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.
The Lightning have had 27 third round picks in the franchise’s history and have had a decent amount of luck with those selections. Out of those 27 players 14 players have played in at least 1 NHL game, 7 in 100 or more games and 4 in 200 or more games. Oh, and one of those players came oh so close to 200 games, but only hit 199 regular season games in his career.
The Lightning do have some recent third round picks that also show some promise. Tanner Richard is on the verge of breaking in to the NHL and was recalled a couple times during 2015-16 and even took warm ups for a game before being scratched. Brayden Point is a young, skilled center that shows a great amount of potential. Radko Gudas was a third round pick and has turned into a fine NHL defenseman. Alex Killorn, a third rounder in 2007, also just signed a seven year deal with the Lightning this summer.
You can also add in some old-timers in to the mix with Evgeni Artyukhin with his 199 NHL games. Artyukhin is playing this coming season with Sibir Novosibirsk in the KHL and has been named their Captain. Alexander Kharitonov played 71 career NHL games with all but 5 coming with Tampa. Jimmie Olvestad had 111 career NHL games all with the Lightning. Dimitri Afanasenkov won the Cup with the Lightning as a complementary player and played in 227 NHL games before returning to Russia.
Shane Willis went back into the draft and was taken in the fourth round by Carolina, but ended up playing 174 games in the NHL including 33 games for Tampa. And you even have the Lightning’s first ever third round pick, one Brent Gretzky, little brother of a certain famous Wayne. Unfortunately, he didn’t live up to his family name and only appeared in 13 career NHL games all with the Lightning.
So where does that leave us? Well, a lot of pretty good players, but no one who was especially great. Oh. Except for one guy. Brad Richards.
Brad Richards just retired this summer, but let’s give a quick run down of his achievements.
Two-time Stanley Cup Champion. One-time QMJHL and Memorial Cup Champion. One-time All Star. One-time Lady Byng winner. One-time Conn Smythe winner. NHL All-Rookie Team. 1,126 games played. 298 goals. 634 assists. 932 points. 251 PIMs. 146 playoff games. 37 playoff goals. 68 playoff assists. 105 playoff points.
No other third rounder the Lightning have selected even comes close to Brad Richards’ achievements. He may not be hall of fame worthy, but he’s put in one helluva career. The story of Phil Esposito championing for the selection of Richards because of his play with Lecavalier is a legend in Lightning lore. Richards began his NHL career with seven straight seasons of 60 points or more. He never exceeded 32 penalty minutes in a season. He wore in A as an Alternate Captain in seven different seasons for three different teams. He was a key cog in the Lightning’s only Stanley Cup victory.
For all of this and more, and with the easiest decision that’s been made in this series, Brad Richards is the Lightning’s best ever third round selection.