Bolt Prospects 2006-2007 Final Rankings

Bolt Prospects 2006-2007 Final Rankings
2006-2007 was a difficult season for the prospects of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After two years of modest improvement with their full affiliation in Springfield of the AHL and a large crop of talented junior scorers coming into the organization, expectations were that this was the season the Falcons and the Lightning organization would finally turn the corner. Expectations were not met, and the Falcons took a large step backward with a miserable second half of the season that led to the dissolving of the affiliation. The Lightning also saw ties severed with their ECHL affiliate in Johnstown after two years of control over hockey operations only led to a pair of 5th place divisional finishes.

The Bolt Prospects 2006-2007 Final Rankings reflect the painful lessons of a campaign which, for the Lightning's minor league system, was one of the worst in recent memory. As a consequence of overall poor play indicating a lack of depth, the Bolt Prospects staff voted unanimously to trim the Top-25 rankings to 20 for the first time in the history of the site. Make no mistake, the decision is an indictment of what we saw from the Lightning's prospects in 2006-2007. There are passengers in this organization, and we suspect several of them will begin to be culled from the organizational roster during the off season. The rankings are also an indictment of the promising class of young rookie forwards who failed so spectacularly to make an impact in their pro debuts. On the bright side though, they also show the strength the organization has developed at the goaltending and defenseman positions. Of our top ten prospects, only one (Blair Jones) is a forward, while four are goaltenders and five are blueliners.

So, without further adieu, here are the Bolt Prospects 2006-2007 Final Rankings. They are the last of a year we'd rather forget and a starting point on the way to 2007-2008, a new season and a new affiliation with Norfolk of the AHL that we hope will bring redemption for some of the organization's young talent.

1. G Karri Ramo, Springfield (AHL)

Ramo was, in many people’s opinion, the lone bright spot in Springfield’s otherwise dark season. The rookie netminder showed flashes of brilliance in the first half of the season en route to being named the Falcons’ only All-Star, an accolade he richly deserved.

Tim- "Head coach Tortorella dressed Ramo as Johan Holmqvist's backup for the playoffs ahead of Marc Denis and made public what everyone from the janitor to the general manager had already been saying; a strong bet he'll be backing up Tampa's netminder at the start of next season." Pete- “Ramo is the future, and the future starts now.”

2. D Matt Smaby, Springfield (AHL)

Smaby had a solid if unspectacular rookie season playing on the second pairing much of the year for Springfield. Smaby elbowed his way up the depth chart in training camp and never relinquished the ground he gained.

Pete- “Like Ramo, Smaby was rescued from Springfield late in the season by a recall to Tampa for the stretch run. When Smaby is on his game, he's a calculating, vicious hitter who disrupts opposing rushes with brute force in the neutral zone and at his own blueline.” Chad- “Smaby has a third-pair spot waiting for him in Tampa next year if he puts forth the proper effort.”

3. G Riku Helenius, Ilves Jr. A (FIN Jr A)

The Lightning’s 2006 1st round pick missed almost all of 2006-2007 with a shoulder injury, but his recent signing and rumors he may play junior in North America next season bode well for his future development.

Tim- “The shoulder is completely healed and Helenius has resumed off-season tournament play; good news for the development of Tampa's bluechip prospect.” Chad- “Has possibly the highest ceiling of any Lightning prospect, but a lost season could mean a longer road to the NHL.”

4. D Vladimir Mihalik, Prince George (WHL)

Mihalik went from the outhouse last season in Red Deer to the penthouse in Prince George, proving he could play top pairing minutes and succeed in the demanding WHL.

Pete- “The Lightning moved quickly to sign Mihalik, not even waiting for the conclusion of the WHL Playoffs before inking the big Slovakian blueliner to an entry level deal. Mihalik's progress has been marked over the past year and his development track looks sound.” Chad- “The Lightning scouting staff was impressed with his progress this year. His development will be closely monitored in Norfolk next season.”

5. C Blair Jones, Springfield (AHL)

Jones, the lone forward inhabiting a Top 10 spot in the rankings, got 20 games of NHL experience as a rookie.

Chad- “Jones played well in a limited checking role with the Lightning, but his future is as a solid two-way center. He needs to find the ice time to develop his offensive game in the pros.” Pete- “The precocious center shows remarkable defensive instincts for such a young player and he has the ability to stick to a check like glue. Still, his arrival in Tampa occurred far too soon as Jones still needs to work on his skating and also on sharpening his offensive skills. Jones has latent playmaking abilities that he briefly showed with a great start to the year in Springfield, but he lost momentum in the grind of a long rookie season. He needs to find it again in a scoring line role with Norfolk next season.”

6. G Vasily Koshechkin, Togliatti (RUS)

In the span of about a year and a half Koshechkin has gone from a relatively anonymous backup goaltender in the Russian Superleague to one of the best goaltenders in Russia today. Rumors continue to swirl about the 2002 8th round pick’s future and whether or not he’ll be coming to North America. Having cemented himself as a regular for the Russian national team in international play, Koshechkin might not be that far off from playing in the NHL.

Chad- “The youngster played well against NHLers for Russia at the World Championships. If he comes to North America this year – a huge task on many levels – he jumps right into the competition for a spot in Tampa under the Lightning’s meritocracy system.“ Tim- “There's no denying that a tandem of Boutin and Koshechkhin would be a nice way to begin an AHL affiliation with Norfolk.”

7. D Andy Rogers, Springfield (AHL)

Injuries have pushed Rogers, who was an eyelash away from making the team out of junior two seasons ago, down the depth chart. Size, mobility, and poise are the heart of Rogers’ game, but after only playing 69 games of hockey over the last two years Rogers’ name has become more synonymous with proneness to injury.

Pete- “When he's healthy, Rogers shows uncommon poise for such a young player. He could be a virtual clone of Jassen Cullimore, if he could only keep off the trainer's table for a little while.” Chad- “Judging on sheer talent and not his time spent off the ice, Rogers will be a productive NHLer. If he was able to stay healthy, he may be in Tampa already.”

8. D Mike Egener, Springfield (AHL)

Egener rebounded last year after an injury and disappointment filled first couple of years in pro hockey. He spent much of the season on Springfield’s top pairing and got a crash course in playing a solid stay-at-home style covering up for defensively challenged veteran Andy Delmore.

Tim- “Egener spent a good part of this season on Springfield head coach Steve Stirling's top defensive pairing, and that was a good developmental sign for this former top prospect that has struggled to adapt to the pro game.” Pete- “One on one, defensively, Egener is the best of the bunch. He's outstanding at canceling out opposing rushers and diffusing odd man rushes. This comes in part from the fact Egener is the most mobile of the four top defensive prospects in the system. Unfortunately, Egener is also the worst puckmover of the Lightning’s defensive prospects and his inferior passing and decision making with the puck are areas he must improve in to have any chance of cracking the NHL.”

9. D Kevin Quick, Salisbury Prep (USHS)

After impressing last summer at a rookie conditioning camp with the Lightning, Kevin Quick had a solid, if unspectacular statistical senior season. He will take his game to the University of Michigan next fall. Quick already possesses NHL skating, but needs to improve his shot from the point before he can be an effective NHL blueliner. Stepping into Jack Johnson's skates for the Wolverines this fall looks like a tailor-made developmental plan for this young backliner that has Top 2 NHL upside.

Chad- “Quick remains a source of excitement for the Lightning organization because of his skating, attitude, and two-way game. He offers as much or more than any other defensive prospect in the system in overall play.” Pete- “Quick's rise on the charts has more to do with the failure of the prospects ahead of him than anything he proved this season. Playing another season of prep at a level at which Quick was already dominant did nothing to improve or disprove his stock. The real test begins next year at the NCAA level with Michigan of the CCHA. The Lightning doesn’t really know what they have in Quick, outstanding summer rookie camp aside, and they won't know for sure until he starts playing competition that is more on his level.”

10. G Jonathan Boutin, Springfield (AHL)

Jonathan Boutin has languished in anonymity his first two seasons of pro hockey behind the more ballyhooed Gerald Coleman and Karri Ramo. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the young netminder’s lack of press for a lack of upside. Boutin, who is arguably the most athletic of the Lightning’s young goaltenders, won AHL Goaltender of the Month in December with Springfield this season and showed glimpses that he might be ready to be Norfolk’s #1 goaltender next season.

Tim- “Improvements were noted in the consistency department this past season and the deadline trade of Gerald Coleman cemented Boutin's position in the organization and the depth chart.” Pete- “Boutin is the closest thing to a secret agent this organization has. Overshadowed by the three young prospects ahead of him on the depth chart, Boutin has quietly and consistently improved over his first two seasons of professional hockey. His athleticism and quickness rivals if not betters that of Ramo and as time has gone on he has continued to improve his consistency and poise.”

11. LW Justin Keller, Springfield (AHL)

Diminutive sniper Justin Keller had a decent rookie season playing primarily on Springfield’s second and third lines. In beating out a long list of forward prospects for his spot on the Falcons, and playing well enough to keep the spot all season, Keller proved there’s more to hockey than just size and athleticism alone.

Chad- “Keller was the only one of the young offensive projects on the farm to stick at the AHL level. If not for a wrist injury, Keller would have had admirable rookie pro numbers. Solid character makes up for flaws in size; strength still an issue. He knows how to score – it’s just a matter of time and opportunity.” Tim- “His average skating and lack of size raises questions about whether he can play consistently in the high-traffic areas.” Pete- “With another year of seasoning, he should be one of Norfolk's better young players. I'm just not convinced he has an NHL body, or ever will.”

12. RW Marek Kvapil, Springfield (AHL)

Kvapil probably cost himself a few hundred thousand dollars with a poor 2006-2007 season. After a strong rookie season under Dirk Grahame, Kvapil could not pass muster defensively with Steve Stirling and found himself bouncing between the third line and the extra forwards for the Falcons. He might have been a contender for a spot in Tampa next season were his sequel season not such an incredible foul up.

Pete- “Remember Herb Brooks' old adage about "million dollar legs and ten cent brain?" That about sums up Marek Kvapil's season. With the possible exception of Smolenak, Kvapil probably has the most raw talent of all the young forwards in the Lightning system. He has world class speed and stick handling ability that is just short of dazzling. He also showed to Steve Stirling last season that he can't distinguish a back check from a back scratcher leading to a season ending demotion to the ECHL.” Tim- “Kvapil bought a living room suite in Head Coach Steve Stirling’s doghouse and made himself at home; so much more was expected of this sophomore sniper and with Tampa resorting to a revolving door on Brad Richards' wing, opportunities were abundant for Kvapil to get his name thrown in the mix. He enters the off-season about where he was last summer instead of being a name mentioned as a prospect knocking on the Tampa roster door.”

13. RW/C Chris Lawrence, Mississauga (OHL)

Lawrence is one of only a small handful of Lightning prospects who improved their stock dramatically in 2006-2007. The former top choice of Sault Ste Marie of the OHL finally found a home upon being traded to Mississauga last season and is finally starting to live up to his considerable potential. Lawrence’s 47 goals and 88 points in 64 games coupled with the struggles of the Lightning’s other young forwards thrusts the young power forward into the discussion as a possible scoring line solution with Norfolk immediately. Still, there's room for improvement. Lawrence still needs to work on his skating and he was far from dominant in the OHL Playoffs as Mississauga was upset in the first round.

Chad- “Lawrence has always been capable of being a talented scorer – but he lacked the drive and consistency. This year he added those ingredients to his game and he showed why he was a high third round pick. If he can make the transition back to center, his road to the NHL could be shorter.” Pete- “Two years ago a lot of people thought Chris Lawrence was the cowardly lion: no heart. This year he looked like the wizard. There's never been any doubt Lawrence has first or second round physical talent and his 47 goals this year finally started to back up the alleged promise.”

14. D Mike Lundin, Maine (HEast)

Lundin may be the smartest of the strong class of Lightning blueline prospects. He skates well, has abundant poise with the puck, can make a great first pass out of the zone, and can contribute on the powerplay. He moves from a solid senior season at Maine where he did everything he needed to do to earn a contract onto a depth chart that’s almost completely devoid of offensive defensemen and onto our Top-20. It’s the perfect storm for Lundin to move up to Tampa very quickly with a good rookie season.

Tim- “Negotiations are underway with the Lightning to put a pro contract in the hands of the recently graduated Maine Black Bear senior; Lundin's offensive game from the blueline is sorely needed in the Tampa system.” Pete- “Lundin could be one of the anchors of the Norfolk power play next season. I am not convinced Lundin has an NHL body, nor the desire to ever play much of a physical game. However, he's landed in a perfect position to move through the ranks quickly toward Tampa Bay.”

15. LW Radek Smolenak, Johnstown (ECHL)

The Lightning’s plan for Smolenak for the 2006-2007 season was to start Radek at the ECHL level to get his feet wet in professional hockey before moving him up to a scoring line job in the AHL later in the year. Unfortunately, the best laid plans were all for naught and Smolenak finished the year with just a single point in 20 games at the AHL level. 2007-2008 is going to be critical for Smolenak. He has the talent and he now has a much more vivid idea of what it will take to make it as a pro. The door is still open for him to step up with Norfolk. Will he walk through it?

Chad- “Smolenak rode the rookie roller coaster between the ECHL and AHL this past season. He’s got the physical makeup to get to the NHL quicker than the young forwards in the system, but he may have the farthest to go to get there in terms of putting it all together and playing consistently.” Pete- “Smolenak is a player who as a rookie was less than the sum of his parts. He's got good size. He's got outstanding stickhandling ability for a big man. He's got a sniper's touch. He's got so many tools and yet at year's end he somehow only had 1 point at the AHL level to show for it. Still, if you held a gun to my head and asked me to put my money on one forward who has the ability to break through in a big way next season with Norfolk, my hard earned dollars would go on Smolenak.”

16. RW Stanislav Lascek, Springfield (AHL)

One of the biggest shocks of the year in the Lightning minor league system was Stanislav Lascek’s descent from competing for a QMJHL scoring title in his final year of junior to just 4 points in 29 games with Springfield. Lascek struggled with injuries almost as much as he struggled to adjust to the physical AHL. He, much like Smolenak, is fortunate to have a chance at redemption next season with Norfolk. Will he capitalize on it?

Tim- “Like Smolenak, Lascek began the season lighting up the ECHL, but looked lost most nights in the AHL as he stuggled to adapt to the faster and more physical game.” Pete- “I would have never in a million years guessed Lascek would go from 135 points with Chicoutimi to 4 with Springfield. It boggles the mind. Lascek has supernatural playmaking skills and an underrated ability to shoot the puck and his skating is far better than advertised. Still, he needs to show more willingness to vacate the space and comfort of the perimeter areas of the ice and get his nose dirty if he's going to make it big as a pro.”

17. D Dane Crowley, Everett (WHL)

The most pleasant surprise of the 2006-2007 season among Lightning prospects was defenseman Dane Crowley. Crowley, who was passed over during his first draft season, was selected a year overage by the Lightning at the 2006 Entry Draft. He responded by proving himself with Swift Current and Everett of the WHL as a two-way defenseman on the rise. Now he’ll wait for the Traverse City prospect camp in the Fall to try to prove to the Lightning he’s ready for a contract now.

Pete- “Crowley had 8 goals and 38 points to go along with 114 penalty minutes this season between Swift Current and Everett proving he can play a multitude of styles in the rugged WHL.” Chad- “Crowley took off when he first got to Everett, then settled into a stay-at-home role. If he fails to earn a pro contract this summer, he should be one of the better two-way defensemen in the WHL next year as an overager. He could also be signed to a minor league deal by Norfolk and compete for time with the Admirals. ”

18. D Jay Rosehill, Springfield (AHL)

Rosehill has quietly established himself as a third pairing defenseman at the AHL level in his first two seasons of professional hockey. With just 1 goal and 8 points so far, Rosehill hardly sizzles, but he’s found a way to stick around with an honest, hard working, stay-at-home style.

Chad- “While Rosehill’s upside appears to be limited, his no-frills, high-character style is appreciated wherever he plays.” Pete- “One of the least experienced players of his 2003 Entry Draft class, the Lightning have weaned Rosehill onto the pro game with a steady stream of third pairing minutes at the AHL level and seen marked improvement in Rosehill's poise and confidence. Still, there will come a time when Rosehill has to show more to stick around, especially with Lundin and Mihalik likely entering the fold next season.”

19. C/LW Dimitri Kazionov, Kazan (RUS)

It remains to be seen if the Lightning and the Kazionov brothers follow through on their desire last summer to bring the two Russians over to North America to start their professional careers in 2007-2008. The Lightning could definitely use Kazionov, the older of the two brothers, who is a well established forward at the Superleague level and who helped his club team Kazan to the league’s finals last season.

Chad- “Skating and playmaking should enable the elder Kazionov to make a smooth transition to the North American game should he be brought over.” Pete- “The great X factor in Norfolk next season might be the injection of the Kazionov brothers who are rumored to be headed to North America next season. His size, skating ability and skill might make him a candidate to see scoring line minutes in Norfolk next season if he comes over next year though. If he can prove himself to be a scorer in the AHL, he could be a shoo-in for Tampa sooner rather than later. As with Blair Jones, forwards who know how to play a strong defensive game get on the faster track to Tampa when John Tortorella gets his way.”

20. D PJ Atherton, Johnstown (ECHL)

Atherton, who only had 17 points in his entire college career, erupted for 5 goals and 29 points in 57 games as a rookie with Johnstown in the ECHL. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher still doesn’t have a contract from the Lightning organization, but he’s become a sentimental favorite here at Bolt Prospects for his work ethic and well rounded game.

Tim- “Atherton's offensive awakening last season in Johnstown was a surprising developmental turn, but the Tampa system is crowded with better defensive prospects.” Chad- “Will impressive offensive contributions in Johnstown last year be enough for Atherton to land a heavily-guarded spot on the Lightning’s 50-man roster?” Pete- “Atherton's not perfect. He turns 25 in August so he's not a spring chicken compared to players like Crowley. And there are times his questionable decision making leads to enormous defensive mistakes. Still, Atherton is big. He's physical. He's mobile. He passes the puck reasonably well. And, above all, he plays hard. You need players like PJ Atherton in any organization.”