The 2008-09 season was a frustrating one for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They finished with a league-worst 24 wins and managed only 66 total points. The team was particularly weak in their own end, as they allowed an average of 32 shots per game and finished the season with a 3.28 goals against average.
Heading into the 2009 NHL Draft, there were not many highly-ranked goaltenders available; in fact, none were selected in the first round. And with a permeable defense that lacked big names, the much-hyped Victor Hedman was a perfect fit for the rebuilding team, particularly since the Lightning had drafted budding superstar center Steven Stamkos the year prior.
Victor Hedman, D, MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik (SHL) – 1st round, 2nd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 304
It is hard to believe that Victor Hedman just recently turned 23. Already a veteran of over 300 NHL games, the hulking Swedish defender has been a mainstay on the Lightning blue line since the organization selected him one spot after number one pick John Tavares (NYI).
The 2008-09 Lightning allowed 259 goals against and featured a defense that lacked both depth and a true number one. Once the New York Islanders selected Tavares, Hedman, who had jostled with Tavares for the top prospect ranking in the eyes of scouts, appeared to be a perfect fit for the Lightning.
Expectations were high for Hedman in his rookie season, but it was a season characterized by ups and downs, and the Swede finished with four goals and 16 assists. The next season went a little better for Hedman, as he began to find comfort with his physical game and adjust to the speed of the NHL. He was key figure in the team's playoff run, which ended in the Eastern Conference Finals. The following year Hedman continued his strong play and scored a career high five goals in just 61 games, but had yet to become the franchise defenseman the team had expected.
If it was not just the natural progression of his talent, then Hedman's tenure with Astana Barys of the KHL in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season gave the defender the push he needed offensively. Playing just 26 games, Hedman would eventually tie Brandon Bochenski for the team lead in assists with 20. Bochenski, meanwhile, took 48 games to accomplish that feat. Once the NHL resumed operations, Hedman was able to equal his rookie output of 20 points in 30 fewer games. Through 46 games this season he has already surpassed his career high of 26 points and has doubled his career high total of five goals. His omission from the Swedish Olympic team was a shock and the fact that it was speaks to his development over the past five seasons.
With big, physical, goal-scoring winger Carter Ashton still on the board late in the first round, the Lightning struck a deal with the Detroit Red Wings to acquire the 29th pick and select the Winnipeg native.
Ashton split the next two years in junior between three teams: the Hurricanes, Regina Pats, and Tri-City Americans. In his final season of junior he produced 71 points in 62 games, while accumulating over 100 penalty minutes. He showed promise throughout his rookie campaign in the AHL, recording 35 points in 56 games, but with an ever-present organizational need for defensemen the Lightning dealt Ashton to the Toronto Maple Leafs for 6'6 rearguard Keith Aulie in 2012.
Bouncing between the Leafs and the Marlies for the next two seasons, Ashton's offensive production declined, but this season, playing 29 games for the Maple Leafs, he seems to have carved out a role as an effective fourth line grinder. And while he has yet to score his first career NHL goal, the offense at the AHL level has returned, as Ashton has 15 points in 14 games with the Marlies.
Since being drafted, Richard Panik has played for seven different teams at three different levels, but recently looks to have found a home in Tampa, playing 25 games with the team last season and 39 so far this year.
Following his draft year, the Slovakian-born winger came to North America to suit up for the Windsor Spitfires. He had 18 points in 33 games on a deep Spitfires team that included Taylor Hall (EDM), Ryan Ellis (NSH) and Adam Henrique (NJ), but was dealt to Belleville for goaltender Philipp Grubauer (WAS) midway through the season. He was more productive offensively on a rebuilding Bulls team, and the following season was leading the team in scoring before being dealt to the Guelph Storm.
Able to find some stability once he turned pro, Panik immediately found success with then-Lightning farm team the Norfolk Admirals, posting 41 points in 64 games. He also scored five goals in the playoffs, helping the team to win the Calder Cup. The Lightning took notice the following year when Panik replicated those 41 points in just 51 games. He finished the season with the Lightning, scoring five goals in 25 games and provided added physical presence up front. He has been a healthy scratch on occasion this year, but nonetheless appears to have a bright NHL future.
After filling organizational needs with their top three picks, the Lightning, who did not own a third round pick, opted to take a flier on undersized scoring winger Alex Hutchings in the fourth round. Hutchings was coming off of back-to-back 25-plus goal seasons, and in 2009-10, his final year of junior, scored a team-leading 47 for the Barrie Colts.
His offensive upside led many to suggest that he might one day become a top-six forward in the NHL, but immediately it was clear that he was not yet strong enough to succeed in the AHL. Instead, the organization kept Hutchings in Florida of the ECHL for the entire 2010-11 season, where he finished 11th in team scoring. He played in 12 games for Norfolk the following year, after once again beginning the season with Florida and scoring over a point-per-game through 23 games. However, with a deep minor league system consisting of a group that had just won the Calder Cup in 2011-12, Hutchings was designated to Florida once again to begin the 2012-13 season. And although he filed 24 games with Syracuse that season, he had failed to show enough over three seasons to warrant another contract from the Lightning. In October of 2013, he signed a PTO with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. He has four points in 33 games this season.
Michael Zador, G, Oshawa Generals (OHL) – 5th round, 148th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
A product of the numbers game between the pipes in the Lightning organization, Michael Zador has been out of high-level hockey since his junior career ended in 2010-11. Jaroslav Janus, who was picked after Zador in 2009, moved past Zador the following year, and with Dustin Tokarski (MTL) drafted in 2008, there was nowhere for Zador to play if signed.
It is not as though his play warranted a contract, however. Instead, since being drafted, the Toronto product slumped his way through a season and a half with the Oshawa Generals before being traded to the Owen Sound Attack in 2010-11. The Attack were looking for a number one goalie for a lengthy playoff run, but after just seven games in the post-season he was replaced by backup Scott Stajcer (NYR), who would play the team's final 13 games en route to an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup bid.
Jaroslav Janus, G, Erie Otters (OHL) – 6th round, 162nd overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Passed over in the 2008 draft following an abysmal year for the equally abysmal Erie Otters, Jaroslav Janus improved leaps and bounds the following season, enough so to warrant the Lightning selecting him with their second last pick of the draft.
He split the next season between Erie and the Norfolk Admirals and, to the delight of the Lightning brass, appeared more comfortable between the pipes at the pro level. In 13 appearances with the Admirals, Janus posted a spectacular 2.07 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. However, he struggled to begin the 2010-11 campaign, and with a glut of promising young goaltenders that included Tokarski and Cedrick Desjardins, the Lightning were forced to option Janus to Florida of the ECHL. He would return to form in 2011-12, where he made up one half of the AHL's best goaltending tandem – Tokarski being the other.
With the impending lockout, it was thought best for Janus to return to Slovakia for a season where he would get more ice time playing for Bratislava Slovan. He was a pillar between the pipes for the team, but instead of returning to North America this season he opted to play out his contract for the team.
This season, Janus has posted a subpar 2.88 goals against average and .898 save percentage. With current Lightning goalie Ben Bishop playing at a high level and Andrey Vasilevskiy set to join the organization next year, there is not much room for Janus in the organization at this point.
Kirill Gotovets, D, Shattuck St. Mary's (Minnesota prep) – 7th round, 183rd overall
NHL Games Played: 0
A year after being selected, Kirill Gotovets returned to Shattuck St. Mary's, where he accumulated 27 points through 44 games. A little undersized when drafted, he was by all means a project pick, and with four years at Cornell University to follow the Lightning hoped he would have the time necessary to round out his game and grow into an all-around defenseman.
His first year at Cornell was a success by freshman standards. Gotovets scored once and added six assists in 34 games. However, he missed at least a dozen games in the following two seasons due to injury, which seems to have halted his development. In his sophomore season, he scored once and added seven assists, but went pointless in 22 games as a junior in 2012-13. He was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks last April for forward Philippe Paradis. This year he has just three assists in 19 games, and for a player drafted as a potential offensive defenseman, it is unlikely he gets signed by the Lightning.