For the first time in a while, the Tampa Bay Lightning have something to celebrate.
The Lightning won Monday’s NHL draft lottery, earning the right to select first overall in June’s entry draft. Tampa Bay entered with a 48.8-per-cent chance of winning the lottery after stumbling to a 31-42-9 record in the regular season, finishing last in the league just four years after winning their first Stanley Cup.
In a campaign marred by injuries and inconsistency, the Lightning were desperate to take something positive into next season. The opportunity to draft a future superstar certainly qualifies.
“From management right on through to ticket sales, electricians and plumbers, this is the first piece of good luck that we have had since last August,” said Lightning general manager Jay Feaster. “We feel as though we’ve had no positive luck.
“This is what we hope will be the break we’ve needed.”
The Lightning will almost assuredly select Sarnia Sting forward Steven Stamkos with the first selection. Stamkos ranked second in the Ontario Hockey League in goals (58) and fifth in points (105), and has been compared to Sidney Crosby for his on-ice awareness and ability to create plays in the offensive zone.
“Obviously we’ll sit down with scouts and talk about it,” said Feaster. “But when you look at the results of the moves we made at the trade deadline, trading away (Brad) Richards, trading away (Vinny) Prospal … We were an improved hockey club as a result, but we weakened ourselves offensively.
“The opportunity to have a franchise forward there is obviously appealing to us.”
It’s the first time Tampa Bay has had the first overall pick in 10 years. The Lightning selected Vincent Lecavalier first overall in 1998, and he emerged as one of the most talented centres in the league – propelling the Lightning from league laughingstocks to Stanley Cup champions.
Feaster believes having a top pick in the post-lockout NHL can turn a franchise around even more quickly than before.
“In the new NHL, you have to be able to develop your own players,” said Feaster. “If you look at the history of the league since 2005, teams that win the lottery or draft at the top have the opportunity to turn around very quickly.
“For that reason, this (draft lottery win) is huge, no question.”
The Los Angeles Kings will pick second, followed by the Atlanta Thrashers, St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders.
Columbus, Toronto, Phoenix, Nashville and Vancouver round out the top 10.
After Stamkos, a trio of defencemen are considered the top prospects: Drew Doughty of the Guelph Storm, Alex Pietrangelo of the Niagara IceDogs and Zach Bogosian of the Peterborough Petes.
The draft will be held June 20 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.