Loosely translated, Smolenak admitted his decision to accept an offer from the Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the KHL "...was not easy decision. If I felt the chance that I will be in the first team and spend the entire season in the NHL, I would definitely stay. But more than to stay on the farm, I prefer to give priority to Russia. I had offers from other leagues, but the Continental League attracted me a lot..."
Smolenak declined to comment on the Lightning's embarrassing finish to the 2008-09 indicating that he only played a few games with Tampa and that was a question better suited for the executives and owners. Smolenak did suggest, "The fact is that the change was really a lot, maybe it could even wait a little." He did, however, address the question that many followers of Bolt prospects are wondering -- will he consider returning to North America? To that question, Radek indicated that he will play a season in the KHL to satisfy his curiosity and give the league a try, but that he certainly would like to return overseas.
According to a Regina, SASK based sports blog, rodpederson.com, the Tampa Bay Lightning are considering hiring Regina's Jamie Heward as a player/assistant coach, presumably with their AHL affiliate in Norfolk.
Not sure how reliable this news is, as technically the Toronto Maple Leafs retain Heward's rights until July 1. However, it is possible the Leafs could have given the Lightning permission to speak with Heward, but that seems doubtful considering the public sparring that has gone on between the GMs of the two clubs over Tampa's #2 overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft later this month.
Heward was an anchor for the Norfolk blueline early last season before injuries in Tampa led to his recall and eventual season-ending head injury from a controversial check by Capitals megastar Alexander Ovechkin. Controversy continued around Heward when the Lighting traded him along with injured goalie Olaf Kolzig, prospect bust Andy Rogers, and a 2009 draft pick to the Leafs at the trade deadline. Though approved by the league, the trade was heralded by pundits and fans as a rather obvious deal by Leafs GM Brian Burke to "purchase" a draft pick from the Lightning.
In just a few short hours, the two year run of goaltender Torrie Jung and defenseman Michael Ward as Tampa Bay Lightning prospects could end. As 2007 draftees out of Canadian juniors, both players are facing a June 1 deadline to be signed to entry level contracts by the Lightning or be returned to the 2009 NHL entry draft later this month in Montreal. The Lighting have already signed fellow 2007 draftees Dana Tyrell and Mitch Fadden, along with 2008 draftee Dustin Tokarski to three-year rookie contracts. Jung, who had a spectacular comeback season for the Edmonton Oil Kings, has seemingly played well enough to earn a contract, but faces considerable depth in the Lightning system behind Mike Smith, Karri Ramo, Riku Helenius, and the highly touted Tokarski. Ward, while showing a more pedestrian development and is considered somewhat of a longshot to earn a contract, would seemingly benefit from a general lack of blueline depth in the Lightning system.
Defenseman John Wessbecker, a 2007 NCAA draftee out of the University of Massachusettes-Amherst, faces an August 15 deadline as a graduating senior to sign an entry level contract or be released as an unrestricted free agent.
According to a story in the Daily Graphic/Central Plains Herald out of Manitoba, Portage Terriers goaltender Bryan Mountain has received an invitation to attend the Lightning rookie and prospect camp in mid-July. Mountain, who backstopped the Terriers to a second-straight MJHL Championship in 2008-09, will suit up for the Northeastern University Huskies next season, an NCAA Division 1 school out of Boston.
There's a similar story on the Portage team web site regarding Mountain's camp invitation complete with photos of the goaltender receiving the Turnbull Trophy as the MJHL playoffs top goaltender.
According to a story released today on the team's official website, the Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the KHL have signed Lightning left wing prospect Radek Smolenak to a contract for next season. Smolenak's three-year entry level contract with the Lightning expired at the end of this season, although Tampa could retain his NHL rights as restricted free agent by tendering a qualifying offer.
Smolenak seemed poised to push for a roster position next season with the Lightning next season after having a breakout season with Tampa's AHL minor league affiliate the Norfolk Admirals. Smolenak posted career highs in nearly every statistical category by posting 24 goals and 25 assists in 71 AHL games while amassing 165 penalty minutes. Smolenak recorded 1 assist in 6 games with the Lightning during a brief mid-season recall.
There is no word regarding the length of the contract Smolenak signed with the Petrochemists or whether the contract contains an "NHL out", and there is no word yet whether Tampa intends to retain his rights by tendering a qualifying offer to the tough left winger. Hat tip to the members of the BoltProspects message board for the heads-up on this story.
Damian Crisdotero speculates on his blog that the Lightning seem to be inclined to keep their second overall pick even if Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman goes off the board to the Islanders with the first overall pick. I somehow doubt the 300 percent increase in calls the Islanders are receiving for tickets is because of Hedman rather than John Tavares. Best of luck to Garth Snow trying to explain to the angry villagers with the tar and feathers why he didn't take a guy who scored 215 goals and 433 points in 247 career junior games for a team that finished second to last in the league in goals scored. Not that I'm trying to steer your decision, Garth. Crisdotero also cites the affordability of a capped entry level contract as one of the central reasons. I would cite Brian Burke's unwillingness to deal off Luke Schenn in a package for the pick.
He also includes the first full list of the Lightning's picks in this draft that I've seen with the overall pick numbers: Round 1 (No. 2 overall): Round 2 (32 and 52); Round 3 (75); Round 4 (93); Round 6 (161); Round 7 (182).
With the elimination of Rimouski in the Memorial Cup tournament, the 2008-2009 season has finally come to a close for all of the prospects of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. While the Lightning's record in 2008-2009 at the NHL was disappointing with the team finishing second to last in the league, the play of the team's youth was a bright spot. The team graduated three prospects this season: star center Steven Stamkos, physical defenseman Matt Smaby, and athletic netminder Karri Ramo. In addition, several other prospects made their NHL debuts this season, and most did not look out of place at hockey's top level. As a result, even with the graduation of three prospects, our Final Rankings for 2008-2009 reflect a solid roster of talent among the team's top prospects, which will only be added to in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft where the Lightning will hold three picks in the top sixty of the draft including the second overall pick.
As is customary, for those who have never read our rankings reports before, Bolt Prospects' rules are fairly simple. For skaters, a player is considered a prospect if they are less than 24 years of age on opening night of the Lightning's season and if they have not played 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games. The same age standard applies to goaltenders, but their thresholds for graduation from prospect status are different: 30 or more NHL decisions in a single season, or 41 or more career NHL decisions. NCAA players are still considered prospects at the age of 24 or older for as long as they remain in school. Bolt Prospects will issue a Supplementary Rankings Update in late June after the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Without further ado, here are Bolt Prospects' 2008-2009 Final Rankings:
N.A. Juniors Memorial Cup Game Night: 5/20
Drummondville Voltigeurs 3 vs. Rimouski Oceanic 2 (OT) (Round Robin)
W/C Luca Cunti, RIM: 1-0-1,-1, 0 PIM, 3 SOG
MemCup totals: 3 GP, 2-0-2, -3, 2 PIM
Playoff totals: 13 GP, 4-5-9, -2, 12 PIM
Season totals: 57 GP, 20-25-45, +10, 32 PIM
Rimouski dominated the Volts â€“ who had dominated them in a 4-0 playoff sweep weeks earlier â€“ but they simply couldnâ€™t figure out Volts goaltender Marco Cousineau (Ducks). Cousineau was outstanding in this game, making up for a very sub-par effort against Windsor the previous night.
Cunti scored the Oceanicâ€™s opening goal when he darted through the blue ice and knocked a rebound under Cousineau. The 'Nics outshot the Volts 41-20 and out chanced them by a large margin, also. Gabriel Dumont (N.A. No. 153 for 2009 draft) scored the OT winner on one of the few Drummondville chances when he won the puck along the sidewall from Felix Lefrancois (undrafted, unranked), darted into the middle, eluding Rimouskiâ€™s top defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon (Flyers), who tried to knock him over but missed horribly, then proceeded to get multiple shots on sprawled-out Rimouski goaltender Maxim Gougeon (undrafted) while Cunti weakly attempted to tie up his stick. Dumontâ€™s second shot went in over the outstretched arm of Gougeon, and Drummondville was sent on to the semifinals.
Rimouski (1-2) will play in a rematch with Windsor (1-2) â€“ a hard-fought 5-4 Oceanic win days ago â€“ in a tiebreaker game to produce the second semifinalist. NHL Network will have the game Thursday night.
For more on Cuntiâ€™s performance, see Peteâ€™s blog.
Note: Current Bolt Vincent Lecavalier and Lightning Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards were honored before the game by the Oceanic for their contributions to the team. Former Lightning Michel Ouellet was also present for the ceremonial face-off. Richards' No.39 and Lecavalier's No.4 are hanging in the Rimouski rafters. Both are considered legends in the small Quebec hockey-heavy city. Richards won MVP as he led the Oceanic to a Memorial Cup championship in Halifax in 2000.