Bolt Prospects 2008-2009 Final Rankings
With the elimination of Rimouski in the Memorial Cup tournament, the 2008-2009 season has finally come to a close for all of the prospects of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. While the Lightning's record in 2008-2009 at the NHL was disappointing with the team finishing second to last in the league, the play of the team's youth was a bright spot. The team graduated three prospects this season: star center Steven Stamkos, physical defenseman Matt Smaby, and athletic netminder Karri Ramo. In addition, several other prospects made their NHL debuts this season, and most did not look out of place at hockey's top level. As a result, even with the graduation of three prospects, our Final Rankings for 2008-2009 reflect a solid roster of talent among the team's top prospects, which will only be added to in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft where the Lightning will hold three picks in the top sixty of the draft including the second overall pick.
As is customary, for those who have never read our rankings reports before, Bolt Prospects' rules are fairly simple. For skaters, a player is considered a prospect if they are less than 24 years of age on opening night of the Lightning's season and if they have not played 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games. The same age standard applies to goaltenders, but their thresholds for graduation from prospect status are different: 30 or more NHL decisions in a single season, or 41 or more career NHL decisions. NCAA players are still considered prospects at the age of 24 or older for as long as they remain in school. Bolt Prospects will issue a Supplementary Rankings Update in late June after the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Without further ado, here are Bolt Prospects' 2008-2009 Final Rankings:
1.) D Matt Lashoff, 6'2" 205 lbs, Tampa Bay (NHL)
In a unanimous decision, Lashoff becomes only the fifth player in the four years Bolt Prospects has been online to hold the top spot in our prospect rankings. The American-born former first round choice of the Boston Bruins was acquired at the trade deadline in a multi-player deal for veteran Mark Recchi, and did not disappoint Lightning fans by racking up 7 points in his first 12 games with the club. The speedy defenseman looks like a lock to make the team next season.
Chad: "The former Kitchener Ranger excelled on the power play given ample ice time in Tampa down the stretch."
Tim: "The last time the Lightning had an offensive defenseman prospect like this was Paul Mara. He'll be a short-lived #1 (until the 2009 draft), but until then he is the best prospect in the system at this point."
Pete: "Athletically, he's every bit the equal of blueliners like Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros: an incredible skater with a high skill level. However, Lashoff failed to break through in the Boston organization due to injuries and a reluctance to play physical hockey in his own end of the rink. Both might be solved by the change of scenery and a new commitment to training and approaching the game with the requisite level of ferocity necessary to become a top-four defenseman."
2.) RW Steve Downie, 5'10" 192 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
Like Lashoff, Downie found his way to the Lightning organization this season via a trade. Downie came over from the Philadelphia organization in a trade for Matt Carle with a reputation for vicious on-ice incidents and suspensions. Downie's first few months with the Lightning went well as he tore up the AHL with Norfolk and had solid recalls to the big club. However, his season was marred by a 20 game suspension for slashing an official in the shins on a faceoff in a game while with the Admirals. Despite his colorful history, Downie is likely a lock to make the Lightning next season.
Chad: Although itâ€™s debatable if Downie will end up on a scoring line or be an agitator on one of the lower lines, he has a lot to offer the club when heâ€™s focused. An under-reported story this year was the fact Downie was a great teammate in Tampa and did whatever he was asked.
Tim: Saw lots of jam and moxie, and is at least an 2nd/3rd line NHL tweener. While improving, still has anger management issues.
Pete: Athletically, Downie has what it takes to be a good NHL second line player. He's a good skater with an underrated shot and excellent vision and playmaking ability. He's also surprisingly strong on the puck for such a small man, which will get even better as he learns to train and condition like an NHLer. But, if Downie can't stay off suspension, does any of it really matter?
3.) D Ty Wishart, 6'5" 203 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
Ty Wishart quietly put together a very solid rookie season for the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL that bodes well for a great future for the young blueliner. The big defenseman is the last remaining piece from the Dan Boyle deal with San Jose, and after an awful first NHL game, he showed a lot of poise in subsequent call ups to the big club. Wishart will compete for one of the Lightning's final defenseman spots in training camp in the Fall.
Chad: Wishart has much more offense to give, and that started to come out gradually at the end of the season. It often takes a year or two for defenseman to learn the pro game. Wishart has enough raw talent that he should be a strong candidate for a breakout season in 09-10. He still projects as a strong top-4 defenseman.
Tim: Had hoped to see more offense his rookie year. If so, he'd have given Lashoff a run for the #1.
Pete: My new nickname for Ty Wishart is "Bob Seger," because the big defenseman is, indeed, like a rock. He finished his rookie season with a very respectable +5 rating, which ended up being the best mark among the team's regular blueliners. He's supremely calm in his own end and, most of the time, seems fairly unflappable. Those aren't bad traits for an NHL defenseman to have.
4.) RW/C Dana Tyrell, 5'10" 185 lbs, Prince George (WHL)
One of the real question marks of the rankings is Prince George forward Dana Tyrell, who lost half of his season to a knee injury suffered half way through the season just before the World Junior Champioships. Tyrell is known for his incredible speed and tireless work ethic. Both qualities should be on display in Norfolk of the AHL to start the 2009-2010 season.
Chad: Tyrell was on pace to destroy his previous career marks in the WHL, while being a high character team leader and playing a strong 2-way game. He also earned rave reviews in the limited time he was on the ice for Canada in the WJCs. One has to wonder if Tyrell didnâ€™t sustain the injury and the season progressed as it was, would he be No.1 on this list right now?
Tim: Next season playing against men will shed some better light on Tyrell's recovery from knee surgery. He looked poised to be an impact player for Canada at the WJC's before the injury.
Pete: Unsurprisingly, Tyrell has approached rehabilitation with the same fierce determination he shows on the rink. If the Lightning get back the same Tyrell they had before the knee injury, they'll get a player with speed and almost ridiculous acceleration: the kind of game breaking speed that backs off opposing blueliners and makes opposing coaches sweat. Had he not gotten hurt, he might have been challenging for one of the top two spots in these rankings. In many ways, he's a less stupid version of Downie.
5.) LW/C Johan Harju, 6'3" 205 lbs, Lulea (SWE)
Harju broke our hearts by signing with a Russian league club rather than coming to North America this season, but we still have plenty of love for the Swedish power forward. The young winger finished seventh in the Swedish Elitserien in points, tied for second in goals, and fourth in power play goals. He also earned a spot on Sweden's World Championships roster, and helped win a bronze medal in Switzerland. The Lightning have already sent strong signals they intend to bring Harju over next summer after he banks close to a million dollars for Moscow Dynamo in the KHL.
Chad: A late round gem that has done nothing but improve as a pro in Sweden. Harju should arguably be higher on the list considering priority Tampa Bay will put on signing him next year.
Tim: Despite the uncertainty of his North American career, he is quite possibly the best Lightning forward prospect.
Pete: When they compare you to Detroit star Johan Franzen, that's never a bad thing. Harju has good size, a hard, accurate shot with a quick release, and he isn't afraid to go to the net. He's also versatile and can play both the wing and center positions. The only knock is that his skating is fairly average. In 2010-2011 Harju will be 24, so it'll be a hit-or-miss proposition if and when he ever decides to join the Lightning. However, all the tools are there for him to be a hit, and the odds of him becoming a good NHL player might go up if the Lightning can acquire the rights of his life long teammate Linus Omark from Edmonton.
6.) G Riku Helenius, 6'3" 205 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
Patience finally paid off for Riku Helenius in the second half of this season. After missing the entire season as an 18 year old in Finland to a shoulder injury and splitting time in Seattle of the WHL last year, Riku again found himself in a bad position playing goal for an ECHL club in the processof folding, the Augusta Lynx, behind AHL level netminders Karri Ramo and Mike McKenna. However, when injuries forced Ramo and McKenna up to Tampa, the former first round pick seized the opportunity and posted very solid rookie numbers for Norfolk with a 2.72 GAA, 1 shutout, and a .918 save percentage. After losing ground to some of the other netminders in the organization, Helenius seems to have played his way back into the conversation and looks like he could be the starting goaltender in Norfolk next season.
Chad: Riku finally was able to show what the sum of his parts will look like late in the year for Norfolk.
Tim: A candidate for the comeback prospect of the year.
Pete: Helenius doesn't possess quite the same level of athleticism as fellow Finn Karri Ramo, but he plays pretty well positionally and, when he's on his game, is very hard to beat down low due to his size. Helenius' emergence has made an interesting goaltending situation in the Lightning organization that much more interesting moving forward over the next two or three seasons.
7.) C Paul Szczechura, 5'11" 175 lbs, Tampa Bay (NHL)
Szczechura, an undrafted free agent who came into the Lightning organization in a minor league swap with the Dallas organization, has come out of nowhere to become a serious contender to hold down an NHL job next season. Szczechura's only roadblock now may be the injury problems he has struggled with over the past two seasons. But, when he's on the ice, the heady Western Michigan product has shown he belongs.
Chad: He entered the NHL with a bang, but fell back to earth as time went on â€“ mostly due to injury. He may have come back too early as he was largely ineffective aside from a game or two down the stretch. He has the hockey smarts Lightning GM Brian Lawton is looking for.
Tim: Displayed flashes of his early season luster in the waning days of the Lightning season. Tops out as a 3rd line center.
Pete: He's just one of those players whose brain fires a split second or two ahead of everyone else's, which helps him get in quick on the forecheck and establish good body position, and helps him get back in the right spots in his own third of the ice. He thinks the game so well it allows him to play faster than he is, athletically. The injuries are troubling, and I suspect they also had an impact on his conditioning later in the season, but if he commits to training properly to avoid those injuries he's got the look of a very solid NHL player.
8.) G Dustin Tokarski, 5'11" 185 lbs, Spokane (WHL)
Tokarski was golden this season, literally, backstopping Team Canada to the gold medal at the World Junior Championships this season. The accomplishment was the cherry on top of a prestigious junior career than included a Memorial Cup championship and statistics so gaudy they almost seem unreal. The Lightning organization has sky high hopes for Tokarski, who will likely be learning the pro game in Norfolk of the AHL next season.
Chad: Can you have a growth spurt at age 19? The Lightning may take their pinched pennies to a wishing well this offseason and hope that wish becomes a reality. Unfortunately itâ€™s part of the business to still think of Tokarskiâ€™s future with skepticism despite him being one of junior hockeyâ€™s most accomplished goaltenders. He improved his rebound control this year and nearly single-handedly beat the highly favored Vancouver Giants in the WHL playoffs. One scout used Cam Ward as a projection â€“ and both are one inch from being 6-foot. Game intelligence and the ability to read plays are off the charts.
Tim: Winning the #1 job for Canada in the WJC's from Pickard was a real feather in the hat. Like Tyrell, next season as a rookie pro will begin to answer some lingering questions about his size.
Pete: The new hockey operations people with the Lightning love Dustin Tokarski like a fat kid loves chocolate cake. And, really, what's not to like? Tokarski is strong positionally and rises to the occassion to make key saves at key times. Put simply, whatever his athletic limitations, he's a winner, and he's a winner who plays the position that matters the most in this sport. The next step is for Tokarski to prove he can be a winner in the AHL, too.
9.) LW Radek Smolenak, 6'3" 203 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
Smolenak is yet another Lightning prospect who seems right on the cusp of becoming an NHL player. The feisty Czech power forward made his NHL debut in a brief callup this season and also led all Lightning prospects in goals down in Norfolk of the AHL scoring 24 goals and 49 points in 71 games to go along with a hefty 165 penalty minutes. Given his affordability and his grit, we like Smolenak's chances of making the Lightning out of camp next season.
Chad: If there is a way to get Smoke to combine his sniper abilities with his feisty side, the combination could result in more than a lower line audition next fall for Tampa.
Tim: He's close to being a NHL 4th liner -- perhaps after the 2009-10 trade deadline?
Pete: He's not a fleet skater, but in a brief stint in the NHL at midseason he showed he is capable of getting in on the forecheck, and he's not afraid to use his size to cause havoc in front of the opposition's cage. He still has some learning to do in terms of the defensive side of the game, and his scoring tailed off when he lost Paul Szczechura as his center. Still, there's a lot to like about his game, and his physical bravery makes him the kind of player you want down in a foxhole with you.
10.) D Vladimir Mihalik, 6'8" 241 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
Falling several spots over the course of the season has been defenseman Vladimir Mihalik. The big Slovakian started with the big club on their nightmare roadtrip to Prague, but seemed to pout when he was sent down to Norfolk after the trip, and just generally didn't seem to improve over where he was at the end of last season. As big as he is, if he just plays good positional hockey and makes decent decisions with the puck, he can be an NHLer. But, the hope was that he'd be so much more. He has an outside shot at earning a job in Tampa at camp in the Fall.
Chad: Unfortunately, when current management spoke of the previous regime drafting big players who lacked hockey sense, most eyes moved in Mihalikâ€™s direction. Heâ€™s the epitome or a size pick at 6â€™8â€ and his struggle to grasp responsibilities points to the latter comment. Mihalik has another year of an entry contract to show his ceiling remains high.
Tim: Took a disappointing step or two backwards this season. Physically, he still has NHL upside, but he's a long-term project with lots to learn. Rumble is key.
Pete: After a horrific first half of the year, Mihalik got back to playing some decent positional hockey late in the season, and even looked somewhat servicable in a late recall to Tampa. That said, you can't like how slowly Mihalik's game is progressing. He's still seemingly allergic to physical contact and his decision making is poor enough that he hasn't gotten much opportunity to flesh out the offensive side of his game on the power play with Norfolk. He looks more like Marek Malik than Zdeno Chara at this stage of the game.
11.) C Mitch Fadden, 6'0" 174 lbs, Tri-City (WHL)
Despite our fears that a deal might not get done with Fadden, the Lightning finally got around to signing the talented WHL star within the past couple of weeks. The offensively gifted centerman drips talent, but still needs to show a commitment to defense and the physical game in order to become a good pro. He'll get the opportunity next season with Norfolk in the AHL.
Chad: Fadden yawned his way to another gaudy statistical year in the WHL, and despite being hurt in the playoffs continued to produce. Unfortunately, he was not able to lead his team past Kelowna in the second round of the playoffs â€“ and therein lies an overarching issue with this super-talented playmaker. Can he be a leader and strong compliment to a team, or will past character issues continue to haunt him? Based on talent alone, he is a high-priority prospect in the system.
Pete: Faddenâ€™s a great skater with fantastic offensive ability. The puck seems to follow him around the attacking third of the rink, which is generally the mark of a great scorer. That said, throughout his junior career, Fadden has never committed to playing much defense and he lacks the size and guts to compete along the wall. It will be the coaching staff in Norfolkâ€™s mission next season to make sure Fadden plays an honest, all-around game.
12.) C Alex Killorn, 6'1" 195 lbs, Harvard (ECACHL)
The secret weapon of the Lightning prospect system is center Alex Killorn of Harvard. Killorn quietly finished his final season of high school hockey last season at Deerfield Academy and had a solid freshman season for the Crimson in a very down year for the program. We think he probably still has a couple of years of college hockey left to go before the Lightning move to sign him, but when they do Killorn has scoring line upside.
Chad: Killorn showed some grit with his offense for the Crimson this year, and come next year we could be talking about moving him to the pro ranks. Killorn may be the most underrated prospect on this list.
Tim: Not many true college freshmen impact their teams. Just a matter of time before this one is a Top 10 prospect.
13.) D Kevin Quick, 6'0" 175 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
2008-2009 was a season of redemption for Quick, who has rebounded from his dismissal from the University of Michigan to reclaim a spot as one of the Lightning's most talented young prospects. Quick shot back into the club's consciousness in his NHL debut where his skating and decisiveness stood out in stark contrast to the timid play of some of the club's other recalls. We just hope the potential finally leads to production. Quick only managed 9 points in 49 games with Norfolk this season, and will be counted on to pick up the slack offensively if and when Mike Lundin leaves the club. We project his full time NHL arrival date to possibly come during the 2010-2011 season.
Tim: As a high school senior, he was NHL ready with the exception of his shot and his size/strength. There was development made in Norfolk and didn't look out of place in a few NHL games, but Quick needs to bulk up more and start bringing some offense to the rink.
Pete: Quick showed he is no longer a defensive liability at the AHL level this season, with a solid even rating in his first full pro season and he's one of the best skaters in the organization, with a good level of skill, and a gambler's willingness to take chances on the attack. What I'd like to see next from Quick is a nice, solid 30-40 point season in the AHL where he proves he can be the kind of defenseman who can carry the puck and be a one-man breakout on his own and help anchor a solid power play. That's a lot to ask of a 21 year old, but Quick has the upside to do it.
14.) RW Martins Karsums, 5'10" 192 lbs, Tampa Bay (NHL)
Karsums was the other half of the return from the Mark Recchi deal with Boston and managed a modest 5 points in 18 games to close the season. For a small man, the Latvian has a powerful base and shows a lot of willingness to take the body. But, he needs to show more focus in both ends of the rink to make the NHL. He'll battle for a job in training camp this Fall.
Chad: Hand-picked by Lawton, Karsums is likely valued higher by the NHL club than he is here. He excelled in the open ice of the World Championships this year, but had difficulty staying on his feet trying to play the same style game for Tampa Bay late in the year. He has skills to offer, but is it enough to keep him a long-term piece to the puzzle?
Tim: Despite throwing his body around, he was both physically and offensively ineffective for the Lightning after being acquired at the trade deadline.
15.) C/RW Blair Jones, 6'2" 193 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
The development of Blair Jones has been slow and steady for the first three years of his pro career. He set personal marks this season for goals (20) and (54) while playing in all 80 of Norfolk's regular season games. He also added a new trick to his arsenal, a laser-like shot that earned him Norfolk's righty point position on the power play. The Lightning will decide whether or not to bring Jones, a restricted free agent, back into the fold. He's an average skater and his defensive and physical play have been consistent throughout his career. But, we like the fact he's improved statistically each and every season and hope he sticks around at least one more year.
Chad: Time is running out on Jones, but he turned his game up a notch and continued to get better as the year went on. A product of the previous regime, he appears to have the traits desired by Lightning coach Rick Tocchet â€“ but will he get his chance?
Pete: He has good size, is strong on the forecheck, and used his ever-improving shot with brutal effectiveness from the point on Norfolkâ€™s power play all season long. But, inconsistency remains the roadblock to the NHL for Jones. He doesnâ€™t always make the right play defensively and he doesnâ€™t bring the same intensity level every night on the forecheck. When heâ€™s on his game, though, heâ€™s capable of being a very good NHL checking line player.
16.) LW Luca Cunti, 6'1" 190 lbs, Rimouski (QMJHL)
After losing half of last season to an NCAA Clearing House fiasco that cost him a spot at St. Cloud State, Cunti played his first pro season in North America with Rimouski in the QMJHL. Results were mixed. Cunti put up decent numbers for a rookie but much more was expected of a player who was once touted as having first round caliber offensive skill, especially one with the supernatural skating ability Cunti possesses. We'd like to see Luca go back to junior for one more season and, this time, focus on the things that make North American hockey what it is: getting your nose dirty and showing some jam. He's a real project, but oh that skating ability.
Chad: Cunti took a loooooong time to get acclimated to the Rimouski environment â€“ both on and off the ice â€“ but once that took hold 2/3 of the way through the year, his game took off. He finished the regular season with back-to-back hat tricks and has become a dangerous weapon for the â€˜Nics. Now, about that 2-way game and play in the cornersâ€¦
Pete: I'm torn. There's not a softer player in the organization. It's not that Luca is in terrible position, because he's generally not. But, he just absolutely refuses to make contact with anyone. He's so soft he makes Vlad Mihalik look like Attila the Hun in the aggression department. He's so soft you could spread him on a bagel with a butter knife. He's so soft former Lightning winger Mike Johnson called and told me that even he thinks he's soft. And yet, his skating is absolutely world class. It's breathtaking to watch: smooth, powerful, and effortless. If I could move like that I'd never leave the rink, and I'd sleep with my skates on. He's also a very good passer and his stickhandling ability made him a one-man breakout many times for Rimouski this season. You don't jettison athleticism like that because it's almost impossible to find, but it's going to be a challenge to get him to make an NHL career out of it.
17.) LW Justin Keller, 5'11" 182 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
If Keller wrote a book about the 2008-2009 it would be a self-help titled, "Out House to Penthouse in Three Months." The diminuitive sniper began his season by getting bounced down to the ECHL, but after struggling in the early going he reemerged in Norfolk and became a regular offensive contributor finishing with a career high in goals with 18 in just 58 games. Keller is in the same boat as Blair Jones, and the Lightning must decide whether or not to re-sign the former WHL star. We're not sure he has true NHL upside, but we'd like to see him stick around for Norfolk's sake.
Tim: One of two prospects not invited to Tampa's camp, but by season's end had become a clutch player for the Admirals.
Pete: The same knocks on Keller still apply: heâ€™s a small, average skater who doesnâ€™t possess NHL athleticism. That said, heâ€™s incredibly smart and has a good shot and has gotten a little bit better every season.
18.) C James Wright, 6'3" 175 lbs, Vancouver (WHL)
Wright, a former first round WHL Bantam Draft pick, played a solid supporting role on a stacked Giants club this season. The big center set career highs in goals (21) and points (47) in 71 games, but he still has yet to realize his full potential. Wright has at least one more year of junior hockey to go before the Lightning make a decision on whether to sign and place him in their system.
Chad: Wright settled into his checking role with Vancouver and played it to the best of his ability. Scouts knew he had more to offer and he finally had the opportunity to show it when he was moved to the Giantsâ€™ top line in the Spokane series. He responded with strong play and was one of the few Giants to put up points on Tokarski.
Pete: Heâ€™s big and strong and although heâ€™s not wildly skilled, he does possess better skill than most players his size. But, he still only managed to finish 8th on his team in scoring. Athletically, heâ€™s got what it takes to be a solid checking line player in the NHL. Will he ever put it all together to reach that potential? Unclear.
19.) LW Juraj Simek, 6'1" 189 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
Simek, who was acquired from the Vancouver organization in the Shane O'Brien deal, turned out to be a nice complimentary AHL player for the Admirals this season. Despite missing about a month due to injury in December, Simek impressed the Ads coaching staff with his speed and all-around play. We're dubious about his NHL future due to his lack of size and his modest offensive contributions, but he'll be a solid member of the team for Norfolk next season.
Tim: The organization thinks Simek is one of the best skaters in Norfolk. He's another project.
Pete: Heâ€™s small and he still has yet to crack double digits in goals in an AHL season. Next season will be critical for Simek to try to prove he can be more than an AHL filler player.
20.) RW Lauri Tukonen, 6'2" 200 lbs, Rauma (FIN)
There's a decent chance that Tukonen, who was spotted in Tampa rehabbing an injury toward the end of the year, may be signed for depth in Norfolk next season. The former LA Kings first round pick never really grew into the power forward they were hoping he would become, and we doubt he will now. If he signs, we'd just a like a nice, solid 20 goal season for the Admirals. Anything else would be gravy.
Chad: New regime remains interested in Tukonen, but even if he does come over, what kind of an impact is he capable of?
Pete: By my math, he could fill the role of Norfolkâ€™s sixth veteran, but I suspect thatâ€™s about the extent of his utility. Tukonen never scored more than the 36 points he put up in the AHL as a rookie with the Manchester Monarchs and he still doesnâ€™t seem to have the commitment and talent to get to the next level.
21.) D Mark Barberio, 6'0" 201 lbs, Moncton (QMJHL)
It was a roller coaster season for Barberio who started off very hot, cooled toward the middle of the year, and finished off the season about halfway in between. Barberio is a good two-way defenseman in the QMJHL, but he'll need to show more consistency next season in junior to earn an NHL contract.
Pete: 15 goals and 45 points in 66 games is nothing to sneeze at, but itâ€™s never a good sign when a prospect vanishes from the score sheet for what seems like months at a time. We see a pattern of inconsistency forming, considering he also tailed off at the end of last season, so itâ€™s critical for Barberio to not only get off to a good start next year, but he needs to stay solid over the full course of 60-70 games.
22.) G Torrie Jung, 6'1" 170 lbs, Edmonton (WHL)
Perhaps no Lightning prospect benefitted more from a change in scenery than Torrie Jung did after getting dealt from Kelowna to Edmonton. The athletic netminder became the clear number one in Edmonton and put up very good numbers in the role. The Lightning have until June 1st to sign Jung, and it is our hope they will. We see him as a strong candidate to return to junior next year and if he improves as much as he did this season, he could become a heck of a player.
Chad: Jung stood on his head for Edmonton in the playoffs and became THE story of the Hitmen-Oil Kings series. His consistent play throughout the year, combined with his natural skills, should be enough for a contract, but depth chart issues could mean he goes back in the draft.
23.) RW Matt Marshall, 6'1" 175 lbs, Vermont (HEAST)
Marshall played sparingly for Vermont, who made it all the way to the NCAA finals this season. The program has high hopes for the speedy winger, but he is definitely a project. We expect Marshall to remain in school another three seasons before any signing decision has to be made.
Tim: Sophmore season should shed more light on Marshall's upside.
24.) RW Chris Lawrence, 6'4" 217 lbs, Norfolk (AHL)
Things started off so well for Chris Lawrence. He had a strong Lightning prospect camp and was named captain of the club's prospect team at Traverse City. Somewhere along the way, though, it all came off the rails. Lawrence is entering his third pro season next year and in order to stick around he has to prove that not only can he be an AHL regular, but that he can also be an AHL contributor. It's a tall order for a big power forward.
Pete: Athletically, Lawrence is a beast. At 6â€™4â€ 217 lbs he practically blots out the sun, but he rarely seems to be around the puck enough to use his size to his advantage. Does Lawrence have the potential to make Smolenak-like strides in his third pro season? Sure. Have we seen any indication he actually will? Nope.
25.) LW Justin Courtnall, 6'0" 185 lbs, Victoria (BCHL)
Courtnall was much like the tortoise this season: slow and steady finally won him a spot in the Top-25. It was rare that Courtnall racked up big multi-point nights for Victoria, but he was consistently racking up a goal here and an assist there. That's not terribly reassuring considering the BCHL is often dominated by players who are a year or two younger than Courtnall. But, it was enough to earn a spot with Boston University next season, and that's not shabby.
Chad: Courtnall put up lofty stats as expected for Victoria, but once again was rather silent in the playoffs. He had a strong RBC Cup and can use the momentum to take his game to the defending NCAA champs next year. How much heâ€™s able to play for BU next year remains to be seen.
Honorable Mention: D Michael Ward, 6'3" 196 lbs, Cape Breton (QMJHL)