Reports have surface on the Czech site iDNES.cz that Nizhnekamsk of the KHL has cut Bolt prospect forward Radek Smolenak from its pre-season roster. Smolenak had signed a contract with Nizhnekamsk at the end of May 2009 after his entry level deal with the Lightning expired. Smolenak's defection back to Europe came as a surprise after a somewhat successful six-game debut with Tampa during the 2008-09 season. The 22 year old left winger posted a career year bagging 24 goals and 25 assists along with 165 penalty minutes in 71 games for the AHL Norfolk Admirals after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Lightning. Heading into the 2009 summer, it appeared that Smolenak was poised to push for a Lightning roster spot in the 2009-10 training camp, but his decision to forego resigning with Tampa as a restricted free agent signaled that he wasn't interested in the possibility of returning to Norfolk.
"It all happened quickly. I joined the preparatory matches and trained, but the mood overall was very good. In the four games we'd succumbed, then head of the club announced that Neftekhimik issue a bit differently," Smolenak said in a loosely translated quote from the Czech web site. Smolenak further indicated he had no immediate plans as to the next stop for his hockey career, but the Bolts continue to hold his NHL rights after issuing the gritty winger a qualifying offer in June. With the trade of the speedy and physical Evgeny Artyukhin to Anaheim earlier this month, the Lightning may very well still be interested in getting Smolenak back to North America for the 2009-10 season.
Loosely translated, Smolenak admitted his decision to accept an offer from the Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the KHL "...was not easy decision. If I felt the chance that I will be in the first team and spend the entire season in the NHL, I would definitely stay. But more than to stay on the farm, I prefer to give priority to Russia. I had offers from other leagues, but the Continental League attracted me a lot..."
Smolenak declined to comment on the Lightning's embarrassing finish to the 2008-09 indicating that he only played a few games with Tampa and that was a question better suited for the executives and owners. Smolenak did suggest, "The fact is that the change was really a lot, maybe it could even wait a little." He did, however, address the question that many followers of Bolt prospects are wondering -- will he consider returning to North America? To that question, Radek indicated that he will play a season in the KHL to satisfy his curiosity and give the league a try, but that he certainly would like to return overseas.
According to the IIHF web site, Tampa Bay Lightning forward prospect Johan Harju has been named to the preliminary roster of the Swedish team for the 2009 World Hockey Championships. Harju recently announced that he had signed a contract to play with the Moscow Dynamo of the KHL for the 2009-2010 season, foregoing a possible pro contract with the Lightning. Harju finished the 2008-09 SEL season scoring 27 goals and 22 assists in 55 games for Lulea.
Prospect phenom Victor Hedman, the likely 2009 1st round draft pick by the Lightning, was omitted from the Team Sweden preliminary roster.
Interesting nugget buried deep in one of Erik Erlendsson's blogs:
Lightning prospect and former Kings first round pick Lauri Tukonen has been in Tampa to get an injury looked at. Tukonen missed much of the second half of the season with Lukko of the SM-liiga with an injury. Now, Erlendsson says in the blog that Tukonen isn't an impending signing, but it's something that makes you wonder.
Also, thanks to Erik for linking to the BP profiles for several players.
According to Swedish newspaper Sportbladet, Lightning forward prospect Johan Harju has signed a one year contract with the Moscow Dynamo along with Lulea linemate and Edmonton Oiler prospect Linus Omark.
Since Lulea's exit from the SEL playoffs, rumors were rampant that the KHL were courting both Harju and Omark with promises of salaries in excess of the what the duo could get from the rookie maximum for an NHL entry level contract. The news is certainly a blow to a Lightning organization in the midst of rebuilding and a system largely devoid of elite offensive talent.
One really has to ask the question if anyone from the organization was camping in Harju's backyard since Lulea's exit from the SEL playoffs. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
The Swedish paper Norrbottens Kuriren is reporting that several teams in the Russian KHL are courting Lightning prospect Johan Harju and his teammate, Edmonton prospect Linus Omark. The Lightning reportedly had the inside track on signing Harju, who at 22 years of age was the second leading goal scorer in the Swedish Elitserien for Lulea, earlier in the season. However, the entrance of the Russian league into the equation complicates matters. NHL rookie contracts are capped at around $900,000, while wealthy Russian owners flush with cash are willing to spend lavishly on young stars like Harju, putting the Lightning at a disadvantage in a potential bidding war. The question is: will Harju choose the better lifestyle and top flight competition of the NHL, or will he choose to chase the big bucks behind the former iron curtain?
Harju is quoted in the report as saying, "The NHL is the dream and that is what I am aiming for." However, he didn't close the door completely, stating, "The way of life is a bit special in Russia, but it would also be an adventure in its own way."
More on this story as it develops...
Janne Niskala had 2 goals and 2 assists, all on the power play, as Frolunda put Lulea on the brink of elimination defeating the upstarts 5-1. Frolunda took a 3-1 series lead with the victory. Johan Harju was scoreless in the match.
Lulea's season ended with a nailbiting 1-0 loss to Frolunda. Janne Niskala and Johan Harju were scoreless in the match.
Harju ends his playoffs with 4 goals and 5 points in 5 games. The power forward was also -2 and 48% on draws. Niskala's 4 point game in Game Four was all of his scoring in the five game series. The defenseman was also -2 in the series.
Despite yet another power play goal by Johan Harju, Lulea fell apart in the third period in a 5-1 Game Three loss to Frolunda. Lulea is now down 2-1 in the opening round playoff series. Harju also set up a breakaway in the third period with his club down 3-1, but former NHLer Lubos Bartecko was unable to convert for Lulea. Defenseman Janne Niskala took a third period interference penalty in the match for Frolunda.
Harju is tied for the lead in playoff scoring with 5 points in 3 games, and tied for the league best in playoff goals with 4. All of Harju's goals have come with the man advantage.