Erlendsson Speculates Lightning May Go With Rookies On D
In his Friday column Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune speculated the team's cap situation may force the Lightning to carry one or two rookie defensemen on the roster on opening night. That's a pretty fair expectation and at the very minimum I suspected the Lightning would put one of the rookies into the #7 defenseman slot at the league minimum for economic reasons. Erlendsson lists several prospects as potential options and, in particular, highlights Swiss stay-at-home defenseman Timo Helbling. Helbling, you might remember, checked in at #5 on my personal list of overage Lightning prospects. Here's my handicapping of the situation:
He gets the pole position in the race almost by default because of his 317 games of professional hockey played between the Swiss NLA, the ECHL and the AHL. He also plays a simple game and thus is probably the least prone to being a liability although his game doesn't necessarily suit the aggressive pinching style of the Lightning's system. Then again, it could be argued the removal of the redline this season may seriously handcuff the Lightning's defensemen from pinching as much as they did in the past.
I've seen a lot of posts on the internet message boards from people in the fan base and they always seem to leave out Doug O'Brien. If this decision were being made by Falcons coach Dirk Grahame, I would think the race would already be over. In the second half of the Falcons' season no Springfield prospect d-man got more ice time than O'Brien. O'Brien led all Falcons prospect defenseman in scoring as well and although he may not have the professional level experience Helbling has, he did play 230 games at the junior level in a very strong Olympiques organization. He's average sized, mobile and has the ability to pinch although he always tends to be more conservative and mind his end of the rink first. In many ways I think his game is similar to departed defenseman Brad Lukowich.
If Craig Ramsey, who is in charge of the defensive corps, has the biggest say, the race may swing to Gerard Dicaire. Dicaire has struggled with playing in a bad joint affiliation and surgery to remove boils from his back over the past two seasons. As a consequence he's only gotten 100 games at the pro level over the past two seasons and his anemic 16 points over that span has fallen far short of expectations. Still, Dicaire nearly made the Lightning out of his first full training camp coming out of junior from Kootenay and by all indications Coach Ramsey is still a big booster of the young defenseman's potential. Dicaire fits the Lightning system well. He's a good skater, makes crisp first passers out of the zone and is extremely cerebral and aggressive in when he jumps into the play. His offensive instincts for finding holes to jump into at even strength and on the power play are outstanding, which is why his lack of offensive numbers is so perplexing. If he has a good camp though, watch out. He may easily vault over his competition. He, in my opinion, could be a poor man's Darryl Sydor.
The Lightning have the most invested in Egener as compared to his traning camp adversaries in terms of the 2nd round pick they used to draft on him. He also has a dimension the rest of his competition lacks in that he's tough as nails and willing, almost to a fault, to drop the gloves. With the departure of Andre Roy to Pittsburgh perhaps the Lightning could use another potential pugilist in their lineup and something about the near homicidal nature of Egener's passionate defense of his teammates will remind Lightning fans of a certain favorite of their named Ciccone from days long past. Still, that seems a poor reason to move up the development schedule of such an important prospect. Egener only got 45 games with Springfield last season due to a knee sprain and other nagging injuries and probably needs more seasoning.
In terms of raw potential, Ranger may be the best of this bunch. However, because the Lightning has him tagged as an offensive defenseman prospect, I have my doubts the Lightning really need his particular skill set on this team. With Dan Boyle re-signing and Darryl Sydor and Pavel Kubina already in place the Lightning seem to have all the offense they need from the blueline. True, he can play a very solid defensive game and in last season's exhibition game against Atlanta he was outstanding in covering up for some of the skating deficiencies of now retired Darren Rumble. Ranger caught fire the last 12 games of the Falcons' season offensively. My guess is the Lightning probably want to see if he can extend that to a 30-40 point campaign this year in the AHL rather than rush his timetable into the NHL.
Other Not Listed in the Trib Story:
I suspect Andy Rogers will be invited to training camp. The Lightning loved his professionalism at the last Traverse City prospect camp and if he has a monster performance, you never know what could happen. He, like Egener, has a lot invested in him by the team although he lacks the full measure of Egener's mean streak. He'd have to be signed first, however, which could be another hurdle to overcome. Also, if the Lightning ever do manage to lure Matt Smaby away from North Dakota, he also would have a longshot chance at making the squad although I would say his chances are seriously diminished from even Rogers' slim shot of making the team.