North American Juniors
On the eve of the Tampa Bay Lightning 2009-10 season opener in Atlanta Saturday night, General Manager Brian Lawton continues his contract-happy week by inking 2009 1st round draft pick Carter Ashton to a three-year entry level contract. Following a strong training camp, Ashton was returned to his WHL junior team in Lethbridge last weekend, and is expected to play the balance of the 2009-10 season with the Hurricanes.
Lawton also signed former NHL All-Star Adam Oates to a contract as a Lightning assistant coach under Rick Tocchet. Oates, widely regarded as one of the all-time best set up players, has been working with the Lightning coaching staff and team during training camp as an unpaid assistant and and advisor. During the exhibition season, under Oates' guidance, the Lightning power play has shown marked improvement over last season featuring a top unit comprised of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, and Kurtis Foster.
Lawton may not be done with his signing spree following Thursday's signing of Mitch Fritz and today's inkings, as 2009 6th round pick Jaroslav Janus is rumored to be the next target of Lawton's pen. Lawton has stated that Janus had a strong training camp and is trying to get an entry-level deal done with his agent. Meanwhile the Slovakian netminder has not been returned to his OHL junior team in Erie and continues to practice with the Norfolk Admirals squad as an unsigned player.
The Tampa Bay Lightning has tweeted that they have signed prospect forward James Wright to a three-year entry level contract. Wright has been the surprise of the 2009 Lightning training, flying virtually under the radar after missing the prospect's camp with a groin pull. His play throughout camp and exhibition play has drawn praise from both GM Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet. Wright's entry level contract is a strong indicator that the Lightning likely intends to carry Wright on the team's NHL roster for upwards of 9 regular season games before making a decision to return him to his WHL junior squad in Vancouver. Wright doesn't turn 20 until March 2010, so an AHL assignment in Norfolk is not an option for the 2008 4th round pick.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have reassigned right wing Richard Panik to the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League today, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced. The Lightning now have 42 players remaining in camp.
Panik, 18, played in two preseason games with the Lightning, recording two shots on goal.
The Ottawa '67's of the OHL selected Bolt prospect forward Matias Sointu with the 48th pick in Tuesday's OHL Import Draft. The smallish forward was selected by the Lightning in the 7th round of the 2008 Entry Draft. The Finnish-born Sointu failed to secure a regular roster spot in the SM-Liiga last season after suffering a season-ending injury after just 7 games into the FNL Jr.A season. Sointu potted 3 goals in 6 games for the undermanned Finnish U18 WJC team in early 2008, and has scored 22 goals and 20 assists in 48 games for the Ilves Jr.A squad.
It is speculated that Sointu is considering coming to North America after losing almost a whole year of development last season similar to Riku Helenius after losing a season a few years ago to a shoulder injury.
Sointu is currently not on the 2009 Young Guns prospect camp roster scheduled for mid-July in Tampa.
WGGB-TV out of Springfield, MA is reporting that Lightning University of Massachusettes-Amherst prospect defenseman John Wessbecker has been named to the HEAST All-Academic Team for the fourth consecutive year, earning him the Distinguish Scholar Award. Wessbecker, 22, completed his senior season at UMass-Amherst with 1 goal and 4 assists in 35 games as a stay-at-home blueliner. The Lighting have until August 15 to sign Wessbecker to an entry-level contract or he becomes a free agent.
In just a few short hours, the two year run of goaltender Torrie Jung and defenseman Michael Ward as Tampa Bay Lightning prospects could end. As 2007 draftees out of Canadian juniors, both players are facing a June 1 deadline to be signed to entry level contracts by the Lightning or be returned to the 2009 NHL entry draft later this month in Montreal. The Lighting have already signed fellow 2007 draftees Dana Tyrell and Mitch Fadden, along with 2008 draftee Dustin Tokarski to three-year rookie contracts. Jung, who had a spectacular comeback season for the Edmonton Oil Kings, has seemingly played well enough to earn a contract, but faces considerable depth in the Lightning system behind Mike Smith, Karri Ramo, Riku Helenius, and the highly touted Tokarski. Ward, while showing a more pedestrian development and is considered somewhat of a longshot to earn a contract, would seemingly benefit from a general lack of blueline depth in the Lightning system.
Defenseman John Wessbecker, a 2007 NCAA draftee out of the University of Massachusettes-Amherst, faces an August 15 deadline as a graduating senior to sign an entry level contract or be released as an unrestricted free agent.
According to posters right here on the BoltProspects Message Boards (namely Donnie D), Lightning GM Brian Lawton confirmed tonight at a Q&A session with fans that Lightning forward prospect Mitch Fadden has been signed to an entry level contract and that an official announcement would follow in a day or so. June 1 is the deadline for Fadden and fellow CHL prospects Michael Ward and Torrie Jung to be signed or return to the NHL draft. There was no word from Lawton on if Ward and Jung were also to be signed. It is also unclear whether or not Rimouski forward Luca Cunti's rights expire on June 1st along with Ward and Jung's.
PEI Rocket 2 @ Moncton Wildcats 3 (SO)
D Mark Barberio, MON: 0-1-1, E, 0 PIM, 6 SOG
Season totals: 15 GP, 4-11-15, +9, 8 PIM
Moncton is first overall in the league at 15-0-2-0, setting a record earning points in the first 17 games of the season. The 1972-73 Quebec Remparts held the previous league record for best start to a season by earning points in the first 16 games.
Kingston Frontenacs 3 @ Brampton Battalion 4
W Kyle DeCoste, BRA: 0-0-0, -1, 4 PIM (interference, hooking)
Season totals: DeCoste: 12 GP, 3-2-5, -4, 17 PIM
Of Note: Both Dana Tyrell and Dustin Tokarski were named to Team WHL for the upcoming ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. They are the only two Lightning prospects named to the WHL, OHL, or QMJHL teams as Mark Barberio was passed over for the Q's squad.
Sioux Falls Stampede 1 @ Fargo Force 2
D Luke Witkowski, FAR: 1-0-1,+1, 19 PIM (interference, checking from behind, fighting, 10 min misconduct), 4 SOG
Season totals: 5 GP, 1-1-2, +2, 26 PIM
Witkowskiâ€™s first goal of the year was the game winner for Fargo in their home debut.
Lightning defensive prospect and 2008 6th round pick Luke Witkowski is reportedly out with an injury and will miss the inaugral season opener of Fargo Force Friday night when they travel to play the Omaha Lancers. The Force is coached by long time UND head coach Dean Blais. The Force begin the USHL season with an eight game road trip, with their home opener on October 30 against the Sioux Falls Stampede.
Witkowski is credited with with first fighting major in Force team history when he dropped the gloves with Blake Thompson of Sioux Falls in Fargo's first exhibition game.