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.

This week, we’ll be covering the 5th round. Let’s just say the Lightning have a very dubious history when it comes to the 5th round. The Lightning have had 25 5th round picks out of 25 total drafts. In five drafts, they had more than one 5th round selection with one of those drafts having three. In six drafts, they had no 5th round selections. Only six players ever made it to the NHL and currently combine for 299 games played.

So, it’s pretty fair to say that no one exactly stands out as an exceedingly exceptional candidate. But, we might as well look through what we have to go on.

Brantt Myhres

An Edmonton, Alberta native, Myhres was a winger playing with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL prior to being drafted by the Lightning in 1992. At that point he had 26 points in 121 career regular season and playoff games in the WHL. Oh, but he had 865 penalty minutes (PIMs) for an impressive 7.14 PIMs per game average. Quite the producer he was.

After being drafted, he did take a step forward offensively as is expected of 18 and 19 year olds playing in the CHL. Over his last two season in the WHL split between Lethbridge and the Spokane Chiefs, he had 116 points in 128 games combined between the regular season and playoffs to go with 526 PIMss for a 4.11 PIMs per game average. He would only have two more seasons after that where he would break double digits in points, but he would break triple digits in penalty minutes in seven more seasons.

He finished his Junior career with Spokane and signed an entry level contract with the Lightning. He spent three years with the organization playing 66 IHL games with the Atlanta Knights and San Antonio Dragons. He also played 62 games with the Lightning, including 47 games during the 1996-97 season. For the Lightning, he had 5 goals and 1 assist and 217 PIMs. He was also a plus-one overall which is quite impressive.

When his contract was up, the Lightning traded Myhres to the Edmonton Oilers with a 3rd round pick, 67th overall for Vladimir Vujtek and a 3rd round pick, 72nd overall which was used to select fan favorite Dimitri Afanasenkov. Before making it to the start of the season, Edmonton traded Myhres to the Philadelphia Flyers. A year later, the Flyers sent him to the San Jose Sharks. He signed with the Nashville Predators as an unrestricted free agent several seasons later and then was traded to the Washington Capitals. He then signed with the Boston Bruins as an unrestricted free agent. Then signed with the Calgary Flames and played in the AHL for them. He finished his career with 5 games for the Newcastle Vipers of the England Ice Hockey League where fighters go to retire.

In all, Myhres was a member of 8 different NHL franchises and played in the NHL for six of them. He finished his NHL career with 154 games played, 6 goals, 2 assists, 8 points, and 687 PIMs. Combined between the IHL and the AHL he had 239 games played with 49 points and 890 PIMs. I think you’d call that a successful career for a fighter.

Dustin Tokarski

Tokarski was the 122nd overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft for the Lightning. He had been a star the year prior for the Spokane Chiefs leading them to a WHL Championship and the Memorial Cup winning the Memorial Cup’s MVP award along the way. He performed even better the following year, however, the team did not make it back to the Championship or the Memorial Cup. Tokarski led the WHL in GAA and SV% in 2008-09 and won a Gold Medal for Team Canada in the WJC U20 tournament.

After his junior career, Tokarski joined the Norfolk Admirals for the 2009-10 season playing 55 games. He also made his NHL debut playing two games for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they had injury issues. He continued mostly with the Norfolk Admirals for the next two seasons and made five appearances for the Lightning in the 2011-12 season. He led the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup trophy and added another championship to his resume.

In 2012-13, the Lightning moved their AHL affiliation to the Syracuse Crunch. With the NHL being locked out, the Crunch were stacked with most of their Norfolk Admirals championship team returning. However, the Lightning were looking for a more solid option for a third goaltender and traded Tokarski to the Montreal Canadiens for Cedric Desjardins whom the Lightning had previously had in the system.

Tokarski would settle in with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, and would make spot appearances for the Canadiens in the NHL. He impressively took over for the Carey Price when he went down with injury during the 2013-14 playoffs. However, he failed to capitalize on the opportunity and could not earn a more permanent spot with the Canadiens only appearing in 23 games in the NHL over the next two season before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks.

Tokarski is currently the third goaltender in the Ducks system and will most likely play for the San Diego Gulls in the AHL this season.

Nikita Nesterov

Nesterov was drafted by the Lightning in Yzerman’s first full NHL draft in 2011. He was an offensive defenseman in Russia and was over a half point per game producer in the MHL, which is the Russian Junior league. He had also won a Bronze Medal with Team Russia in the U18 WJC tournament. He would follow that with a Silver and Bronze Medal in the U20 WJC tournament in the two years following his draft. Nesterov played in 67 KHL games between the regular season and playoffs and had only 5 points in limited minutes.

As a 20 year old, he signed an Entry Level Contract with the Lightning and moved to North America to play in the AHL. He struggled in his first year, but put up 16 points in 54 games for the Syracuse Crunch. His second year saw a big improvement and NHL time as he split the season with 32 AHL games and 27 NHL games plus 17 games in the NHL playoffs often as the 7th defenseman on the roster.

His third season saw a bit of a decline in his performance and he was often scratched and when he was in the line up, Nesterov saw limited ice time. At this point he has 16 points in 84 regular season games plus 7 points in 26 playoff games. Even with his limited performance, he does make him one of the better 5th round selections the Lightning have had.

Kristers Gudlevskis

Gudlevskis has only played in 4 career NHL games, but he still makes it onto this list simply for what he has accomplished already. In the 2013 draft, Gudlevskis was an overage draft selection who had been playing in the Russian Juniors for Dinamo Riga’s MHL team. He immediately bought out his contract with Dinamo Riga and signed an entry level contract with the Lightning. He began the year as the 5th goaltender playing in the ECHL.

After an impressive 11 game stint with the Florida Everblades, Gudlevskis was promoted to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. He left for the Olympic break and played for Team Latvia at the Sochi Olympics. He nearly stole a game from Team Canada with an out of this world performance. Just check out these highlights as Canada won the possession game but Gudlevskis stopped wave after wave of Canadian talent.

Gudlevskis would return for the Olympic break and at the end of the season with Ben Bishop out with a dislocated elbow, Gudlevskis made his NHL debut. He also relieved Anders Lindback in two playoff games. After the Lightning were eliminated, Gudlevskis then played for Team Latvia in the World Championships. Gudlevskis became the first player to ever play in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, Olympics, and World Championships in the same season.

Since then, Gudlevskis has mostly played in the AHL with only one NHL appearance over the past two seasons. Gudlevskis, as evidenced by his performance against Team Canada, is capable of amazingly stunning performances. He is a highly mobile goaltender that is capable of making highlight reel saves. His biggest problem has been his game to game focus. He does not seem to handle the grind of the regular season very well and often has stretches of very poor play. If he can ever even out his play and become more consistent, he can be an NHL starter. At this point, he might be lucky to become an NHL backup.

The Best Ever 5th Round Pick

There really doesn’t seem to be a very clear cut answer here. None of the four players has had especially outstanding NHL careers. Myhres was a fine fighter, but he barely broke 100 NHL games. Nesterov is doing better than Myhres offensively, but he may be lucky to reach 250 NHL games in his career because of his defensive liabilities. Gudlevskis is still a work in progress and Tokarski is already 26 and in his prime and still hasn’t broken into the NHL full time.

So, with there being really no clear choice, I’ve decided to dedicate this Best in Round to two players… Paul Lynch and Kaspars Astasenko. Both are players that passed away early in life.

Paul Lynch was a 2001 draft pick of the Lightning. The Lightning had traded a 2002 third round pick for a 4th, 5th and 7th round pick in the 2001 draft. Lynch was the 5th round selection, however, he never signed with the Lightning after his NCAA career. Lynch bounced around the ECHL and spent time in the SPHL. He had played with the Knoxville Ice Bears in 2009-10 and was a free agent when he passed away at the age of 28 in November of 2010.

Kaspars Astasenko was a Latvia defenseman drafted in the 1999 draft. He had played in the Russian Super League in the mid-90s before coming to North America to play in the IHL in the 1998-99 season. After his performance there, the Lightning drafted him. He played 23 games in the NHL for the Lightning over two seasons spending the rest of his time in the IHL and AHL. Over 23 NHL games he had a goal and two assists.

After leaving North America, Astasenko bounced around playing in Denmark, Latvia, Russia, Finland, Slovakia, Italy, Kazakhstan, and England. He represented Latvia in the World Championships twice and in the 2002 Olympic Games. Astasenko passed away in November of 2012 of a possible overdose.

So to Paul Lynch and Kaspars Astasenko… you left the world too soon. Keep the bench warm for us.

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