Best in Round is a ten part series. For each installment, I’ll be going through a specific round of the draft for the Tampa Bay Lightning and selecting the best player the team selected in that round. The player didn’t need to play for the Lightning or play significant time with the Lightning to qualify. Only that they were drafted by the Lightning. The rest of the selection criteria is purely subjective based on my own opinions. Some opinions may also be based on future speculation for players that have not finished their career or are just starting.

From 1995 through 2004, the entry draft had 9 rounds. While not quite as sparse for talent as the 10th and 11th rounds that we covered a couple weeks ago, the 8th round was still very much a gamble on players just as the 6th and 7th round are today. Getting any NHL contributions from them was a successful pick. Even getting some AHL play was a good thing at this late stage of the draft. After the 2004 lockout, the draft was reduced to only 7 rounds, which is the format we still have today.

8th Round

From 1992 through the 2004 NHL Entry Drafts, the Lightning had 16 draft picks in the 8th Round. From those 16 draft picks, only two ever made it to the NHL; Ryan Craig and Darren Reid. Even more interesting is that both players were selected in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

Ryan Craig turned out to be a winger with some decent size and ok offensive skills when he was drafted from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. He had some leadership potential as well as he was Captain of Brandon for two seasons. In his WHL career, he was a 0.89 point per game scorer.  After graduating from Juniors, he turned pro with the Lightning playing for their AHL affiliate at the time, the storied Hersey Bears in 2003-04 before the Lightning moved their affiliation to the Springfield Falcons during the lockout in 2004-05.

Craig’s first year in the AHL was a bit of a struggle, but he put in a half point per game season during the lockout. After the 2004-05 lockout, Craig started to see NHL time in Tampa Bay. He would have 184 regular season games plus 11 playoff games over five seasons but only 63 points. After spending the 2009-10 season mostly in Norfolk of the AHL, Craig became a free agent.

Since leaving the Lightning he’s played in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets and in the AHL for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Baby) Penguins, Springfield Falcons, and Lake Erie Monsters over the past seven seasons. He has been the Captain for each of those AHL teams each season. He is signed for next season and set to return with the Lake Erie Monsters.

Darren Reid didn’t fare quite as well in his professional career as Ryan Craig. Even in his draft year, he split time between the WHL and the AJHL. It wasn’t until after he was drafted that he stuck in the WHL full time for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He began his pro career with the Springfield Falcons in the AHL during the 2004-05 season. He would debut with the Lightning in the 2005-06 season playing in 7 NHL games and recording one assist. Partway into his third professional career, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Daniel Corso. Corso was an AHL player that provided needed offense in Springfield.

Reid would have 14 games in the NHL with the Flyers in 2006-07 and be held pointless in that time. He has not appeared in the NHL since. While he has appeared in a few Chinook Hockey League games over the past couple years, he has basically been retired since the 2010-11 season.

So it’s pretty clear when player of these two draft picks was the better pick. BUT! I’m actually awarding the title of Best Lightning 8th Round Pick Ever to a dark horse candidate. Someone that has never played in the NHL or any North American league, professional or otherwise. Who is that player?

Vasily Koshechkin.

Unless you’ve been following Lightning Prospects for a while, you probably have no clue who Koshechkin is. Well, he’s a Russian goaltender. And a very good one at that. If he had decided to come to North America, he likely would have been able to make it in the NHL. Instead, he has remained in Russia playing in the Russian Super League and the KHL.

Since the KHL was formed for the 2008-09 season, Koshechkin has had a .928 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average in the regular season. He is a career 177-114-54. In the playoffs he has a 50-36 record with a stellar .937 save percentage and 1.93 goals against average. He has won the KHL championship twice. He has a bronze, silver, and gold medal with Team Russia in the World Championships. He has led the KHL in shutouts four years. He has won the KHL’s best goaltender award once. He’s been a KHL all star once. All in all, he’s a great goaltender.

While he has never provided anything to the Lightning or it’s fans in the United States, he has been a terrific player in the KHL. The KHL is a good league. Maybe not as deep as say the AHL, but there is plenty of NHL caliber talent playing in the KHL. Plus with the bigger ice surface, there is a lot more room for activities and offensive creativity that only makes it more difficult on goaltenders.

For me, without a doubt, Vasily Koshechkin is the Best Lightning 8th Round Pick Ever.

What do you think? Tweet us @twoforspearing or comment. We want to hear from you!