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Tampa Bay Lightning: 2008-09 Top 12 Prospects

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Shane Malloy
1/19/2009 5:34:58 PM
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The Stanley Cup Championship seemed like a long time ago and the lustre is starting to wear off. The Tampa Bay Lightning will need players to develop and replace older, more expensive veterans. Overall, the Lightning farm system is in need of an offensive boost since the prospects they had in the recent past have not developed as expected.

It's obvious the main problem lies in the offence, where they lacking serious talent and depth at all forward positions. The Lightning had once thought they had a few wingers able to crack the lineup in Adam Henrich, Mark Tobin and Stanislav Lascek. Lascek's stock has fallen over the last two seasons, especially when he was demoted to the ECHL. Henrich and Tobin never developed.

Now they have one gem to begin to build around in Steven Stamkos, but his exceptional talent won't be nearly enough to help turn things around. The Lightning have some potential role players in Dana Tyrell, Mitch Fadden, Blair Jones, Radek Smolenak, James Wright and Chris Lawrence - who might have a chance to play on the third or fourth lines on a regular basis one day. But in all likelihood, only two of those forwards will become NHL regulars. The Lightning must add some potential first and second-line prospects to the system over the next few drafts.

Things are not as nearly as bad on defence, where they have a small group of potential NHL defencemen. The Lightning had Mike Lundin and Paul Ranger develop over the last couple seasons so far and hope a few more will follow soon.

With the acquisition of Ty Wishart - San Jose's first round pick in 2006 - they added a fine piece to a potential blueline with Vladimir Mihalik, Kevin Quick, Matt Smaby and Andy Rogers. A lot of high draft choices and assets have been spent on the defence, so Tampa needs three of them to turn into NHL defencemen. All five defencemen on the list are not expected see permanent NHL ice time this season and but a couple of them might be permanent fixtures next year.

Fortunately, the Lightning drafted two potential goaltenders of the future in Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski, who both have the potential to be NHL netminders. Hopefully, they can develop into a solid tandem one day. Tokarski choice was an astute pick by Tampa's WHL scout and former NHL goalie Charlie Hodge. However, the Lightning faithful will have to be patient as they will take three to four more years to develop.

The future of the Lightning will not light up the sky like their namesake so they will need to draft astutely over the next few years. They did have a couple surprises as Lundin and Ramo have jumped into the lineup and contributed.

They could use a couple of pure offensive defencemen to add the mix, along with a host of offensive forwards over the next couple of drafts. The biggest decisions in the franchise's history loom on the horizon – that is, whether or not to trade Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis and rebuild the organization with draft picks and prospects.

Steve Stamkos – Centre, 18 (1st round 1st overall 2008)
Currently with Tampa Bay (NHL)

The new human highlight reel has the ability to play in the NHL now and he seems to improve at a higher rate than his peers. His hockey sense and vision are at an NHL elite level and he reads and anticipates a developing play two steps ahead of everyone else. His puck skills allow him to create time and space for himself and his teammates while dictating the pace. He never seems to panic and can feather a pass through the tightest of places. His skating overall is excellent and his agility and quickness makes him dangerous in one on one situations with his change of pace. He has an array of deadly accurate shots from wrist, slap, snap or even backhand with velocity and he never telegraphs and it comes off his stick instantly. He must add strength to his frame, but to his credit he shows moxie - a willingness to get his nose dirty and drop the gloves on occasion. He will need to gain some additional strength and weight to improve his ability to battle and avoid injury. His defensive game is becoming solid and he works hard at the little nuances of the defensive game. It's important to learn good habits like getting his stick in the lanes, breaking to position, using good angles and keeping his head on a swivel while making sure his feet are always moving. He's a clutch performer, shows leadership potential and has an excellent work ethic. His experiences at the WJC and other international tournaments will continue to help in his rookie year in the NHL this season. What truly sets him apart is his ability to make everyone around him better and carry a team on his back. He has limitless potential and could be a captain one day, but with all that he still is humble and respectful.

Ty Wishart – Defence, 20 - (1st round 16th overall 2006 – Trade from San Jose)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)

The strapping young blueliner has not finished growing, which is a frightening thought considering he currently stands at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. Offensively, he produced 153 points in 204 games with the Cougars and Warriors over the past three seasons. He logs heavy minutes in all situations and only had 179 penalty minutes, which showed his level of discipline. His leadership ability and work ethic should make him a valuable addition to the Lightning one day. He has solid overall puck skills, vision and hockey sense with good mobility for a player of his size. He can play a simple puck possession game while adding a little feistiness and will engage the opposition with some hits along the boards and in front of the net. He could develop into a No. 2 or No. 3 defenceman after a couple of years in the AHL.

Riku Helenius – Goalie, 20 (1st Round 15th 2006)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)

The 6-foot-3 and 205 pound netminder has the presence and poise along with the athletic ability to become a No. 1 goalie in the NHL one day. He has a typical Finnish style that makes the goalies compact with active glove and blockers. His shoulder injury this season hampered his development, but it is not expected to make a difference in his overall projection. It was a good idea for him to come over to North America and play junior for a season as he become acclimatized to the culture and style of game. Helenius has maintained a .915 save percentage most of the season and gives his team a chance to win every game. He looks to have recovered fully from his shoulder injury and bounced around this season from Augusta and Mississippi in the ECHL before landing back in Norfolk. Consistency is needed if he is to develop at a proper pace.

Dustin Tokarski – Goalie, 19 (5th round 122nd overall 2008)
Currently with Spokane (WHL)

Considering everything he has done over the past two seasons, it is safe to say he has silenced most of his critics. It can be argued that his 5-foot-11 and 185 pound frame might be a detriment if the NHL decides to reduce the size of the goalie equipment again, but all he does is stop the puck. A good skating goaltender with the lateral movement to go post to post quickly, he has the agility to make a save when forced to scramble. He has good balance on his skates, but it would not hurt if he improved his core strength to help him remain upright once he goes down in the butterfly. His positional play and mechanics are consistent and he does not give up any holes once he's in his stance. He does not get beat on the first shot very often. He must be aware to play aggressive and cut down angles of the shooters and not sit back in his net and rely on his reflexes. The one thing his does well for a young goaltender is absorb rebounds. He also does a good job of directing the puck away from the slot. He shows good vision when it comes to tracking pucks in traffic and can anticipate the play which helps give him an extra half a second to move to the right position. He is the best puckhandling goaltender in his draft class and Tokarski consistently forces the forecheckers to dump the puck softly in the zone to keep it way from him. He makes good passes to his defencemen and communicates well to set up the puck for them and when a heavy forecheck is on them and shows a quick poke check. Tokarski can flash a quick glove hand and is getting better at controlling the direction of the puck once it comes off his blocker. What will set him apart are his poise and composure and his ability to take his game to another level and carry his team on his back far into the playoffs. He has the potential to be a No. 1 goaltender and just needs time to develop his game and learn to be a pro. If a team shows patience and proper guidance and does not rush him, he should be ready in four years. His experience in the Memorial Cup and WJC will go a long way in making the adjustment to the professional ranks early.

Vladimir Mihalik – Defence, 21 (1st Round 30th 2005)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL
The towering 6 foot 8 and 241-pound Slovak defenceman gained great experience at the WJC and with Red Deer and Prince George the last couple seasons. Mihalik seems to have just enough quickness not to be exposed to badly against NHL forwards, but that area needs some improvement. He should intimidate just by his presence alone and Mihalik needs to be more assertive in the physical department. It's clear he possesses the wing span to keep forwards at bay and as he continues to learn to take the right angles and maintain body position. Mihalik could be another stay at home defenceman who could turn into a solid No. 5 with time to develop. Do not expect much offence - he must play a safe smart game when the puck is on his stick. He's certainly an intriguing package, but it is unclear if he will be able to handle the speed and tempo of the pro game.

Dana Tyrell – Centre, 19 (2nd round 47th overall 2007)
Currently with Prince George (WHL)

An energy player with the speed and work ethic to become a valuable third line winger in the NHL one day. He does not have the puck skills to play on the top two lines, but has enough offensive instincts and plays an opportunistic style to contribute. He can line up in a shadow role and causes issues on the forecheck, causing defencemen to cough up the puck with his tenacious approach. Not big at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, but he shows feistiness has the work ethic to become a solid pro one day. An unfortunate knee injury at the WJC pre-tournament game will keep him out for the remainder of the season. He is expected to turn pro next year after rehabilitation and he has the hockey sense to make a smooth transition.

Matt Smaby – Defence, 24 (2nd Round 41st 2003)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)

A tall rangy defenceman at 6 foot 5 and 220 pounds plays a fairly smart and reliable game in his own zone. The third year pro has got a brief taste of the NHL over the past two seasons, but has not been able to stay full time yet. He will most likely be a No. 6 defensive defenceman at best that kills penalties and matches against larger players if he makes the jump to the NHL. His lack of physical play was a concern considering his size but it has improved. Do not expect production when it comes to points since Smaby lacks pure offensive capabilities. In 149 games in the AHL Smaby has posted 28 points along with 139 penalty minutes.

Blair Jones – Centre, 22 (4th Round 102nd 2005)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)

He played limited minutes with the Lightning when called up from the AHL the last two seasons but to his credit he did not look out of place. He cut his teeth with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the tough Western Hockey League for four seasons, as is a reason for his quick jump from the AHL to the NHL. He has the size at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds and along with some puck skills although they have not fully translated to the pro game yet. In the AHL, he produced 27 points in 42 games this season, which is not page turning but respectable in his third year as a pro. He has not seen any games so far in the NHL this season and needs to show more consistent play on both sides of the ice. He might be able to develop into a solid fourth line centre in the near future with patience and further development.

Kevin Quick – Defence, 20 (3rd Round 78th 2006)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)

A little thin at six feet and 180 pounds, but he showed enough moxie and competitiveness and got by his skating ability and hockey sense. He has jumped around from Augusta in the ECHL to Norfolk in the AHL along with a brief three-game stint in the NHL. Like all young defencemen, he needs some time to refine his defensive game and make better judgments when it comes to jumping into the play. He must continue to get bigger and stronger to play at the pro level and will be an interested player to watch develop. He played only 21 games as a freshman at Michigan University in 2007 after leaving the school and it remains to be seen how this will alter his development.

Radek Smolenak – Right Wing, 22 (3rd Round 73rd pick 2005)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)
The two-way winger adjusted to the North American game when he first came over and has shown the ability to score goals consistently at the junior level. He had problems the last two seasons at the pro level adjusting and finding his consistency. This season, things might have turned the corner offensively for him and Smolenak is still racking up the penalty minutes. He has nice size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and must use it consistently around the net. Over his last two seasons in the OHL with Kingston, he racked up 144 points in 132 games with 167 penalty minutes. He's certainly an intriguing package, but Smolenak would be better suited to play another couple seasons in the minors to round out his development. It is unsure whether Smolenak could ever play consistently at the NHL level, but it does not hurt Tampa to be patient for a couple years to find out. He's a wild card prospect.

Chris Lawrence – Centre, 21 (3rd Round 89th 2005)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)

A solid centre at the junior level who uses his 6-foot-4 and 217 pound frame well in a defensive role. He can make a safe, smart play with the puck and general creates space for his line mates. He can be a handful when he parks himself in front of the net or in the corners. He will need a few years in the minors to learn his craft, but the 88 points in 64 games in the OHL showed some promise. At the pro level with the speed and tempo at a much quicker rate he most likely will have to develop into a call up utility checking centre at best. His low offensive numbers as rookie in the AHL are not surprising and it remains to be seen if he can make the adjustment over the next couple of seasons.

Andy Rogers – Defence, 22 (1st Round 30th 2004)
Currently with Norfolk (AHL)

The 6-foot-5 and 210-pound defenceman goes out, tries to take care of his own end, and might be a good partner for an offensive defenceman if he can handle the tempo and speed. He has enough mobility to play at the NHL level and just needs to work on some nuances of the defensive game. It is important for him to make sure he always keeps his feet moving while keeping his head on a swivel and an active stick to be effective. He does not have the offensive instincts to contribute on the scoreboard and could play with more of a mean streak. The question remains if he has enough hockey sense and is capable of handling the increased speed and tempo that the game now demands. Over the past two and half seasons he has picked up 10 points in 109 games along with 102 penalty minutes. He might be able to fill a role as a number seven or eight defenceman one day if he works really hard.

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Tampa Bay Lightning - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Tampa Bay Lightning 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 11 (1) (D) Paul Mara (1/7)
1998 12 11 draft picks: (4) (C) Vincent LeCavalier (1/1), Brad Richards (3/64), (LW) Dmitri Afanasenkov (3/72), Martin Cibak (9/252)
1999 10 10 draft picks: (1) (RW) Sheldon Keefe (2/47)
2000 10 (1) (LW) Nikita Alexeev (1/8)
2001 14 (1) (C) Alexander Svitov (1/3)
2002 13 (3) (D) Paul Ranger (6/183), (G) Fredrik Norrena (7/213), (C) Ryan Craig (8/255)
2003 11 (1) (RW) Nick Tarnasky (9/287)

Total: 7yrs – 81 draft picks – 12 NHL Players = 14.8% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 4 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects: 7yrs – 4 draft picks – 4 NHL Players = 100% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks plus 1 pending
Undeveloped Prospects - Matt Smaby, Mike Egener, Adam Henrich, Alexander Polushin, Andreas Holmqvist, Ruslan Zaynullin, Kyle Kos
7yrs 8 draft picks – 1 NHL Players = 12.5% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 9 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects - Jonathan Boutin, Evgeny Artyukhin, Alexander Kharitonov, Evgeny Konstaninov, Brett Sceffelmaier, Matt Elich, Jimmie Ovelstad
7yrs – 9 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 22.2% success rate

Total: 7yrs – 21 draft picks –7 NHL Players = 33.3 % success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (5) North American, (4) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (8) North American, (6) European

Success in the last six round (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 60 total picks
7yrs – 60 draft picks – 5 NHL Players = 8.3% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

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Steven Stamkos (Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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