Thoughts on Day 1

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When and how do you judge a trade or draft pick?

Earlier this week I tweeted from Bolt Prospects that it was the 10-year anniversary of then Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster sending the fourth overall pick to Philadelphia for a young forward Tampa Bay thought had some upside and two second round picks. At the time, jaws hit the floor from Nanaimo to Naples. I was standing on the line that divided my living room from my dining room and saw the trade go across the ticker on what I believe was ESPN-2. Yes, I remember exactly where I was standing when I saw the news.

It was a horrible trade, everyone said. Tampa essentially gave up the rights to surefire star defenseman Joni Pitkanen – a can’t-miss prospect out of Finland – for an undrafted kid that Feaster had a hunch about and a couple of second rounders. As I recall, a GM or two even griped about the low trade price for first round picks that Feaster set.

Well, we all know what happened.

Fedotenko proved to be a fairly good winger for the Lightning and was huge in the 2004 playoffs, topped off by his two-goal Game 7 that won the Lightning the Stanley Cup. Pitkanen was a good prospect, very good defenseman, but was eventually traded out of the Flyers organization and they are still looking for their first Cup since I was in diapers.

Did Tampa Bay “win” that trade hands-down, or does Philadelphia still win it because of the perceived value at the time of the deal?

Some think one way, others think the other.

In other words, it’s the way scouts think of new Lightning prospect Slater Koekkoek, drafted 10th overall Friday night.

Some experts think he’ll be something special. Others think he’ll be a nice defenseman at the NHL level, but not worthy of a top-10 pick. And certainly not better than some forwards who were available at the time.

If you would have told me going into the draft that Tampa Bay would end up with Andrei Vasilevski and Slater Koekkoek in the first round, I’d say, “yeah, I can see that.” Al Murray must have stuck to his guns, taken the best player possible at No.10 regardless of position and regardless of outside factors and got the best goalie prospect to come along since Carey Price. Then they’d take a flier on Koekkoek at 19 as they must think his injury isn’t concerning. I’m okay with that. A good, educated gamble at 19.

But if you would have told me at 10 Tampa Bay takes Koekkoek, who some had ranked in the 30’s and a guy my consensus rankings of about six experts’ lists that were based on information from current or former scouts had in the early 20’s, I would have chuckled. Then if you mentioned they took him while Filip Forsberg, who many had ranked as the second-best player in the draft, AND Teuvo Teravainen, another projected first line point producer, were both on the board, I would have dismissed the scenario as preposterous and walked away from the conversation.

It’s all about perspective. Here’s more.

Coming into the season, Koekkoek was thought to be a solid first rounder according to the director of the NHL’s Central Scouting. Just how high he would go would be dependent on how his season went. Well, he had 18 points in his first 26 games and was with OHL scoring leaders for defensemen at the time he blew out his shoulder. What if he continued that pace and finished with around 50 points in a full 68 games? That would place him in the middle of the top-10 for defensemen scoring and more ice time equals more development, so the questions about his own-zone play wouldn’t be as loud. He’d be a much more complete prospect. Would anyone question the pick at 10 then? Maybe not. And after all, the Lightning aren’t looking for now, they’re looking for later.

Koekkoek is a fine prospect. It’s obvious the Lightning had their eye on him and had him up fairly high on their “List of 15.” They brought their team doctor to Ontario to check him out at the combine, and they also checked Morgan Rielly’s knee. While most experts had Koekkoek a tier or two lower than Rielly, Matt Dumba and the like, the Bolts probably had him as part of that group. There was a run on defensemen, the Lightning may have truly wanted to take Forsberg or Teravainen at 10 but saw that they might not have a high-end defenseman left to take at 19 and said if they wanted one, they better get one now. Besides, they still had their eyes on the best goaltending prospect to come along in years at 19, too.

So for the Lightning, it may have been an easier decision than we think. And in the end, Forsberg may be a top-9 forward and not a top-3 forward and Koekkoek could be playing 27 minutes a night for the Lightning against the opposition’s best forwards while putting up 40 points a year.

Judge now, or judge later. It’s all about perspective.