BP Mailbag: 1-1-14

I’ve been wanting to put together a weekly mailbag of sorts for a while now, so with New Year’s around the corner, I’m getting a jump on that resolution. I’d like to say no question will go unanswered, but I’ve known the Interwebs for a while now and that can only end badly.

Questions can be submitted via @boltprospects, chad@boltprospects.com, or on our messageboard.

Here goes nothing…

When will they ever be fair to Eero? (MoreRon via Twitter)

“Eero” is Eero Somervuori, aka “Little Selanne,” whom the Lightning drafted in the 7th round in 1997. Eero was a diminutive skill player and some thought if he’d just get the chance in North America, he’d live up to the Little Selanne moniker. Eero was good enough in Europe to be picky about money and opportunity, and some felt that the Lightning weren’t being fair in their offers. Eventually he came over and had a ho-hum year for AHL Hamilton. He got a raw deal there because he was a Lightning prospect and because the Lightning didn’t have their own affiliate he was struggling to get ice time with Montreal’s prospects. He returned to Europe the next year and has since carved out a nice career in Sweden and Finland (currently with HIFK). He actually scored the championship-clinching goal for Färjestad (Sweden) in 2009. So, to answer the question: never. Sorry, EeroNation.

Is there a former TB prospect or two in particular you guys were really big on who never met your collective expectations? (Randall via Twitter)

But of course! Scouting is an inexact science as evidenced by the gaggle of failed prospects littering HockeyDB.com. Alexander Daigle ring a bell? For me (Chad), I was livid when Dudley traded out of the chance to snag WHL phenom Pavel Brendl. I was driving in Nashville and for some reason the draft was on the radio. I was yelling at the radio. Brendl could seemingly score at will for the Calgary Hitmen and I was certain TB passed on a much-needed offensive star. Of course, Brendl never met a hot dog stand he didn’t like and he never panned out. While he was not a TB prospect, he’s the one I was way off on.

As for TB prospects, I didn’t have huge hopes for Mike Egener as a top-4, but I thought he was can’t-miss to make it. He skated so well and had the size and physicality to at least be a bottom pair NHLer. His passing and hockey sense never developed and he’s now playing in England. One prospect I thought could be a very good top-6 forward in the NHL was Alex Polushin, who was taken in the second round of the Svitov draft. He had great size, skill, defensive awareness, and had performed well against good competition in international tournaments like the WJCs. Tampa couldn’t get him to come over then his play started going down. I believe he missed a whole year due to a bad knee injury. He’s since played in the lower Russian leagues and is playing in Belarus now.

[With] Nikita Gusev's limited playing time in KHL, why not bring him over to Syracuse? (Matt via Twitter)

With European pros, like I mentioned with Eero, the keys to getting them over are money, opportunity, and timing. Gusev was an excellent gamble in the final round of the 2012 draft and he has ties to some of TB’s Russian sect. The timing could definitely be right – IF the Lightning want him over. Gusev is immensely skilled, but tiny and one dimensional. We’ve seen this year what injuries can do to Syracuse and the club is lacking skilled top-6 caliber forwards right now. Gusev doesn’t have anything he’s holding on to in the KHL, so he may very well want to join the Crunch next year. It would be worth it for the Lightning if they could sign him to a short, 1-2 year deal, but rules may demand it be at least a three. That’s a big commitment to someone who can’t currently earn time on his professional club. He may possess more skill than anyone to hit Syracuse under the Lightning’s watch who wasn’t named Nikita Kucherov. Good idea, but not my choice, unfortunately.

What are the best and worst moves made by Yzerman as a TBL GM? (Tyler via Twitter)

I look at trade evaluations two ways: 1) What perceived value was at the time of the deal, and 2) The trade in hindsight based on player performance, etc.

Therefore, it’s pretty easy to point to the Ben Bishop trade as being the best move Yzerman has made thus far, though the trade – value wise – was pretty even at the time it was made. I thought Yzerman turning Steve Downie/Kyle Quincey into a top-20 pick was outstanding. Add the name Andrey Vasilevskiy to that trade and it’s even better.

As for worst, big trades get the most criticism and Yzerman spent A LOT (two seconds and a third rounder) to get Anders Lindback and spare change from Nashville. There were so few NHL goalies available that fit his “grow with the team” criteria and word was L.A. wanted the moon for Jonathan Bernier. Nashville was clearly in the driver’s seat on this one and Yzerman was desperate. Lindback was average at best for most of last season to the point where Yzerman was desperate again and he had to acquire Bishop. As it is now with Vasilevskiy expected to come over next year, Lindback doesn’t seem to figure in longterm plans.

Below the NHL, I thought trading Tokarski for Desjardins turned out to be a bad trade and may have cost Syracuse the Calder Cup as Desjardins was not great in the finals. Tampa Bay liked Desjardins as a third goaltender better than Tokarski, so that’s why Guy Boucher’s former ‘tender was obtained. Like Tokarski, Desjardins didn’t do well in his brief NHL time after the trade.

Who has the dreamiest smile? (Josh via Twitter)

Jaro Janus is popular with the ladies. I’ll go with him, though Alex Killorn is most likely to be the next Bachelor.

Do you see Drouin to Syracuse for a few games after his junior season ends? Who else might be in the pipeline to bail us out? (Huddy via Twitter)

Doubtful. Halifax would have to be eliminated quickly and Syracuse would have to have a moderate-to-deep playoff run and right now both seem unlikely to happen. I’d say Koekkoek could help, but I believe Windsor will deal him this month to an OHL contender and then he’ll have a deep playoff run. Rumors connect him to London, who hosts this year’s Memorial Cup, so then there’d be no chance. Other possibilities are Henri Ikonen and Adam Erne when their seasons are done. Both could help and both could be out in the first two rounds of their playoffs. Jake Dotchin and Dylan Blujus are other possibilities, but neither are immediate AHL impact players and may just end up practicing with the Crunch.

I realize top-4 d-men don't exactly grow on trees, but that does seem to be an organizational weakness. How can the ?#Bolts address it? (George via Twitter)

Every GM will tell you how hard it is to grow and obtain top-4 defensemen. You have to draft well and have a lot of things go right. Tampa Bay’s situation is better than it has been in years, but it’s not elite by any means.

Here’s what we know. Looking forward, the Lightning have Victor Hedman, Matt Carle, and Radko Gudas as top-4 defensemen with plenty of years left on their bodies. Andrej Sustr is on the edge, but looks like after 200 games he’ll be more of a 3-4 than a 5-6. Beyond those four, Slater Koekkoek will be a top-4 defenseman if not a top pair guy. He’s quietly had a phenomenal year for Windsor and he may not need too much time in Syracuse before he’s up for good. Usually Yzerman likes his players to get pro seasoning, but Sustr is an exception already (albeit due to need). Yzerman will continue to try to collect top-4 caliber prospects and NHLers any way he can. He heavily pursued Dan DeKeyser, Justin Schultz, and Ryan Suter. He has to, because in my opinion, there are no other players in the organization, drafted or signed, that I feel have a better than 50% chance at being a top-4 NHL defensemen. There are plenty of 5-7s there, however. Korobov , Witkowski, or maybe Blujus a few years from now are close to the 50% line. I have my concerns about Blujus, but that’s another story. Second rounders should be producing more. Speaking of draft picks, I fully expect defensemen – probably righties – for Tampa Bay next year with two of their first three picks.

What's gonna happen with Vasilevskiy now that Bishop is looking like a franchise goalie? (David via Twitter)

Yzerman develops Vasilevskiy like he’ll be the No. 1 and Bishop like he’ll be the No. 1 for a long time. In other words, you get the best/most out of both and then cross bridges as you have to cross them. Don’t forget Jaro Janus likely coming over next year, Lindback has another year on his contract, and Adam Wilcox could turn pro. Plus, Gudlevskis will be in Syracuse. It’s accumulation of assets, and Tampa Bay could see themselves on the other side of desperate trades for goalies.

I agree with this philosophy as goalies ride performance rollercoasters and you just never know whether Bishop will always be this good, or if Vasilevskiy will truly develop into the franchise goalie he’s expected to be. If they both are peaking and Yzerman has to make a decision 3-4 years from now, you usually go youngest/cheapest.

Is Sake Salminen still recovering from his surgery? (Michelle via Twitter)

Yup. Should be back soon.

That’s all for this week. Hope to hear from you for next week’s edition at @BoltProspects, chad@boltprospects.com, or on our messageboard.