Vincent Lecavalier was the first overall draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft after a stellar junior career with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. In his two seasons with the Oceanic, Lecavalier scored 86 goals and had 131 assists for an astounding 217 points in 122 regular season games. He joined some exalted company coming out of the QMJHL, becoming only the fifth player from that league to be the first overall pick in the NHL. (The others were Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemieux, Pierre Turgeon and Alexandre Daigle.) Lecavalier is recognized in Quebec as well for accomplishments that go beyond the hockey rink. In 1998 Lecavalier was named the province's male amateur athlete-of-the-year.
Prior to being drafted by Tampa Bay, Lecavalier combined his Quebec junior experience with some international competition. In 1997 he was a member of the gold medal-winning Canadian team at the under-18 Three Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic, and also represented Canada at the 1998 World Junior Championship in Finland, scoring one goal and adding an assist in seven games in that competition.
Lecavalier found himself the center of attention as he began the 1998-99 NHL season with the Lightning. With his excellent combination of stickhandling ability, speed, size 6' 4'' and 190 pounds as a junior, plus his pro-level on-ice judgment and foresight, observers of his game in the junior ranks noted that he had the potential to become an NHL great.
In his rookie season, his much-touted scoring prowess did not come to the fore as prominently as it had when he was a junior, however, he managed to score 13 goals, and 15 assists.
Still, opposing defencemen checked him very closely, and he was playing without a tremendous supporting cast. On his team, Lecavalier was the second leading goal scorer and fourth in total points. During the off season, Lecavalier concentrated on weight training in an attempt to bulk up in order to meet the rigors of NHL competition. The young player was lucky that Tampa Bay had a number of veterans who were willing to show him the ropes of the NHL game. Despite all the comparisons made between Lecavalier and other young superstars such as Gretzky and Lemieux, he became his own star.
After three seasons of 20-plus goals Lecavalier broke out offensively in 2002-03 scoring 34 goals and adding 44 assists for 78 points while leading the Lightning to their first playoff appearance since the 1995-96 season. Although, the Lightning were eliminated in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup champions from New Jersey, Lecavalier and the Lightning now knew that they would half to be better if they wanted to compete in the later rounds of the playoffs.
Building on its previous year's experience, Lecavalier and the Lightning made it to the post season for a second consecutive year in 2003-04, and after eliminating the New York Islanders, the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers, Lecavalier and his teammates went on to capture their first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a hard fought seven game series win over the Calgary Flames. Although his point totals had slipped during the regular season, Lecavalier save his best for last, finishing the post season with 16 points, while setting up the game winner in games seven.
Coming off a Stanley Cup win, Lecavalier was a late addition to Team Canada's 2004 World Cup entry. Instrumental in leading his country to its first World Cup title, Lecavalier would be named tournament MVP. Lecavalier was welcomed back to Team Canada in 2006 to represent his nation in the Winter Olympics, however would return to Tampa Bay without a medal. After returning from the Olympics, Lecavalier would go on to set a club record 52 goals en route toward capturing his first career Maurice Richard Trophy. His 52 goal output, along with 56 assists and 108 points, were all career-highs for the Ille-Bizard, Quebec native. During the 2006-07 season, Lecavalier also recorded his 500th career point.
The following season, the Lightning would struggle and finish in the league's basement. Lecavalier however would continue to produce offensively, recording 40 goals and 92 points. The Lightning failed to make the playoffs that season and after the leagues playoffs, Lecavalier graciously accepted the King Clancy Trophy, an award given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community. A few months later the Lightning locked up their former first overall draft pick, signing him to an eleven-year, $85 million contract extension with the club.