Prospect Roster Speculation - Goaltenders and Defensemen

With the dog days of summer upon us there’s not much hockey talk these days unless it's shooting down a ridiculous trade rumor.

Sure, Brian Rolston, who was property of the Tampa Bay Lightning for what seemed like an hour a few years ago, was traded this week, but there hasn’t been much going on except roster speculation.

So, we'll take our turn and speculate on next year’s Lightning roster and how the club’s prospects factor in.

Today is rather easy: goaltenders and defense.

With the Lightning, the goaltending is set. Move along, there’s nothing to see here. As was said, easy.

Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon just signed one- and two-year contracts, respectively, and will man the pipes to start the year in Tampa.

The prospect with the best chance to make some noise is former Memorial Cup MVP and World Junior Championship gold medalist Dustin Tokarski, but the third year pro is set to start the year in Norfolk and serve as the team’s No.3/emergency goaltender.

Under previous Lightning management, there’s a chance Tokarski, ranked No.5 in the Bolt Prospects Top-20 (BP #5), could be with the big club in October, but the previous management long gone. Under Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman, he wants his prospects to get as much playing time as possible and we’ll be surprised if he doesn’t follow the Red Wings’ uber-patient approach with goaltenders.

Coming out of Maine, the Wings had high hopes for Jimmy Howard as their goaltender of the future, but let him spend nearly four full seasons with AHL Grand Rapids before giving him his shot. The patient approach worked as Howard had the mental maturity needed to play as a No.1 goaltender in the NHL.

With Roloson likely to retire after this season and Garon signed for one more year, it’s possible a Tokarski-Garon tandem could be leading the Lightning onto the ice to start the 2012-2013 season.

Tokarski is a big-game goaltender who’s proven in two years in Norfolk to be able to carry the team for long stretches. He was outstanding the playoffs for the Ads last year, posting a 2.19 goals against average and .924 save percentage. More consistency is needed, however, and the Lightning want him to play a full season as the Admirals’ No.1 goaltender this year. He didn’t play his best when fighting for time with Cedrick Desjardins last year, and looking back to WHL Spokane, wasn’t at his best while competing for playing time there, either, though to his credit it was early in his storied WHL career.

With no veteran No.3 signed this offseason by Tampa Bay, the job is Tokarski’s. His competition for No.1 in Norfolk will come from third year pro Jaroslav Janus (BP #15), who pulled even, if not ahead of Tokarski on the depth chart two years ago in Norfolk, and rookie pro Pat Nagle (BP #23). Despite being a rookie, Nagle is actually two years older than his 21 year old teammates Tokarski and Janus after spending four years at Ferris State University.

Janus spent most of last season in the ECHL as he recovered from a 2010 knee injury and didn’t play exceptionally well in his brief appearances for Norfolk. Nagle is an unknown for the most part, but at this point neither Nagle nor Janus is expected to knock Tokarski off the top of the goaltender heap in Norfolk.

The wildcard here is Nagle, who won a championship for Norfolk coach Jon Cooper when Cooper was coaching the St. Louis Bandits of the NAHL. That familiarity could work in Nagle’s favor in the Admirals back-up battle, but he’s a long way from Tampa Bay.

On defense, the NHL roster is basically set. There was a rumor that the Bolts were looking at hulking Belarusian defenseman Dmitri Korobov, but nothing has developed and noted Russian hockey writer Dmitry Chesnokov told Bolt Prospects he has heard nothing about Korobov possibly moving to the Lightning. Korobov, 22, is slated to play for KHL Minsk next season according to EliteProspects.com. Maybe next offseason.

Barring injury(ies), the Lightning will go into camp with Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, Pavel Kubina, Mattias Ohlund, Brett Clark, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Matt Gilroy, and Bruno Gervais on the blueline. Yzerman has indicated multiple times the team will carry eight defenseman to start the year.

In terms of the Bolts’ prospects on defense, none are really knocking at the door.

Scott Jackson (BP #20) got a cup of coffee a couple years ago, and the organization gave him a vote of confidence by re-signing the fifth year pro to a one-year contract this past season while others like Vladimir Mihalik were allowed to walk, but he’s unlikely to take anyone’s job in Tampa. Jackson, a former Blues’ second round pick, must pass through waivers to be sent down to Norfolk after training camp, but losing him shouldn’t be a possibility due to the timing and the fact another team would have to keep him on their NHL roster.

The prospect generating the most excitement on defense is Radko Gudas (BP #10), a second year pro with a penchant for hitting and getting under opponents’ skin. While Gudas may see a game or few this season, Yzerman wants his prospects to play and Gudas will get ample ice time in Norfolk. Although he’s a right-handed shot, Gudas will eventually be entertaining to watch on the left side of the defense in Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 system where he can step up and decapitate people like Mattias Ohlund has tried to do from that spot. Gudas had 17 points and a strong plus-15 rating as a rookie for Norfolk last season and scored 37 points in his rookie season in the WHL so he has more of a two-way game to offer. He’ll get a chance to develop that in Norfolk. Gudas will have to wait a year or two before becoming a crowd favorite in Tampa.

A darkhorse for an appearance in Tampa this year could be second year pro Mark Barberio (BP #9). The former finalist for the QMJHL’s top defenseman award with Moncton had a fine debut for the Admirals last year, finishing with 31 points in 68 games. While not the strongest skater, Barberio is very poised in his approach to the game, which is one of his most valued traits. He moves the puck quickly and efficiently and has a knack for finding open players. He’s looking more and more like a future NHLer and he and Gudas will be counted on for big minutes in Norfolk next year.

With eight Lightning defensemen on one-way contracts there simply doesn’t look to be any prospects making the club on the back end this season. If that depresses you as a prospect follower, keep in mind that Victor Hedman is still on his entry level contract and is younger than any of the prospects mentioned here.

Yeah, we thought that’d make you happy.

Look for our feature on forward prospects next week. That's where it gets (more) interesting.