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.
Last week was a fun exercise looking at the 7th round. There’s certainly a nice debate going on between who is better of Pavel Kubina and Ondrej Palat. They are so hard to compare with one being a defenseman and the other a winger, and also that Kubina is retired and Palat is still building his legacy.
Much like the 7th round, the 6th round is often a crapshoot for finding talent. The probability is still fairly low, but perhaps slightly better than the 7th round. You’ll also get a lot of differing opinions about players in these bottom rounds as the tiers of players become very wide with it possible that a player could go from the 5th to the 7th or even undrafted depending on how the teams value them and other players available.
The Lightning’s last two drafts highlight some of the typical picks made in the sixth round. In 2016, the Lightning took 6’8″ Russian defenseman Oleg Sosunov. It’s a super raw prospect that the scouts saw something in. He’s a long term draft and follow and see how he does prospect.
In 2015, the Lightning took goaltender Kristian Oldham and fighting forward Bokondji Imama. Oldham was selected out of the USHL. He spent another season there and will begin his collegiate career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He’ll have up to four years there to develop his game before turning professional. Imama was selected out of the QMJHL. He’s a fighter pure and simple. If he ever develops into a fourth liner in the mold of B.J. Crombeen, call him a success. But that’s really unlikely.
Adam Wilcox is a goaltender that was selected in the 6th round in the 2011 draft. In similar fashion to Oldham, he was given the opportunity to develop at the collegiate level and has turned into a fine goaltending prospect. The Lightning were able to sign him and he’s now playing in the AHL. He projects as a back-up in the NHL. Hitting that projection would be more than a success for a 6th round goaltender.
The Lightning have also had some decent success from the 2008 6th round where they selected defensemen Mark Barberio and Luke Witkowski. Witkowski has only played 20 NHL games after a collegiate career and is still with the organization providing depth. Barberio became one of the top offensive defensemen in the AHL, but hasn’t translated that to the NHL. However, he has had 133 games in the NHL and is currently with the Montreal Canadiens organization.
Goaltender Karri Ramo was selected 191st overall in the 2004 draft. He spent three years with the Lightning with time split each season between the NHL and the AHL. He had 48 games for the Lightning before returning to Europe to play for Avangard Omsk of the KHL. He became a two-time All-Star in the KHL and after four seasons with Avangard, returned to the NHL with the Calgary Flames.
With the Lightning, Ramo never posted better than a 3.00 GAA and only had one season with a SV% over .900 and that was in the AHL. When he returned with the Flames, he became a league average goalie with a GAA consistently around 2.63 and a SV% around .910. He is currently a free agent after losing his job in Calgary this past season.
Defenseman Paul Ranger was selected in the 2002 draft 183rd overall. Prior to being selected, Ranger had not shown an offensive side to his game with only 10 points in 94 OHL games. However, he picked it up and posted 79 points over the next 130 regular season games with the Oshawa Generals.
When he turned pro, it took some time for his offensive game to develop, but he ended up with 92 points over 262 regular season games with the Lightning. Ranger played in 8 games to start the 2009-10 season before asking the team for a leave of absence without pay, which the team granted. He left professional hockey for personal reasons. He attended the University of Ottawa and coached bantam hockey.
After a nearly three year absence, Ranger returned to professional hockey signing with the Toronto Marlies on an AHL deal for the 2012-13 season. He had 25 points in 51 games for the Marlies. The next offseason, he signed a one year contract to make his return to the NHL with the Maple Leafs where he played 53 games with 14 points in 2013-14. He played 27 games in 2014-15 in the Swiss NLA before retiring from professional hockey.
With Ranger, it’s easy to wonder how much more his career might have been if he had not taken that time off. He essentially missed four seasons of NHL time that could have gotten him over the 600 games played mark. Instead, he finished his NHL career with 323 games played and 106 points.
Our final player to look at is Bryce Salvador. Salvador was drafted 138th overall in 1994, the Lightnings third draft. However, the Lightning chose not to sign him within two years of being drafted as he hadn’t broken 20 points as a defenseman in the WHL. He went back into the draft and was undrafted again before putting up a 40 point season. Mid-way through the 1996-97 season, he was signed to an entry level contract by the St. Louis Blues.
Salvador turned pro with the Worcester IceCats of the AHL and played there for three full seasons before breaking into the NHL with the Blues in 2000-01. He would play most of seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to the New Jersey Devils. After the season, he re-signed with the Devils to a four year contract. Salvador would miss all of the 2010-11 season with a concussion.
After missing a full season, he came back to play with the Devils as they made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2011-12 season. Those playoffs saw probably one of the best streaks of hockey he ever had as he had 14 goals in 24 games. To put that into perspective, his best professional season, counting AHL and NHL and regular season and playoffs put together, he had 19 points in 73 games in 1998-99.
For the 2012-13 season, Salvador was named Captain of the New Jersey Devils becoming the 10th Captain of the franchise and the third black Captain ever in the NHL. Unfortunately, injuries would limit him to only 94 games over three seasons as the Devils captain. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season, Salvador officially retired from profession hockey ending his career with 786 games played.
While Paul Ranger contributed the most to the Tampa Bay Lightning, for his longevity in the NHL despite his lack of offense, his leadership, and his perseverance through numerous injuries, we name Bryce Salvador the Lightning’s Best Ever 6th Round Pick.