen Vinny play (and I arrived with Tampa Bay as he was beginning his fifth NHL season), there have been many wonderful memories. Highlight reel goals such as one he scored from his stomach against the Atlanta Thrashers during the 2002-03 season. Critical tallies like his OT winner at Washington in Game Three of the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarters. (People rightly remember Marty St. Louis’ Game Six Triple OT clincher in that series, but without Vinny’s Game Three winner, the Lightning, who trailed the series 2-0 at that point, likely don’t rally to win their first-ever playoff seires). And, speaking of Washington, his overtime winner against the Caps in Game Two of the 2011 Eastern Conference Semis.
Still, when it comes to Lecavalier’s on-ice exploits, I have two favorites. The first is his amazing assist on Ruslan Fedotenko’s eventual game-winning goal in Game Seven of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final against Calgary. Vinny twisted his way out of the corner, stickhandled through two Calgary players towards the left circle, drew a third Flames player to him and got walloped just as he dished a no-look pass to the suddenly-open Fedotenko, waiting in the slot.
The second memory is Vinny’s 2006-07 season. The record books show that he scored 52 goals and won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. But the books don’t reveal how dominant he was during that magical campaign. Never before had Vinny displayed such consistency. I am hard-pressed to remember even one sub-par game from Lecavalier that season and on most nights, he was the best player on the ice for either team. In case you have doubts about my recollection, take it from then-Lightning coach John Tortorella, with whom Lecavalier had a long and sometimes difficult history. Prior to 2006-07, Torts had never been shy about calling out Vinny when he felt the center didn’t play well. But that year (and thanks to Tampa Tribune writer Erik Erlendsson for helping remember Torts’ exact words), Tortorella repeatedly called Vinny, “the best player in the game”.
Best wishes, Vinny. You’ll be missed.