Lightning Relinquish Rights to DeCoste, Sointu

With the June 1 signing deadline for 2008 draftees now come and gone, the Lightning have relinquished the rights to prospects Kyle DeCoste (Belleville, OHL) and Matias Sointu (Sudbury, OHL).

There was some question about Sointu's rights as he was drafted out of Finland, but Bolt Prospects confirmed with the Lightning that Sointu did indeed need to be signed by June 1 to retain his rights.

DeCoste (pictured) was drafted in the fifth round, 147th overall, out of Brampton. At 6'2", 190, with decent skills and skating ability, he was expected to develop a power forward persona in the years following his selection. After moderate production for Brampton early in 2008, he was dealt to basement dweller Sault Ste. Marie, where he was expected to be an impact top-6 player as they rebuilt the Greyhounds. DeCoste responded well after the trade, scoring seven goals and 14 points in 26 games to finish the season. As 2009-10 began, the Soo started with a bang in the win column, though DeCoste wasn't a big reason why. He struggled to find the scoresheet, scoring just twice with three points in his first 13 games - his second goal coming in his last game with the Soo. He was quickly dealt to Belleville - who was fighting to stay out of last place in their division - and once again it was a trade that sparked DeCoste's game.

He scored in his debut with the Bulls and ended up with 10 points in 12 games during the month of November. That success would continue into December as he had three goals in his first two December games, but then he fell into a slump that would see him pointless in his next six games to go with a minus-9 rating. He finished the year relatively strong with 10 points in his last 12 games - a lot of that due to having fellow Bolt prospect Richard Panik on his line after he came over from Windsor. The always-streaky DeCoste was starting to become a go-to guy on the Bulls power play late in the season, but the up-and-down development of the London, Ontario-native wasn't enough to land him an NHL contract. He is, however, a prime candidate to return to Belleville as an overager next year, where he should build on his 2009-10 career highs of 19 goals, 14 assists, and 33 points.

Sointu was a late 2008 pick, chosen by the Lightning in the seventh round, 182nd overall. At the time, Lightning head scout Jake Goertzen called Sointu a "finisher," and the pick seemed worth the chance on the smallish Finn who had just scored 21 goals in 41 games in Finnish juniors.

Sointu was coming off a decent showing for Finland's U-18 squad, with whom he scored three goals in the 2008 tournament. His 2008-09 season in Finland was basically lost due to a bad shoulder injury. He only played seven games with Ilves U20 that year, scoring a goal and an assist. In 2009, he was selected by the Ottawa 67's of the OHL in the Import Draft and made the jump to North America.

He began his OHL career with an assist in his first game and scored his first OHL goal in his fourth game, vs. DeCoste and Sault Ste. Marie. After 21 games and 10 points (3 goals), however, he was acquired by Sudbury to help add secondary scoring to the Wolves roster. It took him four games with the Wolves to find the scoresheet, then he finished 2-2-4 over seven games in December before joining Finland's World Junior Championships team entry.

Sointu performed admirably with Team Finland, earning three points (1 goal) in four games. He suffered a facial injury, however, and returned to Europe for surgery.

He would score twice in his first three games back with the Wolves, then proceeded to score only once more before his season ended. While his goal totals suffered, his assist totals went up, thanks in part to being on a line with likely 2010 first rounder John McFarland. Sointu finished March with nine points (1 goal) in seven games, including a four-assist game vs. DeCoste, Panik, and Belleville on March 5. He ended the season with a combined eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points in 51 games.

During the playoffs, Sointu started where he left off in the regular season, earning three assists in his playoff debut vs. Lightning prospect Alex Hutchings and Barrie. That would be the last time he'd find the scoresheet as Sudbury was swept in four games.

After all was said and done, the undersized Finn didn't fit into the Lightning's future plans and he's now free to return to Sudbury or Europe to continue his career. It's never a bad idea to take a flier on a smallish skill player in the late rounds, especially out of Europe. Sointu coming to North America was a huge plus for his exposure to both the Lightning and the North American game. He will likely have a fine career overseas should he choose to pursue that route.

A look back at the 2008 draft (round-overall pick):

1-1 Steven Stamkos, C: Signed in 2008. A budding superstar with the Lightning, and the first Lightning draftee since Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier in 1998 to earn 100 points in their NHL career.
4-117 James Wright, C/W: Signed in 2009. The surprise of the 2009 training camp signed and played 48 games with the Bolts before returning to Vancouver of the WHL for a long playoff run.
5-122 Dustin Tokarski, G: Signed in 2009. Starred for AHL Norfolk last season and is a potential AHL All-Star next season. He is Bolt Prospect's No.1 ranked player in the Lightning system.
5-147 Kyle DeCoste, C/W: Will re-enter the draft after an up and down year with SSM and Belleville.
6-152 Mark Barberio, D: Signed in 2010. The finalist for the 2010 QMJHL Defenseman of the Year set a career high for points this season, then led all QMJHL defensemen in playoff scoring en route to the Memorial Cup.
6-160 Luke Witkowski, D: Unsigned. Witkowski saw valuable playing time on the backline for Western Michigan of the NCAA this past season. His rights are retained through college.
7-182 Matias Sointu, W: Will re-enter the draft after coming to North America and seeing moderate success with Ottawa and Sudbury.
7-203 David Carle, D: Unsigned. The feel-good pick of the 2008 draft, then-owner Oren Koules chose Carle, who had just learned he'd never play hockey again due to a heart condition. Carle, the brother of ex-Bolt and current Flyer Matt Carle, is now a student-assistant coach for the University of Denver.