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.
The 7th round is often the spot for long shot prospects. Sometimes it’s players with skill, but due to size, situation, work ethic, or some other factor they get passed over. Sometimes it’s overage prospects that are late bloomers. Sometimes it’s players with size and some hope that their ability will blossom. Sometimes they’re fighters and that’s about all they have to offer. Sometimes they’re longshot goaltenders that you hope develops. Sometimes they’re European players that were under-scouted. For the Lightning, there’s been a good mix of all of those player types.
Jay Rosehill is a player that falls into the Fighter player type from the 7th round. He was drafted in 2003, 227th overall by the Lightning. One of the more interesting facts about Rosehill is that he played NCAA hockey and managed to exceed 100 penalty minutes in only 34 games. With Fighting being completely banished from NCAA hockey, that’s really hard to do. He only played one year for University of Minnesota-Duluth before turning pro. He signed an entry level contract and split time between the AHL and ECHL for three and a half years with the Lightning before being given to the Toronto Maple Leafs for “future considerations.”
Rosehill did manage to make it to the NHL thought playing with Toronto and the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s add 352 PIMs in 117 career NHL games. He last played in the NHL in 2013-14 and has been with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms the past two seasons. Earlier this week, he signed with Braehead Clan of the English Ice Hockey League. The EIHL is known to be a rough league with a lot of fighting and back and forth action. It sounds like he will be a solid fit for Braehead Clan with his fighting acumen.
The Longshot Goalie
Fredrik Norrena was a Finnish goalie drafted in the 2002 draft, 213th overall. He was also unique in that he was already 28 years old when he was drafted and had been in the Finnish Liiga and had already been apart of 4 Liiga Championship teams. After being drafted, he moved to the Swedish SHL for four years where he put up strong numbers and won an SHL Championship as well as leading the SHL in GAA and SV% in a season. He was also apart of Finland’s Silver Medal winning Olympic team in 2006.
In the summer of 2006, the Lightning signed Norrena to a one-year deal. However, the team traded him a month later with Frederik Modin to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Marc Denis. He played two mediocre seasons for the Blue Jackets before returning to Europe in the middle of the third season. He ultimately played 100 games in the NHL all for Columbus. He retired after 2013-14 and has spent the past three seasons as a goaltending coach for TPS in Finland.
The Undersized Skill Guy
Probably the best seventh rounder the Lightning have in this category is Nikita Gusev, the 202nd overall pick in the 2012 draft. Gusev was a Juniors teammate of Nikita Kucherov and absolutely lit up the MHL. Listed at 5’9″ and 163 pounds, even at 24 years of age, you can see how his size was an issue. He was passed over in his draft year and the Lightning took a shot on him.
He was a late bloomer in the KHL, but over the past two seasons has really found his groove and become an all-star player in the KHL. He was traded to powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg last season and re-signed with them for a two-year deal. If he ever comes to the NHL, he could end up being a very strong scorer. However, his size and defensive game are a concern and there’s a lot of question on if he’ll ever cross the pond.
The Late Bloomer
Ondrej Palat is the classic definition of a Late Bloomer. After being passed over in his draft year, Palat moved to North America to play for the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the QMJHL. He put up 40 points in 59 games and 96 points in 61 games over two seasons for Drummondville. There was a lot of question about how much he was benefiting from playing with some highly skilled players and 19 year olds are expected to dominate the CHL.
It looked like Palat was on his way to having an excellent career playing professional hockey in the Czech Republic and was ready to do just that. Instead, his name was called in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft as the 208th overall selection; the fourth from the last player taken. Since he was 20, he made his way directly to the Norfolk Admirals scoring 30 points in 61 games and another 9 points in 18 playoff games as the Admirals won the Calder Cup.
The next season during the NHL lockout, Palat put up a nice year of 52 points in 56 games for the Syracuse Crunch playing along side Tyler Johnson and Richard Panik. Late in the season, he received a call up and played in 14 NHL games with 4 points. He went back to Syracuse to complete the year and scored 26 points in 18 playoff games as the Crunch made it to the AHL Championship Finals.
The next season, Palat, along with his Crunch pals Johnson and Panik, made the Lightning out of camp and formed a third line that had a lot of promise. Panik ended up struggling and before long Palat and Johnson found themselves with a new partner with Martin St. Louis playing on their right wing after Steven Stamkos went out with a broken leg. When St. Louis left and Stamkos returned, Johnson shifted to the right wing with Stamkos playing in the center. Palat would put up 59 points in 81 games in his first full NHL season.
Since then, Palat has had seasons of 63 points in 75 games and 40 points in 62 games to go along with 29 points in 46 playoff games. Palat has turned into a strong, two-way forward that plays the game on both ends of the rink very well. He was hampered by injuries and the forward corps in general was beset with inconsistency due to injuries for much of the 2015-16 season. Palat is set for a rebound and should certainly be a threat to score 50-60 points for many years to come.
The European Player
Pavel Kubina was a defenseman from the Czech Republic that the Lightning drafted 179th overall in 1996. He had tremendous size, but playing in the Czech Republic, he was likely overlooked by scouts. The Lightning took a chance on him with the selection. He came to the WHL in 1996-97 and played for the Moose Jaw Warriors. In 61 games he had 44 points.
The next summer he signed and turned pro with the Lightning playing in the AHL for the Adirondack Red Wings for 55 games. He also played in 10 games for the Lightning. In 1998-99, Kubina stuck with the Lightning and had 21 points in 68 games but was a stunning minus-33 in plus-minus rating.
As Kubina grew and got better, so did the Lightning. In his first seven full NHL seasons with the Lightning, he never failed to reach 20 points and hit the 30 point plateau four times. He was also a member of the 2004 Stanley Cup winning team. After the 2005-06 season, Kubina became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he played for three seasons and had two 40 point seasons.
The Maple Leafs traded Kubina to the Atlanta Thrashers prior to his final year under contract. After finishing his contract with the Thrashers, Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman signed Kubina to a two year contract to return to Tampa. While his offense had fallen off, he provided solid leadership and a veteran presence on the blue line.
With Kubina’s contract expiring, and the Lightning out of the playoff picture, Yzerman traded Kubina to the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2011-12 season receiving Jon Kalinski, a 2nd round pick used to select Brian Hart and a 4th round pick that was sent to Ottawa with Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop.
Kubina finished out the year with the Flyers. He played three games for Geneve-Servette in the Swiss NLA the next season and then retired.
In his NHL career, Kubina played 970 games with 386 points to go with 51 playoff games.
The Lightning’s Best Ever 7th Round Pick
With all due respect to Ondrej Palat, for the moment this award has to go to Pavel Kubina. While his overall career numbers dipped to 0.40 points per game, he spent many years in his prime as a close to half point per game defenseman. He almost made it to the Silver Stick mark of 1,000 games played and if he had stuck around the NHL one more season he could have gotten there.
Palat has every chance to catch and surpass Kubina’s accomplishments. He’s already well on his way 232 games into his NHL career. One of the major accomplishments that Palat will need to hit to match up with Kubina is getting his name on a Stanley Cup. And then, he’ll need to approach 1,000 games in the NHL while keeping up his production to really solidify his legacy and take away the title of Lightning’s Best Ever 7th Round Pick.