After having to wait until the 47th pick of the 2007 draft to choose their first player, the Lightning selected first overall in 2008. Their last two first-overall selections have proved themselves deserving. In 1992, the Lightning selected defenseman Roman Hamrlik, and in 1998 they chose Vincent Lecavalier. After a dismal 2007-08 season, the Lightning are hoping this year that adding Steven Stamkos will give the franchise a jump start, just as the sale of the team has done.
The Lightning entered draft weekend with seven picks, having already traded the 196th overall just prior to the draft for the right to negotiate with free agent Vaclav Prospal. Jay Feaster completed one trade during the weekend, securing three draft picks from San Jose for the 62nd overall pick. The draft picks were the 117th overall, the 147th overall, and a third-round pick in 2009. This gave the Lightning a total of eight selections in 2008.
With their eight selections, the Lightning chose four forwards, three defensemen and a goalie. In between their first selection (Stamkos) and their second (James Wright, 117th overall), 115 players were selected.
Steven Stamkos, C – OHL Sarnia
Feb. 7, 1990, 6’0, 176
It was no surprise to anybody to see Stamkos selected first overall. He is the most complete prospect in the 2008 draft, and is generally regarded as a sure thing. Stamkos possesses top-notch speed and skating, quick hands, great hockey sense, and a capability to make good plays at full speed. His work ethic and character have also been widely praised. Stamkos back checks well, he plays a team game, there is really not much in his game that detracts from the many positive aspects he possesses as a hockey player. He is not thought to be as elite as some other first-overall picks, but still a very solid player.
Stamkos followed up a very impressive OHL rookie season with an even more impressive sophomore campaign in 2007-08. He scored 105 points in 61 games, added 11 goals in only nine playoff games, and helped Team Canada win gold at the World Juniors.
Expect him to make the Lightning out of camp and improve quickly as he adapts to the pro game.
James Wright, C – WHL Vancouver
Mar. 24, 1990, 6’3, 175
Wright is a big center with good skills, but one who failed to match expectations this season. He is a good skater and uses his size quite well, but Wright was expected by many heading into the year to take a large step forward offensively this year, and that did not happen. While Wright did improve his offensive production, he still only totalled 36 points in 60 games. Consequently, his draft stock dropped, from a probable second-round selection to the end of the fourth round.
Wright was hit with a bout of mono, which may have slowed him down over the second half. He also sustained an injury during the playoffs, which ended his season, after playing in only six of the Giants’ post-season games. Next season, Wright will have to score more consistently, and becoming the offensive force that the Lightning believe he can be.
Dustin Tokarski, G – WHL Spokane
Sep. 16, 1989, 5’11, 185
Anytime you can add a proven winner and Memorial Cup MVP like Tokarski in the fifth round of a draft, it speaks volumes of the depth of the draft class. It is also a very wise choice for the drafting team. Tokarski was quite simply better than all his opposition during the WHL playoffs and during the Memorial Cup. Tokarski won 16 games for the WHL champion Chiefs during the playoffs, many of which went into double and even triple overtime. He had a .944 save percentage, and a 1.37 goals against average in 21 games. Tokarski followed that up by going a perfect 4-0 in the Memorial Cup, with a .953 save percentage and a 1.72 goals against average.
All this after a very productive regular season for the Chiefs in which he won 30 games.
Tokarski is a highly competitive goalie, who never loses focus during his games. He is very quick at moving from post to post and reads the play extremely well. His most valuable asset is his desire to win, and he is a proven winner. Aside from the 2008 Memorial Cup, Tokarski also won the 2006 Telus Cup, the national Midget AAA championship, with the Prince Albert Mintos. Tokarski has one more year of junior eligibility.
Kyle De Coste, RW – OHL Brampton
Jun. 30, 1990, 6’1, 178
De Coste is a hard-working player who plays an honest two-way game. With 22 points in 66 games, De Coste is not a proven scorer, but he skates well and is good at cycling the puck down low. With a late June birthday, he is also among the younger players who were eligible to be drafted this year, and so there could be more room for improvement.
Mark Barberio, D – QMJHL Moncton
Mar. 23, 1990, 6’0, 201
Barberio is a very solid defender who played about 30 minutes a game for Moncton as a 17-year-old. He had good offensive production, with 46 points in 70 games. Barberio is solid if unspectacular in his own end, has very good hockey sense and distributes the puck very well. He was a first-round pick in the 2006 QMJHL entry draft. The concern is with his skating, however, there are some who believe his skating is not as big a concern as it is being made out to be. If he can turn this into an asset, he could prove to be a very strong pick at this point of the draft.
Luke Witkowski, D – USHL Ohio
Apr. 14, 1990, 6’2, 200
Witkowski is a big, physical defenseman who skates well and likes to play the body. He is a recent convert to defense, after growing up playing forward. Witkowski is also a hard worker and is known for his rugged play. In 58 games last season, Witkowski had 13 points, to compliment his 139 PIM. Witkowski is committed to playing at Western Michigan University. Witkowski has the build to become a solid physical defenseman, but he also has some potential to bring an offensive element to his game, which may help him evolve into a very solid two-way defender in the future.
Matias Sointu, RW – FIN-Jr Ilves
Feb. 10, 1990, 5’10, 154
Sointu is an offensive winger who is among the slightest players drafted this year at 154 lbs. He put up very good numbers with Ilves Jr, scoring 21 goals and 40 points in 41 games with the club. A good skater who has excellent puck control and is very deceptive, Sointu is the type who could excel in the new NHL with the crackdown on obstruction and holding violations. He oozes offensive creativity and has an incredible shot that can find the net. Sointu also played for Finland at the 2008 U18 Championship, where he scored three goals in six games. Sointu must improve his skating and, most importantly, he must add strength in order to
succeed in North America.
David Carle, D – MN-HS Shattuck St. Mary’s
Nov. 9, 1989, 5’11, 180
In one of the most human stories of this year’s draft, David Carle, younger brother of current NHL defenseman Matt Carle, was diagnosed just prior to the draft with a heart condition that will force him to retire from competitive sports. A highly-touted prospect going into the draft, and a probable top 100 pick, Carle sent a notice to the NHL informing each team of his condition prior to the draft. Nevertheless, the Lightning used their final selection to choose him, in what is most likely a gesture of support for the young player who worked so hard to become an NHL player and most likely will now never play professional hockey. If Carle’s diagnosis should
change, though, the Lightning will have his rights.