The Tampa Bay Lightning take the ice Wednesday night in Dallas, TX for their first pre-season game against the Dallas Stars. Five of BoltProspects' Top 7 ranked prospects, including the top three ranked prospects, will help kick off the Lightning's 2009-10 hockey season. Highlighting the Tampa roster will be 2009 #2 overall pick, Swedish blueline phenom Victor Hedman. Hedman will be joined by fellow 2009 draftees Richard Panik and Jaroslav Janus. Forwards Steve Downie and Dana Tyrell along with defenseman Matt Lashoff round out the remaining top prospects that will be showcased in tonight's opener. Forwards Blair Jones, Martins Karsums, and Paul Szczechura represent three more Top 20 prospects that are fighting for roster spots on the Lightning's bottom lines with overagers Drew Miller and Zenon Konopka.
The expected forward lines for Wednesday's game are:
Joining Lashoff and Hedman on the blueline are newcomers David Hale and Kurtis Foster along with former prospects Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin. Joining Janus in net is 2009 free agent acquisition Antero Niittymaki.
This was Richard Panik's much talked-about second goal of the preseason, scored between the legs on a ricochet off the end-boards. Panik (#28 on right) had three goals and eight points in two exhibition games for Windsor before joining the Lightning for rookie camp in Brandon, Florida. Enjoy.
In recent CHL exhibition action:
Richard Panik (2009 2nd) had a goal and three assists in a 5-3 Windsor exhibition win over Plymouth Saturday afternoon. Panik has three goals and five assists in his first two North American games. And he's not even playing next to likely 2010 No.1 overall pick Taylor Hall yet. Panik couldn't be in a better situation. He's playing for a coach (Bob "The Boogie Man" Boughner) and GM (Warren Rychel) who were both hard-nosed, disciplined players and expect the same out of their Spitfire players. As the defending Memorial Cup and OHL champions, and expected 2010 champion for both, the Spits will be in Canada's spotlight and have targets on their backs all year. They'll get everyone's A-game defensively. This should help Panik speed his development for NHL play. Finally, he'll be surrounded by players such as Hall, Ryan Ellis, and Cam Fowler, which means he has a very high statistical ceiling. This will be fun to watch.
Goaltender Jaroslav Janus made his exhibition debut for Erie Saturday, stopping 31 shots in a 4-4 tie with Niagara. Janus can return to Erie this year as an overager, though there was speculation he'd go to Europe or be signed by the Lightning and placed in the Central League or assigned to an ECHL team. It's good to see him back with the Otters, even if it's just to get work before Tampa Bay's rookie camp this week.
The "other" 2009 Lightning first rounder, Carter Ashton, had an assist for Lethbridge in preseason action Friday.
Matias Sointu, who is making his North American debut with Ottawa this year, has one assist through two exhibition games for the 67's. Sointu missed most of last season with an injury in Finland.
The Q opens regular season play this week, so look for BoltProspects' Game Night summaries to appear shortly.
It's almost impossible to beat the haul the Lightning got in 1998 (Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Dimitry Afanasenkov, and Martin Cibak), but I think the Lightning might've just completed their second best draft in team history. They already completed a first in history making a pair of first round picks on night one of the draft with Victor Hedman and Carter Ashton, so they were on their way already.
However, their second and fourth round selections really put this draft over the top. Richard Panik is a big time gamble, but he's going to a very good program in Windsor and will be playing for Bob Boughner. On pure talent, he could be even better than Ashton if you can get his head on straight, and he'll be in the environment in Windsor to facilitate that.
And, we love that Alex Hutchings pick. Absolutely love it. You got a hockey player who can play center or wing. Good skater. Good hockey sense. He can pass. He can shoot. He mucks well for a little guy. He just knows how to play the game. It's shocking he fell into the Lightning's lap in the fourth round, and in getting Hutchings the Lightning completed a very successful first four rounds where they got 4 of the top 48 rated prospects by THN and 4 of the top 60 by Red Line. That's in a deep draft, no less, so they got a lot of quality.
The goaltenders, Zador and Janus, seem like a reaction to Karri Ramo's defection. Zador's got to get playing time, but he was a first rounder in the OHL Priority Draft in 2007, so he's got raw ability. Janus made his name at the WJC's and had decent statistics for Erie this season. Because Janus was an overager, he'll probably only have one more year in junior. Zador probably gets two. You're just wishing and hoping one of them develops the way Ramo did when the Lightning took a sixth rounder on him out of Lahti.
I have a feeling the Lightning got some value out of that Gotovets pick. I'm guessing if his name was Johnson or Wilson, he might've gone a couple of rounds sooner, but teams are terrified of the KHL poaching their players. Yes, there's a danger if Gotovets develops he could be poached by Dynamo Minsk, but he's already taken the step of coming over to Shattuck and he already speaks pretty flawless English. I don't think you make that commitment and go to an Ivy League school like Cornell only to turn back around and go back to Belarus, and I have yet to hear about anything glaringly wrong with his game other than the fact he's pretty skinny. He'll be a darkhorse to watch over the next few years.
The only regret is that the Lightning didn't find a way to get an offensive defenseman or two into the system. That'll be something they'll need to look at next year, and they'll certainly continue to try to flesh out their forward depth. Getting Ashton, Panik, and Hutchings was a whale of a start, though. Very good draft. I suspect they get at least three NHL players out of this group.
Evidently, Janus would've gone to Russia to play in the KHL if he hadn't been drafted, and he wants to play pro this season and not go back to junior. That's an interesting problem for a Lightning organization that has Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski all but inked into the lineup in Norfolk next season.