BoltProspects 2007-2008 Mid-Term Rankings Report

This is a bit late (for a variety of pseudo-reasons), but at last the lengthy evaluation process is complete.

Today, Bolt Prospects is releasing its Mid-Term Rankings for the 2007-2008 season. Defenseman Mike Lundin has joined the graduated prospect list; therefore, he is no longer on the prospect rankings list. Mario Scalzo, acquired earlier in the season from the Dallas Stars organization, makes his debut on the rankings list.

Just a reminder of the rules: a prospect is any player under the age of 24 on opening night of the Lightning’s NHL season that has not played 41 or more games in an NHL season or more than 82 games in their NHL career. For goaltenders, the games thresholds are slightly different. Netminders will be considered prospects if they have not achieved 30 or more decisions in an NHL season or 41 decisions in their NHL careers. In addition, due to the large number of prep school players drafted by the Lightning in the last two years, all college players will be considered prospects, regardless of their age, until they graduate.

Players over the age of 24 on opening night that have not graduated are considered overage prospects.

With all the legal disclaimers out of the way, lets begin:

1. G Karri Ramo, Tampa Bay (NHL)
Ramo quickly earned a recall to Tampa Bay after missing most of the first couple of months of the season with a high ankle sprain. After carrying the goaltender-of-the-future tag for most of the season, the recent acquistion of Mike Smith from Dallas in the Brad Richards trade clouds the once clear future that Ramo had with the organization. But, even before the Smith acquisition, GM Jay Feaster admitted that Ramo was still at least another season from being ready to assume the #1 goaltending duties of the team. Regardless, Ramo remains the organization's top ranked prospect.

Chad- “With the acquisition of Mike Smith, Ramo goes from the heir-apparent to apparent No.2 for the foreseeable future. The Lightning certainly wouldn't be opposed to a Smith-Ramo tandem No.1 for the next few years, however.”

Pete- “The simple truth of the matter is that top flight NHL goaltenders are almost impossible to acquire. If you want one, you have to draft and develop one. That’s the task at hand for the Lightning with Ramo.”

2. D Vladimir Mihalik, Norfolk (AHL)
Mihalik, the mammoth young Slovakian blueliner, has had his ups and downs this season but shows flashes of being a top-four NHL defenseman in the future.

Tim- “NHL debut in March seems fairly certain.”

Pete- "His decision making is erratic and at times he appears to be allergic to contact. Still, his size, mobility, shot, and surprising ability to read the play offensively are all the ingredients of a top-pair NHLer in the making."

3. G Riku Helenius, Seattle (WHL)
Helenius has also had his ups and downs this year after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury.

Chad- “Helenius' first season in North America has been filled with an abundance of up and downs. Just a few weeks ago he was leading the WHL in save percentage and now he finds himself fighting not only a minor injury, but a quality one-time backup for starts. Helenius needs to find a way to secure the No.1 spot for the Thunderbirds as they enter the playoffs.”

Tim- “Highs and lows as he battles in the WHL to play more consistently; expected a better performance in the 2008 WJC's.”

4. D Matt Smaby, Norfolk (AHL)
Smaby made the Lightning out of training camp but eventually lost his spot in Tampa to the more seasoned Doug Janik.

Chad- “Once thought to make the Bolts out of camp, Smaby has struggled to put his game together and take the next step. He could be a candidate for NHL time after the trade deadline.”

Pete- “If and when he gets recalled after the deadline, Smaby has to step up and seize the opportunity. With a handful of other young blueliners nipping at his heels, there’s no telling how many more chances he’ll actually get.”

5. C Blair Jones, Norfolk (AHL)
Much like last season, Jones started the season in the AHL on fire but fizzled after a short recall to Tampa. The acquisition of Jeff Halpern in the Brad Richards trade indicates that the organization feels Jones needs more seasoning.

Chad- “Jones was doing well in Norfolk before a recall to Tampa Bay in which he rode the pine for several games. Since returning to the AHL Jones has yet to recapture what earned him the call-up.”

Pete- “Blair Jones is one of the fiercest forecheckers in the Lightning organization… when he wants to be. One of these days the laid back farm boy is going to get the fire lit in his belly full time, and shortly thereafter he’ll be a permanent fixture on the third line in Tampa Bay.”

6. C/LW Dana Tyrell, Prince George (WHL)
Tyrell is a heart-and-soul type player trapped on a floundering Cougars squad, and his age prohibits him being brought into Norfolk next season.

Chad- “The Lightning continue to be impressed with Tyrell’s character and work ethic. The Prince George captain-to-be will likely be invited to NHL camp next fall.”

Tim- “Arguably Tampa's best forward prospect.”

7. LW Luca Cunti, Chicago (USHL)
Cunti lost the first half of this year waiting for the NCAA Clearinghouse to give him the thumbs up to play for St. Cloud State. The fall semester came and went, and eventually so did the talented Cunti, to Chicago of the USHL. And with the NCAA Clearinghouse denying his final appeal, where Cunti plays next season is up in the air.

Chad- “Another of the Lightning’s prospects thrown from the college ranks, Cunti is finding his game in USHL Chicago with nearly a point-per-game pace.”

Pete- “The fundamental question now is what’s the next step for Cunti? Does he go back to Europe next season? Jump to the pros? Go to Canadian juniors? The answer will determine a lot about Cunti’s progression over the next couple of years.”

8. D Kevin Quick, Norfolk (AHL)
Quick looked to be headed up in the world after finally earning his way into Michigan’s lineup full time in the CCHA, but a recent scandal saw him kicked off the team and he has since signed a tryout contract with the Admirals.

Chad- “Quick will play in the NHL one day, but the path to get there is looking like a long and winding road after he was dismissed from Michigan.”

Pete- “I’m a little skeptical he can step in and do much as a pro the rest of the season for Norfolk. It took Kevin half a season to adjust to the speed and physical play of the NCAA. He’s going to be facing another quantum leap in competition in the AHL. By next season, hopefully, he will be a solid contributor for Norfolk and get his career back on track.”

9. C Mitch Fadden, Lethbridge (WHL)
Fadden has enjoyed the penthouse view from near the top of the WHL’s leading scorers page for each of the past two seasons.

Tim- “On pace to better his 2006-07 numbers and claim a contract next summer.”

Chad- “First Star Fadden has earned several accolades for strong games this year for WHL Lethbridge. However, there are still times when the offensive star tends to disappear. If this is corrected, Fadden could be one of the offensive leaders in Norfolk next season.”

10. LW Justin Keller, Norfolk (AHL)
After a very slow start to the season Keller erupted in January bringing him back into position for a possible call-up later this season.

Chad- “After a slow start, the Admirals’ All-Star Game representative is inching his way toward a possible NHL appearance at the end of the season.”

Pete- “Physically, he shouldn’t be an NHLer. He’s too small. He’s too weak. He’s too slow. And there’s dozens of players just like him who had long, fruitful NHL careers because they had the intelligence to overcome athletic shortcomings. Time will tell if Keller can defy the odds as well.”

11. C Alex Killorn, Deerfield (USHS)
Killorn was already considered to be the best player in New England prep hockey last season by scouting firms like Red Line Report. This year he’s set his sights on being the best player in prep hockey nationwide with a torrid scoring pace of well over two points a game.

Tim- “Are you really going to stay four years at Harvard, Alex?”

Chad- “Killorn is dominating the prep ranks at present and looks to be a recruiting prize for Harvard next season.”

12. LW/C Johan Harju, Lulea (SWE)
The Lightning tried to sign Harju, who they drafted overage last summer, before the season but he elected to stay in Sweden where he has consistently been in the top ten in goal scoring all season. Harju will be 22 next season and if the Lightning can sign him he might be a dark horse to make the team next year.

Chad- “Last summer the Lightning missed out on convincing Harju to come to North America. Don’t expect that to happen again next year after Harju’s strong season in Sweden.”

Pete- "Harju’s got a big body and a big shot. With the Lightning desperate to find a sniper on the wing, Johan has a real opportunity to climb the latter quickly in this organization."

13. G Jonathan Boutin, Norfolk (AHL)
Boutin played well early in the season as Norfolk’s starter, but suffered a prolonged losing streak and found himself relegated to the backup role once Ramo returned from a high ankle sprain. Now that Marc Denis has been demoted to Norfolk in Ramo’s place, Boutin is still filling the role of backup but he has played well enough in the past few weeks to cause a bit of a goaltending controversy in the Norfolk fan base. However, rumors of the Lightning pursuing Vasily Koscheckhin and the acquisition of Mike Smith muddy the waters with respect to Boutin's future with the organization.

Chad- “Is it a slam on Marc Denis or a compliment to Boutin that the former PEI Rocket is showing up the Lightning’s former No.1?”

Pete- “Norfolk GM Claude Loiselle slammed Boutin earlier in the season as not being close to a clear cut AHL starter, but it seems like every time someone has written off Jonathan the past few seasons he’s come back and won more playing time. The Lightning are tentatively planning to bring a veteran into Norfolk next season to mentor first round pick Riku Helenius. Where Boutin ends up is a mystery, but it should be pointed out 22-23 years old is awfully early in the lifecycle of a pro goaltender.”

14. D Andy Rogers, Norfolk (AHL)
After missing much of the last two seasons with injuries, Rogers has been healthy this season for the Admirals. Unfortunately, he struggled early in the year as a regular scratch and even had a stint in the ECHL. Rogers returned to Norfolk and played regularly and respectably in the month of January, but has missed the past few games with Norfolk with yet more injury problems.

Tim- “GM Jay Feaster quoted recently saying that he still expects Rogers to play in the NHL someday; hard to let go of those first rounders...”

Pete- “Looks like Tarzan. Plays like Cheetah.”

15. LW Radek Smolenak, Norfolk (AHL)
It’s been an up and down season for Smolenak who had an excellent Traverse City tournament to start the year but quickly earned demotion to the ECHL for the first quarter of the year due to soft, dispassionate play and a lack of work ethic. Smolenak bounced back and forth between the AHL and the ECHL until mid-January when he was promoted to play on Norfolk's top line with newcomer Paul Szczechura.

Chad- “Is Smolenak finally getting it now that he’s finding success at the AHL level, or is this another instance where he’s teasing us with his talents?”

Pete- “In an organization desperate for goal scoring help along the wings, the resurrection of Radek Smolenak’s flagging young career would be a huge help.”

16. RW/C Chris Lawrence, Norfolk (AHL)
Lawrence was having a quiet, respectable rookie season playing on Norfolk’s third line before a severe shoulder injury in mid-January put him on the shelf.

Chad- “Lawrence hasn’t put it all together consistently in his rookie pro season, but the lessons he’s learning should contribute to a breakout year next season.”

Tim- “Paying his dues on checking lines in Norfolk as a first year pro, but his inability to crack the scoring lines as a rookie makes me think he'll top out as a bottom six NHL'er.”

17. D Dane Crowley, Everett (WHL)
Crowley hasn’t been the offensive juggernaut he was at times last season, but he’s adapted pretty well to a more conservative, stay-at-home role with the Silvertips this season.

Chad- “Crowley was thought to be more of an offensive force this year, but instead finds himself playing a more defensive roll for WHL Everett. The Lightning is willing to sign the character defenseman, but he doesn’t appear to be an at-all-costs priority.”

Pete- "Crowley’s shown himself to be a versatile two-way defenseman and a good team player throughout his junior career. He’s probably underrated for what he can bring to the table."

18. D Mario Scalzo, Norfolk (AHL)
Scalzo, an undersized offensive defenseman in the Dan Boyle mold, joined the Lightning organization in November in the trade that sent veteran Dan Jancevski to Dallas.

Pete- “Scalzo is a good skater with a lot of hustle and a lot of skill, but he’s struggling early in his career with his decision making. If he can eliminate some of his mistakes and turnovers, he could move up the ladder quickly.”

Chad- "The diminutive former QMJHL offensive dynamo is learning a new system with Norfolk and has yet to take off."

19. LW/D Mike Egener, Mississippi (ECHL)
Egener was moved to left wing at the start of the year that had all the makings of a remarkable comeback season, but has struggled with injuries throughout the year.

Pete- “He’s got a lot of speed and loves to take the body and plays a simple chip and chase game that is perfectly suited for the 4th line of the Lightning, but he just can’t seem to get off the shelf.”

Chad- "Egener is running out of games to get healthy and earn his next contract. He has the character to do it, but his body must cooperate."

20. G Ryan Munce, Mississippi (ECHL)
Munce began the year as Norfolk’s starter but soon lost the job to Jonathan Boutin and was eventually sent down to Mississippi where he has been streaky for the Sea Wolves.

Chad- “Munce plays like an ECHL All-Star, but opportunities are running out for the goaltender at higher levels.”

Pete- "If Boutin is on the bubble, then where does that leave Munce, who is also in the last year of his entry-level deal?"

21. C Matt Marshall, Nobles (USHS)
Marshall was touted by the Lightning as a great skater when they drafted him, but had the reputation of possessing poor hands. However, he’s scored goals at a torrid pace in his senior year of prep hockey which bodes well as he heads to the University of Vermont next season.

Tim- “It's really wait and see until he gets to Vermont.”

Chad- “The Vermont commitment is doing his part to develop his offensive game in the prep ranks before joining the Catamounts next season.”

22. RW Marek Kvapil, Norfolk (AHL)
The last year of Kvapil’s entry-level pro contract has been a dud so far, leaving the speedy Slovak in peril of not being re-signed for next season.

Chad- “He was expected at one time to be knocking on the Lightning’s door by now.”

Pete- “He has an NHL set of wheels, but an ECHL level work ethic.”

23. RW Stanislav Lascek, Mississippi (ECHL)
Lascek is suffering through his second poor year of professional hockey. It’s hard to believe he’s the same player who once was second in the QMJHL in scoring.

Tim- “Like last year, lights up the ECHL but can't do the things to keep him in an AHL sweater.”

Chad- “Former QMJHL Chicoutimi star began the year with a dud and is struggling to work his way back to where he should be. Skating remains an issue.“

24. D Jay Rosehill, Norfolk (AHL)
Rosehill’s run-in with the Binghamton police has marred an otherwise good season in which the burley converted defenseman has cemented himself as the Admirals’ designated tough guy.

Tim- “Off-ice run-in with the law threatens an already precarious position within the organization; yet this Energizer Bunny keeps on playing and playing.”

Pete- “Rosehill deserves some credit for being a team player taking to his new role as an enforcer.“

25. G Torrie Jung, Kelowna (WHL)
Jung, a tandem starter for much of the year with the Rockets, was a late round sleeper for the Lightning in last summer’s draft.

Chad- “Jung is slowly taking over in WHL Kelowna after being the 1-B most of the year. It will be interesting to see who the Rockets go with in the playoffs. Next year will be a big one for Torrie.”