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N.A. Juniors Memorial Cup Game Night: 5/17

Windsor Spitfires 4 vs. Rimouski Oceanic 5 (Round Robin)
W/C Luca Cunti, RIM: 1-0-1,-1, 2 PIM (high sticking), 3 SOG
MemCup totals: 2 GP, 1-0-1, -2, 2 PIM
Playoff totals: 13 GP, 4-5-9, -2, 12 PIM
Season totals: 57 GP, 20-25-45, +10, 32 PIM

A fantastic game between the heavily-favored Spits and the host Oceanic. Cunti scored his first goal of the tournament on a one-timer down low off a nice feed from Kevin Veilleux (Penguins), after Veilleux performed a fancy toe-drag around the stick of a Windsor defender. Cunti nearly repaid him for the feed with a somewhat accidental set-up for a Grade A scoring chance late in the game. Veilleux's shot was stopped by Andrew Engelage, however. For a full report, see Pete's blog.

More Thoughts on Luca Cunti

Before I get into talking about how Luca Cunti played in today's game against Windsor at the Memorial Cup, I have to comment on what a great game Windsor and Rimouski played today. Unlike the snooze fest between Kelowna and Rimouski, l'Oceanic played with a lot of pride today in a game that had a little bit of everything: speed, hitting, lots of goals, a potential future #1 overall pick, and goal mouth thrills down to the wire of the game. People got their money's worth in this game.

Luca Cunti got a promotion in today's game to a line with 2007 2nd round pick Keven Veilleux, whose was selected by the Penguins. Their line came out really strong on their first shift to generate a scoring chance, but Veilleux got his teeth knocked out by Ryan Ellis on his second shift, so their line wasn't together for a good chunk of the first period. Cunti came out with the same speed be had against Kelowna early in the game, but Windsor seemed better prepared and wasn't giving him the corner. That really limited Cunti's effectiveness because he just didn't seem to be willing to fight through the opposing defenders to create chances. Rimouski really upped their physical intensity tonight over the opening game with Kelowna, but early on Cunti seemed to lack the same urgency. I said last game I'd like to see Cunti with better linemates, and that happened today. Now, I'd like to see Cunti play angry.

In the second period, it started out worse for Luca. He took a bad highsticking penalty against Ellis on a play at his point that resulted in an Ellis goal that tied the game at 1-1. He then took a big hit a shift or two afterward and made a bad turnover in his own zone. He made about two of those in the game. He tried to make up for it after a Windsor scoring chance by carrying it on a dangerous rush, but he sat for the next 5 minutes or so. When he got back out, the good Luca re-emerged. He got the puck on the rush and used his speed to swoop around the next on his first shift after getting back in to set up a chance on a pass across the crease at the far post. A shift after that he scored Rimouski's 4th goal on a nice give-and-go on the rush moving up through the neutral zone. He passed the puck in the neutral zone to Veilleux who crossed the blueline and drew the attention of Winsor's defenders because of his big shot. Cunti then cut right to the net with his speed and got a nice diagonal pass down low from Veilleux that he one timed into the net. Nice goal. In the third period he didn't get much ice time because Rimouski was on the PK most of the first half of the period and they were protecting a one goal lead late in the game. He almost set up Veilleux for an insurance goal on a play on the rush where he crossed Windsor's blueline and beat a defender with a nice inside-out stickhandling move. But, he lost control of the puck on the play and it ended up sliding to Veilleux who was going to the net and lifted it over the net.

He wasn't the fastest player on the rink today with Taylor Hall flying around for the Spitfires, and he was annoyingly passive at times, but once again Cunti's speed made a difference. He has game-changing speed the other team has to respect, and now Rimouski has an opportunity to advance in the tournament if they can knock off QMJHL champion Drummondville in their next game.

Kelowna Crushes Rimouski in Memorial Cup Opener

N.A. Juniors Game Night: 5/15

Kelowna Rockets 4 @ Rimouski Oceanic 1 (Memorial Cup Round Robin)
W/C Luca Cunti, RIM: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 2 SOG
Playoff totals: 13 GP, 4-5-9, -2, 12 PIM
Season totals: 57 GP, 20-25-45, +10, 32 PIM

Don’t let the final score fool you, if not for Rimouski goaltender Maxim Gougeon, the Rockets could have picked up where Drummondville left off and put a snowman on the Oceanic. Rimouski was outshot 42-20, including 17-8 in the first period where it looked like Kelowna was running offensive drills in the Oceanic zone. Tyler Myers (Sabres) had a goal and two assists in the game and was rather dominant. When that prospect fills out, he may be among the most dominant at the next level, too. Tyson Barrie, son of Lightning owner Len Barrie, also had a good game and showed a quick stick and decision making in his own zone to go with his offensive prowess. At one point the Sportsnet broadcasters mentioned speaking with scouts who say Tampa Bay early in the second round is a likely destination for Barrie at this summer’s draft.

As for the Lightning’s current prospect in the tournament, Cunti was arguably Rimouski’s most dangerous player, creating a half-dozen scoring chances – a couple of which were Grade A. For an excellent write-up on Cunti’s performance, see Pete’s blog post on the subject.

Thoughts on Luca Cunti

After watching Rimouski's opening game of the Memorial Cup Tournament tonight, I felt compelled to write a little about Luca Cunti.

Cunti didn't score tonight and Rimouski was clearly overmatched by the better team in Kelowna, but there's definitely something there with Cunti: speed. He has raw, pure, and undeniable speed. It's world class skating ability; a gift that simply can't be taught. There were times tonight where Rimouski's best and only chance of getting the puck out of their own end was to have Cunti carry it out himself, and his speed generated several scoring chances. Bear in mind, Kelowna's defense is very good (Tyler Myers is going to be an awesome NHL player), and there were times Cunti made them look like they were standing still. It was a 2000% improvement over the way Cunti looked at the start of the season at Traverse City. Sure, some of the same old criticisms of Cunti are still valid. He tended to float in the defensive zone, although he wasn't overtly cherry picking. He looked uncomfortable digging in the corners. He hogged the puck a bit (although that's partly due to the lacking quality of his linemates and the fact they simply couldn't keep up with his speed). There's definitely holes in his game and he's definitely a project. But, my word, he will back opposing defenses off the blueline with his speed. If you put him and Steven Stamkos on the same line 2-3 years down the line, I promise you there will be opposing defensemen going prematurely grey. Speed kills, and I'm closing my eyes and imagining what a line of Cunti, Stamkos, and maybe Dana Tyrell could do together. Have mercy.

There's some ambiguity, on our end at BoltProspects, as to whether Cunti's rights will be retained after June 1st or whether he's considered to have defected status as a player who was drafted out of Switzerland. It's one of the joys of the breakdown of the IIHF transfer agreement coupled with the new rules that were supposed to be enacted in the new CBA. We believe his rights will be retained past June 1st if he isn't signed. However, if the Lightning do indeed need to sign him before the end of the month in order to keep him, count me among the people who think that they should. The same is true for Edmonton goaltender Torrie Jung, whose rights definitely will be lost after June 1st. Both players could be returned to junior if there isn't room for them in Norfolk, and both players, in my mind, have the kind of athleticism the Lightning just shouldn't let get away.

Lawton Praises Tokarski, Harju

In an article for the Lightning's website, GM Brian Lawton praised late round picks Dustin Tokarski and Johan Harju. In particular, the article states there is a "strong opportunity" Harju will be signed for the 2010-2011 season. The money quote from Lawton regarding Harju:

“I wasn’t here or part of it, but he fits the late-round mold,” Lawton said. “Maybe he is a little older, for whatever reason hasn’t been drafted, but you can see he is coming. I commend the staff for a pick like that. We need to have more of them.”

BoltProspects respectfully poses the following question to Brian Lawton: while you're at it, why not acquire the rights to Harju's talented lifelong teammate Linus Omark from Edmonton? Just a thought.

Lightning Sign Mitch Fadden

(Tampa Bay/Norfolk release) The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed center Mitch Fadden to a standard, three-year rookie contract today, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced.

“We are excited for Mitch to begin his professional career next season,” Lawton said. “He had multiple 30-goal seasons in the WHL and is also responsible in his own end. Mitch adds depth to our organization at the center position.”

Memorial Cup Opens Friday

With Drummondville's 3-2 Game 7 victory over Shawinigan Tuesday night, the field for the 2009 Mastercard Memorial Cup is set. Luca Cunti and host Rimouski will open the tournament against WHL champion Kelowna on Friday night in Quebec. On Saturday, OHL champion Windsor plays the Q's Drummondville.

Newer Rumor - The Rumor Strikes Back

Sportsnet is reporting that Leafs GM Brian Burke has confirmed that the Lightning have asked for defensemen Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle as well as the 7th overall pick in exchange for the Lightning's 2nd overall pick in the June draft. Burke says that Schenn is the deal breaker for the Leafs.

Burke's interest in the #2 pick stems from his desire to draft London Knights center John Tavares, who may or may not be available depending on what the New York Islanders will do with the draft's top pick. Tavares was considered the top prospect in this draft going into the draft lottery, but a mediocre playoff performance by Tavares may have pushed behemoth Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman into the top slot. There also is at least one organization (Red Line Report) that believes that Tavares has been passed by speedy Brampton center Matt Duchene as well.

Where does this leave the Lightning? The ideal scenario has Hedman available at the #2 pick giving the Lightning the future #1 defenseman they so desperately need. If that doesn't come to pass, the Lightning must decide between drafting Tavares (or Duchene, who Lightning GM Brian Lawton recently scouted), or trading out of the pick. As long as the Lightning remember that they don't have to make a trade, the team should come out well ahead on draft day.

Selecting Tavares gives the Lightning a smaller, and arguably more talented version of Ottawa scorer Jason Spezza. It also gives them a one-two punch at forward only rivaled by Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh. That's not a bad situation to be in, and I suspect that with the Lightning scoring 4-5 goals a game it would certainly put people in the stands even if the team still struggles with keeping the puck out of the back of its own net.

A trade down can, and should, result in a king's ransom similar to the kind of deal the Lightning have reportedly demanded from Toronto. Personally, I think that asking for Schenn and Kaberle plus the 7th overall pick is a little too steep, but kudos to the Lightning for starting high in the negotation. If the Lightning could negotiate down to something along the lines of Luke Schenn and the 7th overall pick along with some other sweetener for the 2nd overall pick and a toss-in like Lukas Krajicek, it would be worth considering. That would give the Lightning a future shut-down defender in the mold of Adam Foote and the opportunity to choose between another shut-down defender like Jared Cowen, a Mike Richards-lite center like Luke's younger brother Brayden, the draft's best speedster in Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, or some other talented players like Minnesota's diminuitive playmaker Jordan Schroeder or Drummondville's top-notch offensive defenseman Dimitri Kulikov.

Now that's a rumor I could live with.

New Rumor - Malone, No.2 to Toronto?

From Fan590.com: Leafs Rumored In Deal With Lightning Hockey Night In Canada's Elliotte Friedman was on THE FAN Tuesday morning, revealing that there is a rumor floating around the NHL concerning the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs would trade the seventh overall pick in this summer's draft to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for the second overall pick - and more. Click here for the complete interview (8 minute mark). The Leafs would also acquire winger Ryan Malone and possibly another player. Malone signed a seven year-31.5 million dollar (U.S.) contract with the Lightning last summer. He is paid between 7-8 million in each of the first two years of the contract. The first year of that contract has expired. BP Note: Before dismissing this as just another rumor, keep in mind that this management group has proven to provide the fire when there's smoke in the media. Friedman states repeatedly that it is widely assumed around the league that the Leafs will end up with the No.2 pick.

Tocchet Loses Interim Label

(Tampabaylightning.com) The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Rick Tocchet to a multi-year contract to serve as the seventh head coach in team history, executive vice president and general manager Brian Lawton announced Monday. Tocchet becomes the team’s head coach after serving 66 games as interim coach during 2008-09. The job marks Tocchet’s first in the NHL as a permanent head coach.

A source told The Sporting News the deal was 2 years in length, not the standard 3 year deal as expected.

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