The NHL Entry Draft is far from an exact science. Trying to project how a player will develop over the course of their career is close to impossible, as anything from an injury to personal issues can derail a player’s development.
During his nearly decade-long tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steve Yzerman saw a lot of success at the draft. However, for every roster player he pulled out of the third round, he also had a first-round selection that just didn’t pan out.
With his time in Tampa coming to an end, this is the perfect time to look back on some of Yzerman’s worst draft picks with the Lightning.
No. 5: Brett Connolly
After Tampa struggled through the 2009-10 season, Yzerman took over a franchise possessing the sixth-overall pick. As his first selection with the Lightning, he needed to hit the proverbial home run in order to showcase that the franchise was in good hands for the first time in years.
With the pick, the Lightning selected Brett Connolly, a high-talent forward who was projected to be one of the top selections before he suffered a hip injury that cost him the majority of his final season in juniors. Despite this concern, Yzerman still took a swing on him.
During his time with the Lightning, Connolly failed to live up to his top-10 billing. He wasn’t necessarily bad, but he just couldn’t carve out his niche in the lineup. He was a perfect example of a player who was rushed to the NHL, hurting his overall development.
It’s not all bad for the Lightning or Connolly, though. Tampa Bay traded him to the Boston Bruins for two second-round picks, a move that allowed them to acquire Brayden Coburn. Connolly struggled in Boston before going on to win the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals.
So, while it didn’t work out in Tampa, both parties managed to reach a positive conclusion in the end.
No. 4: Johnathan MacLeod
Sometimes, there’s a player that you just completely forget about. The team drafts him, and then you just hear nothing about them over the next five years.
That was Jonathan Macleod for the Lightning. As a second-round selection, there was reason to believe that he could be competing for a roster spot after he finished his time with Boston University.
Instead, he struggled to establish a role while at college, causing him to eventually fade into the back of the Lightning’s prospect pool. By the time he finished at Boston University, the Bolts decided it wasn’t worth giving him a minor league contract.
So, to put it bluntly, Macleod was a bust for Tampa Bay.
No. 3: Anthony DeAngelo
Entering the 2014 draft, the Lightning knew that they had two first-round picks in both 2014 and 2015 due to a successful mid-season trade with the New York Rangers.
Perhaps due to this surplus of picks, Tampa Bay made a very un-Yzerman-like selection with their 19th overall pick. They selected Anthony DeAngelo, a highly talented defenseman who had some questions about his character.
As said by Sunaya Sapurji of Yahoo Sports:
Sarnia Sting defenceman, Anthony DeAngelo, hasn’t played in two weeks… When the Ontario Hockey League announced they had suspended the native of Sewell, N.J., eight games for violating the league’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy.
The pick was seen as a real gamble at the time, as DeAngelo had the talent to become a top-four defenseman in the NHL, but slid down the draft board due to his character. Unfortunately, he didn’t mesh with the Lightning, getting scratched eight times throughout his first season in the AHL.
DeAngelo was eventually traded to the Arizona Coyotes for a second round pick in 2016. The return was disappointing, especially for a player that looked to be a future staple on the blueline.
Oddly enough, both DeAngelo and the player the Lightning selected with that second-round pick, Libor Hajek, ended up being dealt to the Rangers. So, in a way, it all came full circle in the end.
No. 2: Jonathan Drouin
When you have a top-five pick in a draft, you have the potential to select a franchise-altering talent. At the 2013 draft, the Lightning found themselves with the third-overall selection in a class full of truly elite talent.
After Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov were selected as the top two picks, the Lightning chose Jonathan Drouin over Seth Jones with the third pick. While Drouin was, arguably, the most skilled player in the draft, the franchise had a clear need for right-handed defense. As the top defenseman at the draft, Jones could have been a perfect fit for the franchise.
If Drouin had reached his full potential with Tampa Bay, then this decision would have been a moot point, as 100-point forwards are hard to come by. However, he struggled to establish himself with the Lightning, getting sent back to juniors out of his first training camp.
By 2016, Drouin requested a trade from Tampa Bay, hoping to find a franchise where he could flourish. Yzerman eventually traded him during the 2017 offseason, bringing back a blue-chip defensive prospect in Mikhail Sergachev.
So, while the Lightning may have initially missed with Drouin, at least they were able to turn him into a top defensive prospect.
No. 1: Slater Koekkoek
Sometimes, a player will always be judged based on who was drafted around them. For Slater Koekkoek, the Lightning’s 10th overall pick at the 2012 draft, his legacy will be forever defined by what could have been.
Due to a nagging shoulder injury, Koekkoek was seen as a bit of a reach by the Lightning with the 10th selection, especially given who was left on the draft board. As said by THW:
Even at the time, the pick was viewed as a letdown for the Lightning. By just missing out on Jacob Trouba, and passing over higher-ranked players like Cody Ceci, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Filip Forsberg, Yzerman appeared to be taking a somewhat needless risk with a top-10 pick.
If Koekkoek had worked out with the Lightning, then this reach would have been well justified. Instead, he struggled with injuries before finally making his was to the NHL. When he was playing in Tampa Bay, he was poorly utilized, often being a healthy scratch.
While he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Jan Ruuta, Koekkoek’s time with the Lightning was a disappointment. Considering that the likes of Forsberg and Grigorenko were selected directly after him, it’s impossible to not think about what could have been.
Despite Misses, Lightning Found Draft Success
Even with these players not working out in the end, the Lightning still found a lot of success at the draft under Yzerman.
By finding hidden talent on draft day, they were able to alleviate some of the pain of these first and second round selections that just didn’t pan out. It’s far from the best case scenario, but given the failure of some of these picks, it kept them from being franchise-defining mistakes.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.