Smaby/Ramo Become Bolt Prospects Alumni
Tonight is a pretty special night for the staff here at Bolt Prospects. Tonight marked the 41st decision of the NHL career of Karri Ramo. It was also the 41st game of the season for Matt Smaby. Both are milestones for graduation from prospect status here at Bolt Prospects. Both young men are now considered NHLers in our eyes.
It's somewhat fitting that these two players should graduate on the same night. There have only been four players who have ever held the title of top rated prospect on this site. Smaby was the first when we debuted the rankings at the start of the 2005-2006 season. He held the title shortly for half a season before giving way to his teammate Ramo, who was standing on his head as a rookie for Springfield in the AHL. Ramo held the top spot before giving way to top draft pick Steven Stamkos, who graduated from prospect status earlier this season. Steve Downie earned the top spot in our Midterm Rankings shortly after Stamkos' graduation.
The road was long and arduous for both players. We started covering Smaby in another lifetime for another website as a young high schooler for Shattuck St. Mary's making the transition to big time NCAA hockey with North Dakota in the WCHA. We saw his stock wane in a sophomore year where the Lightning organization questioned if the NCAA style suited a player with the physical nastiness of Smaby, and we saw it shoot right back up in a junior season where he literally was putting opposing players in the hospital. We watched him develop through two and a half seasons in the minors in Springfield and Norfolk of the AHL. I even have one of Smaby's rookie jerseys from Springfield hanging in my closet. We saw him get a cup of coffee late in 2007-2008 and we saw him finally seize opportunity by the throat midway through this season when injuries necessitated that Smaby step up and prove he was ready for big boy hockey. It's been over five seasons since Smaby was drafted in the second round in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. In that time he went to college, signed his first pro contract, paid his dues developing in the minor leagues, and finally emerged as a man in full in the NHL. Let that be a lesson to those who would give up on the Lightning's young defensemen too quickly. Defense is a position that takes time and patience to cultivate.
Likewise, the road has been long for Karri Ramo, who went from an obscure prospect playing Junior A hockey for the Lahti Pelicans organization in Finland to an exciting young goaltender who looks poised to become Mike Smith's full time back up next season. We watched Ramo emerge during the lockout season in 2004-2005 to win more games in one month at 18 years old against grown men in the SM-liiga with Lahti than Pasi Nurminen, then the Atlanta Thrashers' starting goaltender, could manage the entire first half of that season. That was when Bolt Prospects and the Lightning knew they might have something special in their 2004 NHL Entry Draft 6th round pick. Ramo was snapped up by HPK in the SM-liiga where he was a tandem starter at 19 years old for a championship winning club. We watched him sign his first pro contract and emerge as Springfield's lone All-Star representative in a phenomenal rookie season. We watched him weather a high ankle sprain to start his 2007-2008 season to later make his NHL debut at 21 years old. We saw him struggle to start this season before finally returning to Tampa out of necessity to become an NHLer at the young age of 22. Ramo is just the second goaltender drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning to reach 41 NHL decisions and the first goaltender to be drafted, developed, and make the NHL through the team's pipeline. There is still much for Ramo to learn, as goaltenders take even longer than defensemen to reach their full potential. But, tonight is a night to reflect on just how far he has come already.
Smaby and Ramo are the 7th and 8th drafted prospects to reach the status of Bolt Prospects Alumni in our four seasons of operating the website. They join fellow graduates like Paul Ranger, Evgeny Artyukhin, Ryan Craig, and Steven Stamkos, as well as six other overage prospects like Mike Smith who became NHLers in a Lightning jersey. Looking forward to next season, defenseman Matt Lashoff and Downie appear poised to graduate early next season as both are not far from playing 82 career NHL games. With other prospects like Paul Szczechura knocking on the NHL's doors, it's not hard to project the 2009-2010 season as one which will undoubtedly see the induction of several new Bolt Prospects alumni.
Bolt Prospects will release its Final Rankings for the 2008-2009 season upon the completion of all of the team's prospects' respective playoff seasons, at which time Smaby and Ramo will be moved from the prospect rankings to the alumni list. Bolt Prospects will also release a Supplementary Rankings Update shortly after the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.