Day One for the Lightning at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft was Jay Feaster’s first draft day as an NHL General Manager. Boy, did he make a splash.
Actually, he made the splash the night before the draft, swinging a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers that sent the fourth overall pick for 23-year-old Ukrainian winger Ruslan Fedotenko and two second round picks (#34 and #52).
That splash didn’t just create a ripple effect on Feaster’s draft, it created a tsunami.
When all was said and done, and all the teams’ draft tables were folded up and stashed in a closet somewhere, that nameless #4 overall pick now had four names — Ruslan Fedotenko, Brad Lukowich, Adam Henrich, and Gerard Dicaire. Both 2nd rounders acquired from Philadelphia were traded. The #34 overall pick went to Dallas for defenseman Brad Lukowich. The #52 overall pick went to San Jose in a flip of draft picks, netting the #60 overall, which the Lightning used to pick up Brampton Battalion behemoth Adam Henrich, and a fifth rounder (#162), which Feaster used to pick draft re-entry and Kootenay defenseman Gerard Dicaire. Dicaire, originally a second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, was one of two 2000 top-two rounders (Jarret Stoll the other) to re-enter the draft.
It was later revealed, had Feaster not moved the #4 overall pick, he would have taken Medicine Hat sniper Joffrey Lupul. Instead of drafting the potential 40+ goal man, and hoping he develops, Feaster wanted more of a sure thing. The Lightning’s win-now philosophy took precedence over waiting on more teenage potential.
Feaster did succeed in improving his team for the here and now. He added a winger who can step in on the second line in Tampa and net 20 goals, and he added a defenseman who can step in and play in Tampa’s top-4. In that sense, he accomplished his goals. In another sense, he didn’t do enough with what he had.
That’s where the tsunami starts. No one is questioning Feaster’s win-now approach. In fact, most Lightning fans and casual observers applaud it. The Lightning have wallowed in futility for far too long and have had their fair share – and then some – of top-10 draft picks. What critics are questioning is the value returned for a premium pick.
In 1999, his first draft with the Lightning, GM Rick Dudley became the first GM in history to trade the first overall pick. He made a deal with Vancouver (two third rounders) to slide down a couple notches to the #4 slot. Dudley then traded the #4 overall pick to the Rangers for young goalie Dan Cloutier, young winger Niklas Sundstrom, a first round pick (later became Nikita Alexeev) and a third round pick (later traded to SJ). Compare that to Feaster’s original deal with the Flyers, and it compares almost evenly – if you take out Dan Cloutier — a pretty big subtraction. That is what has created a wave of criticism coming from everyone from hockey writers to passionate fans: Did the Lightning get fair value for its premium pick? Most everyone’s speculative answer is, “no.”
Arguments could be made that the #4 pick in 1999 had more value. There were four big names that year – Patrik Stefan, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Pavel Brendl. This year, the opinion differs. Feaster claims there were only three big names – Jay Bouwmeester, Kari Lehtonen, and Rick Nash. This opinion was shared by Florida GM Rick Dudley and many other GMs. One GM disagreed, however. Flyer’s GM Bob Clarke claimed there were five names, adding his pick Joni Pitkanen and Lupul to the list.
Feaster was banking on his big three being gone by the fourth pick, so he traded the pick before he had a chance to know for sure. He already had one deal fall through that night, so he was not about to lose another.
Fedotenko, with his low salary, was Feaster’s man. He will fit in well with the Bolts both financially and on the ice next to the offensive-minded Vincent Lecavalier and recent 20-goal man, Shane Willis. Most importantly, Fedotenko will be given room to grow into a legitimate scoring liner. He has drawn rave reviews from former coaches Craig Ramsay (now a Lightning Assistant Coach), Bill Barber (2001 Jack Adams Award Winner) and former Devil’s coach Larry Robinson (Stanley Cup winning player and coach).
“He comes to play every night. He is going to score some goals, and I thought he played very well for Philly, but they have so much depth he was never going to get out of the role he was in,” Robinson told the Tampa Tribune. “Maybe he doesn’t have the big name fans are going to recognize, but that’s because they didn’t have to play against him five times a year.”
Fedotenko also gives the Lightning three players off The Hockey News’ 2000-1 All-Rookie teams. Calder runner-up Brad Richards and Shane Willis were named to the first team, Fedotenko to the second.
A frequent trade target by other GMs, Fedotenko averaged just over 13 minutes a night for the Flyers, yet managed to score 17 goals. By comparison, Tampa’s emerging prospect and defensive wizard Jimmie Olvestad played virtually the same amount of games and got the same amount of ice time, but only managed three goals. Relatively unnoticed, Fedotenko had a shooting percentage of .14, which placed him second on the Flyers behind only Simon Gagne. That number would have placed him second on the Bolts, also, right behind diminutive scorer Martin St. Louis. The six-foot-two Fedotenko was given little power play time. His 121 shots were an average amount by a middle liner.
Now, the Lightning are hoping for another ripple effect to happen with Fedotenko. Giving Fedotenko more ice time and time on the power play will equal more shots, which will equal more goals, which will equal more wins for a team that lost 19 games by one goal in 2001-2. What Fedotenko will have to fight through, though, is playing against the other teams’ best checkers, something he’s not used to doing. What about his defense and grit? He out-hit the gritty Olvestad 89-64, and his 35 takeaways were 13 more than the defensive-minded Olvestad managed. He was also a +15 and played 100% every shift – an ingredient craved by both Feaster and Lightning Coach John Tortorella.
Lukowich brings more grit and hitting to a backline which, at times, seemed soft and unwilling to consistently pay the price. Hitting is contagious, and Feaster hopes injecting more physicality to the backline will infect his other defensemen. Lukowich’s offense is nothing to brag about (1-6-7), but his 131 total hits would have placed him 2nd on the Bolts, despite Lukowich only receiving the same amount of ice time Fedotenko received and playing only 66 games. However, Lightning observers critical of Dan Boyle’s giveaways will not be pleased to find out Lukowich had one more giveaway than Boyle, yet 21 less takeaways (44 g.a. – 9 t.a.) Boyle was able to notch 18 assists, though, Lukowich only six. Hidden on the Stars’ third pair, he will now be facing the oppositon’s top lines. The 34th overall pick was a high price to pay for the Stars’ #5 defenceman, especially considering the afore mentioned Stoll and Tobias Stephan were still on the board at that time, as was their target – Adam Henrich.
After trading down in the second, the Lightning were pleased to find OHL power forward Adam Henrich still sitting there. Feaster scooped up the “little” brother of Oiler’s prospect and former first-rounder Michael Henrich, with the hopes Adam continues to improve on his offensive numbers (33-30-63), his consistency, and his intensity. The Lightning are banking on the six-foot-four, 230-pound giant turning into an impact power forward at the NHL level. To accomplish that task, Henrich, who dropped from #12 at mid-season to #23 on the final CSB rankings for North Americans, must improve his shot and aggressiveness. His hands aren’t quite as good as his older brother, but he has the power to carry defenders on his back and drive to the net not unlike the Lightning’s own Freddy Modin. A more realistic projection may be the Coyote’s Brad May, with a little more scoring touch. Either way, he provides the Lightning with another future big man who can skate and make life miserable for opposing defenses.
When it finally happened, 56 picks later than was first expected, Feaster made his first pick as an NHL GM a good one. Adam Henrich was a great pick. It’s too bad it was washed out by a tsunami of criticism, questioning, and second-guessing, targeting everything from asset management to having his hands tied by a strict ownership with a ridiculously low budget.
As Feaster told the St. Petersburg Times, “Until those guys come down and live in our shoes and our market and understand the situation we’re in in terms of needing to win today, those guys are entitled to their opinion.
“I’m not going to apologize to those guys. Once you are in a situation where you have talked to all those teams, and you have been there and lived it, then you can say you could get something more. It’s great to say there’s something more, but we tested the market.”
Only time will tell, but Feaster hopes his naysayers drown in their criticism while he and his beloved Lightning sail into the playoffs, propelled by the moves he made at his first draft as GM.