Two very interesting and unrelated things happened today with the signing of Bolt Prospects #2 rated prospect Matt Lashoff and the release by KHL club Nizhnekamsk Bolt Prospects #17 rated prospect Radek Smolenak. Despite the wide disparity in terms of where they sit on the rankings, both prospects could still find themselves making significant contributions to the Lightning this season.
First, about Smolenak: the rumors I have heard suggest that Radek was pretty upset about not getting a recall in the second half of last season and I suspect that may have come up prominently in his discussions with the team before he left North America for the offseason. Given how quickly he signed with Nizhnekamsk once he left, I also suspect it would be fairly easy for there to be some bruised feelings on the Lightning's side too. With all that said, though, Smolenak's unexpected dismissal from Nizhnekamsk should be seen as an opportunity for both sides to potentially benefit after a short divorce, and I hope the Lightning are reaching out to Smolenak and his agent to let him know that there is still a place for him in the organization.
Smolenak is a player who is on the cusp of being an NHL player. His deficiencies are clear: he needs to get better defensively in his third of the rink and he doesn't have world class speed. That said, his strengths are equally clear in that he possesses considerably grit and physical bravery, especially around the opposing team's net, and a finisher's touch with a quick release and a razor sharp shot. The Lightning go into the 2009-2010 campaign with very little for certain on their lower lines. It's hard to envision anyone other than Jeff Halpern, Stephane Veilleux, and Adam Hall having a lower line job locked up in Tampa this coming season. The other three or four spots on the roster are open to a world class free-for-all, and a player with Smolenak's peculiar combination of grit and skill could find himself drawing a big league paycheck with a good camp. True, that assumes Smolenak has been training and conditioning properly and can shift his mindset from the disappointment of his release from Nizhnekamsk and any hard feelings that still linger with the Lightning toward leaving it all on the line to make the team. It also assumes that there are no legal entanglements in Smolenak's Russian deal and that he is a complete free agent and that the Lightning are interested in bring Smolenak back across the pond. But it's a possibility, and it's a possibility with very little downside as the worst case scenario would be the Lightning having Smolenak waiting down in Norfolk again playing for an AHL club that could desperately use his 20-30 potential goals at that level. If it's possible, and both sides are willing, they should make a fourth year for Smolenak in the organization happen.
And then there's Matt Lashoff, who was one of the few exciting reasons to watch a Lightning game late in a failed season last year after he was acquired at the trade deadline for Mark Recchi. I mention Lashoff as a bubble player not because I think he'll be sent down to the AHL, but because the numbers game may make it difficult for Lashoff to receive the ice time he needs to reach his considerable potential. Make no mistake, the skating ability Lashoff possesses is a rare and breathtaking assett. The kind of smooth, powerful acceleration that Lashoff has is special, and the fact he possesses soft hands and an ability to distribute the puck well makes him a potential force for the Lightning. But he finds himself at the bottom end of a logjam that includes new addition Mattias Ohlund and the returning Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros, who missed the second half of last season with injury. Lashoff has the ability to every bit as good as those three players and it's not hard to envision a future where he could become a perennial 30-40 point a year defenseman who is well capable of playing 20-22 minutes a night. True, to get to that time Lashoff must commit to paying attention to detail in his own end of the rink and to showing more edge and willingness to battle to win puck battles. But, the possibilities are almost boundless for Lashoff, and so it would be foolish for the Lightning to not commit to making sure Lashoff recieves every opportunity to reach his potential and equally foolish for Lashoff not to step up and make sure he makes clear to Coach Tocchet that he refuses to slip off the bubble.
Smolenak and Lashoff are just two of a host of young players, from Steve Downie to Blair Jones, who have the potential to contribute greatly to a revival in Tampa Bay starting next season. And, starting next month with training camp, a great story is going to be written by some of these players, and it's a story that I can't even guess the outcome of. Maybe that's why two obscure transactions in the dog days of August made me excited for hockey, and the promise of a new season. Let's get it cranked up.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed defenseman Matt Lashoff to a two-year contract, Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced today. â€œWe were extremely pleased to bring Matt into the fold at the trade deadline,â€ Lawton said. â€œWe are even more excited to get him under contract for the upcoming season. His signing today only further enhances the overall depth of our organization at defense as we head into training camp.â€
Lashoff, 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, has played in 58 career NHL games with the Lightning and the Boston Bruins, recording a goal and 15 points. The 22-year-old played in 12 games with Tampa Bay after being acquired from Boston, recording seven assists.
A native of East Greenbush, New York, Lashoff played in a career-high 28 NHL games during the season with the Lightning and Bruins, posting career bests for assists and points with eight. He averaged a career-high 23:46 in ice time with Tampa Bay and recorded a point in three of his first four games with the Lightning.
Players receiving qualifying offers were defensemen Lukas Krajicek, Matt Smaby, Matt Lashoff and Mike Lundin; forwards Martins Karsums, Blair Jones, Radek Smolenak and Lauri Tukonen; and goaltender Karri Ramo. Both Smolenak and Ramo have signed contracts to play in the KHL next season.
All bad things must come to an end.
Mike McKenna allowed 4 goals on 15 shots for the loss before giving way to Karri Ramo, who allowed 2 goals on 11 shots the rest of the way. The Lightning have a signing decision with McKenna coming up this offseason, and I doubt allowing a goal to go through him and then being pulled was the final impression "Mack" wanted to make on management. Just my opinion, but we've probably seen the last of McKenna with the development of Riku Helenius in the AHL and the arrival of Dustin Tokarski to the pro ranks next season.
07:10 ATL Armstrong (21), (Bogosian, Enstrom)(PP)
16:30 ATL Perrin (7), (Reasoner, Exelby)(SH)
17:17 TB Pettinger (8), (Halpern, Quick)(PP)
09:15 ATL Kovalchuk (43), (White, Hainsey)
14:09 ATL Hainsey (6), (Peverley)(PP)
16:32 ATL Armstrong (22), (Kozlov, Peverley)
00:46 TB Stamkos (23), (unassisted)
06:20 ATL Stuart (5), (Reasoner)
The Lightning end up dropping from 31 wins and 71 points a year ago to 24 wins and 66 points this season. You know, for the amount of crap OK Hockey and their GM Brian Lawton talked garbage about the former GM, coaches, and scouts, I sure hope they man up and take accountability for the fact they did even worse this season, and then learn some valuable lessons (like defense and coaching are important, for instance). Post mortem to follow in the coming days. Draft lottery Tuesday night.
Noah Welch was -1 with 3 shots and 1 hit in 14:58. He came on toward the end after an awful start to his stint with the Lightning. My preference would be to have Welch as a depth player in the organization offering veteran presence to the Norfolk Admirals next season. I'd love to see he and Richard Petiot wear the battleship next year.
Zenon Konopka was -1 with 7 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 9:05. He was also 57% on draws. He does offer energy to the fourth line in the form of being an agitator and fighter, but I wanted to see more on the forecheck from Konopka. I like a fourth line that chews the ends off the boards, personally.
David Koci was -1 in 6:01. Long term, I think the Lightning need to draft and cultivate somebody who can play 8-10 minutes a night and fight the other team's heavies. I'm not sure Koci is that guy.
Paul Szczechura was -1 with 4 shots, and 3 hits in 17:05. He was also 36% on draws. In the last week or two, I don't think there's another bubble guy who helped his stock more to make the team next season than Szczechura.
Martins Karsums was -1 with 1 shot in 11:26. I didn't see enough from Karsums to make me believe he shouldn't be ticketed for Norfolk next season, if he stays in North America.
Kevin Quick got his first NHL point, and assist, and was -1 with 1 shot in 14:57. There were shifts he looked overmatched tonight defensively and he reminded you that he's still got a couple of years in the making.
Matt Lashoff was -3 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 23:02. He'll want to burn the tape of this game, methinks.
Vladimir Mihalik was -1 with 2 blocked shots in 15:59. In his final callup of the year, his positioning and poise seemed to improve. However, you'd still like to see the assertiveness and aggression level go way up. He is just way too soft for a man his size right now. There's no excuse for anybody to ever physically beat him coming out from behind the net or the corners.
Tonight is a pretty special night for the staff here at Bolt Prospects. Tonight marked the 41st decision of the NHL career of Karri Ramo. It was also the 41st game of the season for Matt Smaby. Both are milestones for graduation from prospect status here at Bolt Prospects. Both young men are now considered NHLers in our eyes.
It's somewhat fitting that these two players should graduate on the same night. There have only been four players who have ever held the title of top rated prospect on this site. Smaby was the first when we debuted the rankings at the start of the 2005-2006 season. He held the title shortly for half a season before giving way to his teammate Ramo, who was standing on his head as a rookie for Springfield in the AHL. Ramo held the top spot before giving way to top draft pick Steven Stamkos, who graduated from prospect status earlier this season. Steve Downie earned the top spot in our Midterm Rankings shortly after Stamkos' graduation.
This team could be incredible if Lawton could find some defense without blowing up some other part of the team.
Karri Ramo allowed 5 goals on 30 shots for the loss. Despite allowing 5 goals, he actually didn't play all that badly. Two of Pittsburgh's goals came on breakaways and a third came on an uncovered player allowed to move in on Ramo all alone down the slot. The game winning goal was a case where Ramo was clearly interfered with after stopping the initial shot on the breakaway. Another goal came on a feed that went through the box on the PP down low to give Sid Crosby a clean look on Ramo moving laterally. Other than Cooke's goal to start the third period, which wasn't a bad goal so much as an untimely one, there's nothing I would fault Karri with. The decision is the 41st of Ramo's career, graduating him from prospect status here at BP.
05:00 PIT Fedotenko (16), (Staal, Kennedy)
10:08 PIT Crosby (31), (Malkin, Kunitz)(PP)
11:12 PIT Crosby (32), (Kunitz, Malkin)(PP)
01:08 PIT Cooke (12), (Staal, Letang)
04:31 TB Halpern (6), (Szczechura)(SH)
08:59 TB St. Louis (30), (Stamkos, Krajicek)
09:43 TB Szczechura (4), (unassisted)
11:43 PIT Sykora (25), (Fedotenko)
19:19 TB Halpern (7), (Karsums, Bochenski)
19:47 PIT Staal (22), (unassisted)(EN)
I give credit to the coaches and the players that no one laid down in the third period. It would've been damned easy to quit, but the Lightning came back and really gave the Pens a run for their money. They were one missed goaltender interference call away from getting to overtime. So, the heart is there, and for the most part the offensive potential is there. What's really lacking right now is two things: defense and penalty killing. The defense will get better by virtue of a healthy Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger. The penalty killing can't possibly get any worse. I don't know the stats, but the PK has been absolutely rancid the second half of this season.
Ryan Malone broke his hand blocking a shot in this game, making him the fifth key Lightning player to be shelved with a serious injury. He had already proven that last year wasn't a flash in the pan by potting his 26th goal. I give him credit. He's won me over. The injury may open up an opportunity for someone from Norfolk to get a two game cup of coffee. Blair Jones? Justin Keller? Juraj Simek?
Lets go Avs.
Noah Welch had 4 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:13 against the organization who drafted him.
Zenon Konopka was -1 with 2 hits in 9:58 and was 60% on draws. 9:58? Seemed like a lot more, in a good way. There are games where Konopka is nothing more than a circus clown, and then there are games like tonight where he plays hockey and he's a difference maker. He was a split second away from landing a shoulder-to-chin hit on Matt Cooke that would've made him a hero in Tampa Bay forever, and he about chewed the ends off the boards on the forecheck. Very well done.
Matt Smaby was +1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 22:56. Tonight was Smaby's 41st game of the season, meaning he joins Ramo as a freshly minted Bolt Prospects Alumni.
David Koci had 3 hits and 17 penalty minutes in 6:00 of ice time. His fight against Eric Godard seemed like the emotional tipping point of this game. Again, very well done.
Paul Szczechura had 1 goal, 1 assist, and was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, and 4 shots in 16:00. He also was 33% on draws. I don't know what it is about Pittsburgh, but when Szczechura sees that jersey he seems to duck into the nearest phone booth and turn into Superman. I still don't think Szczechura is in his best shape, but he was flying tonight. That's the best game he's played in months, and the kind of game he needs to get on tape if he wants to make the team next season.
Martins Karsums had 1 assist, 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:23. He was fairly invisible, despite the impressive stat line.
Matt Lashoff was -1 with 1 hit in 17:23. I don't know if he got hurt or if the coaching staff was sending a message.
Vladimir Mihalik had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:41. Mobility is obviously an issue with Vladdy, but his lack of decisiveness remains a bigger concern to me.
2-1/2 hours of my life I'll never get back.
Mike McKenna allowed 3 goals on 21 shots for the loss. That might've been his worst game as a member of the Lightning. Each of the Islanders' first two goals are ones Mike probably would like back and he made another big puck handling error that he managed to get away with. He's got one more start scheduled this season, and that's probably a good thing. You'd hate to go out like that after a pretty successful year.
00:23 NYI Park (14), (Joensuu)
14:52 NYI Martinek (5), (Gervais, Joensuu)(PP)
16:38 TB Pettinger (6), (Karsums)(PP)
09:14 NYI Bailey (7), (Comeau, Gervais)(PP)
The Lightning waited 35 minutes tonight to start playing. Watching grass grow would've been more exciting.
Noah Welch had 3 hits and 3 blocked shots in 19:04. He's been decent the past two games, which is shocking considering how poorly he'd previously played.
Zenon Konopka had a fight, 1 shot, 1 hit, and was 67% on draws in 7:42. He earned his game check.
Matt Smaby was beastly with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 7 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 22:22. He's been so much better since taking a game off to nurse his foot injury. Graduation Tuesday. Bring your digital cap and gown.
Paul Szczechura was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 1 blocked shot in 15:33. He was also 38% on draws.
Martins Karsums had 1 assist and was -1 with 6 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 12:02. Like Welch, he's playing better in these past two games.
Matt Lashoff was -1 with 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 27:17. He lost a couple of physical battles that resulted in one puck going in the net and one being rung off the post. He didn't do his younger pairing partner any favors.
Vladimir Mihalik was -1 with 1 shot in 13:05 paired primarily with Lashoff. I thought this was his best NHL game thus far, but that may not be saying much. He looked more confident, but he's still a little slow to react to the play. The guy's a mountain and he had 0 hits. That's still a problem. I was, admittedly, surprised he got the call over Ty Wishart or Kevin Quick.
Waiting for this team to mature is painful sometimes.
Karri Ramo allowed 5 goals on 39 shots for the overtime loss. Really, it was a tale of two games for Karri. He was playing very well through the first 32 minutes or so of the game, and then he made an incredibly stupid decision to throw his stick that resulted in a penalty shot and the wheels started to fall off a little. About two minutes later Karri, who I think was a little rattled and out of focus, didn't come out and challenge a shot from a rush coming down the wing and got beat glove side and suddenly the Lightning went from being solidly in control to being in a dog fight. The lesson is an important one: in regular season hockey, one mistake generally doesn't kill you. It's when you allow yourself to lose focus and things start to snowball that you lose hockey games. Karri was screened on New Jersey's third goal and hung out to dry on a bad line change on the game winner. He might want the rebound back on Jersey's fourth goal, but that wasn't egregious to me. But it was that one lull in focus that probably cost the Lightning a second point. Tonight was Karri's 40th NHL decision, so he will graduate from BP prospect status with his next one, but there's still much for the 22 year old to learn.
01:38 TB Artyukhin (6), (Melichar)
05:09 TB Stamkos (21), (St. Louis, Lashoff)(PP)
13:05 NJ Shanahan (6), (unassisted)(PS)
14:50 NJ Pandolfo (5), (Langenbrunner, Oduya)
18:29 NJ Langenbrunner (26), (Rolston, Parise)(PP)
02:41 TB Malone (26), (unassisted)
10:35 NJ Langenbrunner (27), (Zajac, Parise)
14:06 TB Karsums (1), (Pettinger, Krajicek)
01:21 NJ Parise (43), (Zajac, Martin)
It wasn't exactly a banner night in the goaltending or the defensive department, but there were some positives to point to up front. Steven Stamkos tied Brad Richards' Lightning rookie record for goals at 21. That record's good as gone.
Ryan Malone scored his 26th of the season, which is pretty remarkable considering how lost he looked with injuries early in the year. I confess, I wasn't a big proponent of the Malone deal in the offseason, because he didn't have a proven track record that merited handing him that much money. Well, now he's got a track record. He's one goal shy of matching last year's 27 goals and one would think with some health and some stability behind the bench, 30-35 goals should be within his reach next year. People have been comparing Ryan to Fredrik Modin, and I don't think the comparison is really that apt. Freddy was better along the wall and was far more of a sniper. Ryan isn't as good as he could be along the wall at his size and is more of a garbage man, although he has surprisingly good hands in open ice as evidence by his de-jocking on Brodeur on the breakaway tonight. In some ways, he's kind of the answer to the question, "What if Dave Andreychuk could skate?"
Noah Welch was +2 with 3 hits in 19:44. I can't believe I just typed that either.
Matt Smaby was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 4 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 26:00. One of those minuses came on that bad change in overtime. Smaby is now 2 games away from graduation here at BP. Considering Tocchet's been rotating Ramo and McKenna, that means there may be a double graduation coming up Tuesday against the Penguins.
David Koci was +1 with 5 hits in 8:47.
Paul Szczechura was +1 with 1 blocked shot and was 38% on draws in 14:33. I thought he came out flying in the first period, but faded as the game went on. Maybe it was conditioning?
Martins Karsums can say he scored his first NHL goal on Martin Brodeur. How cool is that? He had 1 shot and 1 hit in 12:54. He also picked off a pass in the neutral zone and nearly generated a nice scoring chance for himself earlier in the game. He was better tonight than most every game thus far in a Lightning jersey.
Matt Lashoff dispenses PP assists like a Pez dispenser. He also had 1 shot and 2 blocked shots in a team high 27:40 tonight. He's got 7 assists in 9 games in a Lightning uniform. There ain't nothing wrong with that kind of production.
The Lightning's forecheck officially belongs on a milk carton.
Mike McKenna allowed 3 goals on 39 shots in the loss. He rebounded from a couple of puck handling errors and was otherwise very solid. The Lightning have a tough decision to make with McKenna. Ordinarily, you would want a veteran #3 goaltender like McKenna in your organization. But, it will be very tough for the Lightning to send Riku Helenius or Dustin Tokarski down to the Coast if they do re-sign McKenna.
14:03 BOS Wheeler (20), (Savard)
06:56 BOS Chara (17), (Bergeron, Krejci)(PP)
13:35 BOS Kobasew (20), (Chara, Krejci)(PP)
12:07 TB Stamkos (20), (Malone, Lashoff)
Other than Stammer's 20th of the season tonight, there's not a whole lot to be excited about from the past couple of games.
Noah Welch had 2 penalty minutes and 1 blocked shot in 11:34.
Matt Smaby was -1 with 2 hits in 20:30. Good to have the big guy back. I thought he moved pretty well tonight after sitting out the game against Ottawa.
Martins Karsums was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 10:55.
Richard Petiot was +1 with 7 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 5 hits in 19:42.
Matt Lashoff had 1 assist and was +1 with 3 shots and 2 hits in 21:41. There were one or two plays tonight where Lashoff made plays that are hopefully indicative of the way his game is going to evolve next season: playing the proper angle defensively and then cancelling out the opposing forward physically. I'm just guessing he had a little extra juice playing against his old organization, but if he can do that consistently, he's going to be a stud defenseman in this league. The offense is there (6 assists in 8 games so far with the Lightning). If his defensive game rounds out, he's going to be every bit as good as Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros.
Karri Ramo allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for the loss. Ottawa's first goal was a short side shot you could fault him for, but otherwise he was solid. He got no offensive support and the refs decided to throw the shaft in at the end to wreck his stats by giving Ottawa a freebee 5-on-3.
09:45 OTT Heatley (35), (Fisher)(PP)
13:44 OTT Shannon (8), (unassisted)
16:41 OTT Spezza (30), (Alfredsson, Kuba)(PP)
Ottawa took a string of penalties early in the Second Period that were a hand engraved invitation to get back in the game that the Lightning refused to RSVP. At even strength, the Lightning just couldn't get in behind the Ottawa defense to get any forecheck generated. That's a big part of why they only had an anemic 17 hits on the game.
Noah Welch had 2 blocked shots in 18:21.
Martins Karsums had 2 hits in 10:36.
Richard Petiot had 1 blocked shot in 23:33.
Matt Lashoff was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 3 blocked shots in 22:49. He scored a beautiful goal banking a puck in off of the back of the goaltender's pads. Unfortunately, that goalie was Karri Ramo.