Lightning Prospect System Gaining Stability.
Submitted by jstreim on June 26, 2006 - 15:37
This is my first ever try at a blog, so go easy on me. It seemed like yesterday when one would look at the Tampa Bay Lightning depth chart and feel pity. Even when the big club started contending for the playoffs in 2003, one year removed from the Dudley regime, their prospect cupboard was nothing short of bare. They had no AHL affiliate, no goalie of the future, most prospects overseas, and only a handfull of players competing in the ranks of the CHL. Heck, all they had to show from the Dudley drafts was Nikita Alexeev and Alex Svitov. Now, only three years later, the Lightning have a full time AHL affiliate fully stocked with players, they own the rights to TEN goaltenders, including one first rounder, Riku Helenius, and Finnish prodigy, Karri Ramo, and multiple players in the CHL and NCAA. The biggest success, however, is in the fact that three players to come out of the Lightning Developmental system became NHL regulars in 2005-06, two of which were Feaster picks. At the moment, this team is currently shopping for a number 1 goalie with 3 players (Burke, Holmqvist, and Norrena) competing for the backup position. Springfield is expected to have one of Holmqvist or Norrena starting with a four-way race for backup. Among the competitors are Coleman, Boutin(one of which may become trade bait if need be), Ramo, and Morgan Cey. This offseason has also been quite busy with the signings of Holmqvist, Norrena, Matt Smaby, Stanislav Lascek, Justin Keller, Radek Smolanek and Karri Ramo along with Eric Perrin to bolster the Springfield Falcons roster. Jay Feaster has even brought in former Calder Cup winning and NHL head coach, Steve Stirling as head coach of the Falcons next season. Things also look good on the CHL front where two of the four 2006 draft picks are expected to venture (one of whom is already a CHL regular). They will join seven other players in the Lightning system including the massive Vladmir Mihalik and the supremely skilled Blair Jones. Where there was once dust (left by Dudley), Jay Feaster has created diamonds (in the rough, of course). Other than a can't miss prospect, scoring depth at Center, and an offensive Defenseman (all of which have been stressed multiple times by the writers of this site), the Lightning system seems to be well on its way to being a legitimate hotbed of NHL quality talent.