First Round, 29th Overall Pick

The Lightning have traded their first second round pick (#32) and their third round pick (#75) for the 29th pick in the first round.

Name: Carter Ashton
Position: RW
Height: 6.03
Weight: 205 lbs
Club: Lethbridge (WHL)
Shoots: Left
Rankings: CSS- 12 (North American Skater), Red Line- 22, THN- 20, TSN- 20
Statistics: Lethbridge (WHL), 70 GP, 30-20-50, 93 PIM, -5

The Lightning moved up to get a hard hat and lunch pail type power forward in Carter Ashton of the WHL. Ashton plays simple, meat and potatoes hockey. He forechecks hard, he's strong on the puck, and he drives the net. He has good straight line speed and agility but does not possess an explosive first step. Red Line describes him as a, "Tantalizing combination of a huge frame, good skating stride, and goal scoring hands," and projects him as a second line NHL player in the mold of Dustin Penner. TSN takes it a step further comparing Ashton to Bill Guerin.

One more detail that bears mentioning: although Ashton doesn't always bring a consistent level of physical play night in and night out, he's described as a frightningly good fighter if you provoke him. He's a bad, bad man with the mitts off.

First Round, 2nd Overall Pick

Name: Victor Hedman
Position: D
Height: 6.06
Weight: 220 lbs
Club: MODO (SWE)
Shoots: Left
Rankings: CSS- 1 (European Skater), Red Line- 1, THN-2 ISS- 3, TSN-2
Statistics: MODO (SWE), 43 GP, 7-14-21, 52 PIM, +21

For the second season in a row, the Lightning luck into getting the best player available at their biggest need. In Hedman, the Lightning get a legitimate number one defenseman who can step into the NHL right away after playing 20 minutes a night last season for MODO in the Elitserien. Red Line report calls Hedman, "A less edgy Chris Pronger," but it should be noted that Hedman also skates better than Pronger ever could, ranking 11th in this draft class according to Red Line in terms of the best skaters in the class. Aside from his mobility, Hedman has incredible poise and maturity, and does everything well. He's good under pressure with the puck and makes good decisions on when to move it and when to eat it. His passing is superb and has a big shot and loves to use the one-timer on the power play. The only knock is that Hedman doesn't have a mean streak, but he's got excellent range, and a great reach, and minds his gaps well. He's a true shut down defenseman in his own end, and his +21 rating in the Elitserien was tied for third best in the league, which is amazing for an 18 year old. Expect him to be a solid 40-50 point a year defenseman when he develops to his full potential in three or four seasons, and he'll make the entire defensive corps around him better because he can play 25 minutes a night, which will put the rest of the corps in roles they're more naturally suited for. In addition, he's so good defensively, he gives the Lightning license to go get a risk-taking offensive defenseman to pair with him.

Money quote from Red Line: "Has as much pure talent as any player in the last four drafts." Potentially better than Stamkos? Sign us up.

Let the Draft Chat Begin

We're starting up the chat now, for folks who's like to join the party at our own virtual Barnacles in Brandon. Try the fried calamari, or the mozerella sticks. The chat is open to anyone registered for the Bolt Prospects message board.

Calm Before the... Calm?

Right after word came down that goaltender Karri Ramo was bolting for Russia and that Gary Bettman had to have an emergency meeting with the ownership group, stoking speculation about a trade of Vincent Lecavalier, things seem to have settled down, at least on the hockey operations front. Speculation is that part owner Len Barrie would have to sign off on a Lecavalier trade, and he apparently won't, and GM Brian Lawton, who is allegedly an ally of part owner Oren Koules, sent out an e-mail reasserting he is the sole point of contact for any hockey operations decisions for the Lightning. My interpretation is that, as far as any big moves go, the two sides are at a stalemate, which might be the best Lightning fans can hope for in the short term from this three ring circus situation.

The Lightning seem on track to draft Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, according to Damian Crisdotero of the Times, presuming everything goes to plan and the Islanders take John Tavares with the first overall pick. If that goes down, we'll have a lot more on Hedman up on the site tomorrow night after the selection is made. Suffice it to say the scouting community generally has a glowing opinion of Hedman, and he might be the best prospect to come out since Sid Crosby was drafted. Yes, he might be better than Stamkos. The Lightning have the resources to move up into the late first round if there's a player they have an eye on, but Crisdotero speculated in a recent live chat that he doesn't expect the Lightning to make many moves. Personally, if Ryan Ellis or David Rundblad were to slip to about pick 22, I would try to pull the trigger to move up from 32, but if Crisdotero is be believed, that's not in the cards. Chances are those two d-men won't slip, so the point may be moot, but there's something compelling to me about getting an offensive minded righty shot partner for Hedman capable of racking up 50-60 point seasons. It's not often you get the chance to build your top pairing for a generation.

My guess is nothing earth shaking will happen over the weekend. Lecavalier will probably stay in Tampa one more season, and I suspect his level of play will determine whether Oren Koules, who looks destined to eventually win the power struggle, decides to keep him or jettison him. That's good news for Steven Stamkos, because Lecavalier will keep a lot of attention off Stammer's line, which makes a potential 40 goal sophomore campaign possible, in my opinion. I expect the Islanders to take Tavares, because their fan base would revolt otherwise, leaving the Lightning to again luck into drafting the perfect fit for their needs in Hedman. I expect the Lightning to keep their two second round picks, at which point we'll get to see what this new scouting staff is made of. At 32, there should be some good offensive defensemen available, which is a big organizational need. However, there will also be a handful of very interesting forwards on the board too like, perhaps, Morin or Budish who might attract the scouts' attention. At 52, you're hoping a sleeper slips through, or someone more highly ranked drops. One thing we do know: Tyson Barrie's probably not getting his name called at 52. Beyond that, I think Ramo's defection might cause the Lightning to grab a goaltender somewhere along the line, but it's a goalie poor year. If they take one, it'll probably be a late round flyer on a project, in my opinion.

The sad thing is, the ownership squabbles really seem to have sapped the energy out of the Lightning's draft. I doubt Lawton is really prepared to be as aggressive as he could have been given everything that has happened. It's also pretty awful that the ownership squabbles will overshadow the young draft picks the Lightning make on Friday and Saturday. A guy like Hedman will still get his ink, but the other six or so prospects the Lightning select will have to compete with the soap opera for column space, and they'll probably lose. That's a shame, because they've worked all their lives to get to this point too. One day we'll look back on all this and laugh, I hope. Just not today.

Draft Day Resources
The Lightning are tweeting their draft weekend on Twitter. I'm not cool enough to know how to do Twitter myself, but I do get amusement from imagining Lawton, Tocchet, and Koules all passing the same Blackberry/iPhone around furiously thumb typing about the quality of their breakfast at the hotel in Montreal. I'm sure it doesn't work that way, but it's a funny image none the less.

Erik Erlendsson of the Trib also knows how to tweet.

As of right now the Lightning hold seven picks, according to NHL.com's official draft pick page. The page also links to the CSS rankings.

TSN's Bob MacKenzie always does a solid write up on the top-60 draft prospects. It's probably the best free draft content on the web if you're looking for a general overview of the top players.

Last but not least, you can join Bolt Prospects in our virtual "Barnacles in Brandon" for a Lightning draft party that will start Friday night and end on Saturday at question marks. The flash chat will work for anyone who has a Bolt Prospects message board registration, so if you don't have one feel free to sign up. It's free to register, and you get to see the Bolt Prospects staff do a collaborative, feverish information dump on the prospects the Lightning select in real time, which is a sight to behold that was just too incredibly haphazard and funny to be confined to private instant messages any longer.

Espo is Right

Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune has a short article up interviewing former Lightning GM and NHL Hall of Famer Phil Esposito about the possibility that the Lightning may deal off Vincent Lecavalier by the end of the week. The money quote:

"If they deal Vinny, it's strictly money, period," Esposito said. "It can't be spun any other way. If you think you're making your team better, fine, but don't trade Vinny for money. I've been there. It's the wrong thing to do. Besides, if the Lightning get three players for him and they turn out to be decent, in two years you'll be paying them more then you're paying Vinny. It makes no sense."

The Godfather of the Lightning has spoken. Listen up, Oren Koules.

KHL/Omsk Signs Karri Ramo

Czech Hockey site hockejportal.cz is reporting that Avangard Omsk of the KHL has signed Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo to a two-year contract. Terms of the agreement are not known at this time, or whether Ramo has an NHL "out" in the contract.

Ramo's three-year entry-level contract with the Lightning expired at the end of the season and remains an NHL restricted free agent with Tampa holding his rights provided that the team issues a qualifying offer prior to the June 29th deadline. The Lightning have also lost forwards Radek Smolenak and Johan Harju to KHL contracts earlier in the summer. At this point, one might be led to speculate that a general lack of attention to prospect signings might be occuring in the vacuum left when the Lightning decided not to renew the contract of AGM Claude Loiselle.

BoltProspects contacted the Lightning for a comment about the Ramo signing but the team indicated they are not issuing any kind of formal statement at this time.

Update:
Damian Crisdotero of the St. Pete Times has confirmed with Ramo's agent that Ramo has signed a deal with Omsk. The deal includes an out clause that will allow Ramo to leave Russia after one season, but Ramo is indeed gone for the 2009-2010 campaign.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Ramo's agent is Mark Gandler, of Evgeny Artyukhin contract squabble fame.

Lightning 2009 NHL Entry Draft Preview

Here’s a bold statement: the Tampa Bay Lightning are fully capable of becoming Stanley Cup champions within the next five seasons. With two legitimate franchise centers in longtime stalwart Vincent Lecavalier and star wunderkind Steven Stamkos and a bevy of young goaltenders headlined by the ultra-competitive Mike Smith, the Lightning actually have many of the key components necessary to become an elite NHL team. That may seem like an insane statement coming off of a year that the Lightning finished second-to-last in the league, but between their core pieces and a bevy of other young complimentary players like Paul Ranger, Andrej Meszaros, and Matt Lashoff, the future in Tampa Bay is brighter than anyone is giving the team credit for. However, for the Lightning to reach their full potential, they must keep Lecavalier and they must capitalize on their draft position in the deep 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Make no mistake about it: this is the most important draft for the Lightning in 11 years. The 1998 draft was critical for the 2004 Stanley Cup team in supplying two core players (Lecavalier and Richards) and four players (including Dimitry Afanasenkov and Martin Cibak) overall to that championship roster. That draft seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime talent grab for the team, but with three picks in the top-60 in a talent rich year for youth, the new Lightning scouting staff might be set up to bring in an equally impressive fistfull of NHL talent. If they do, the Lightning may be just a few years away from reclimbing the ladder into the ranks of the NHL elite.

Wessbecker Earns Distinguished Scholar Honors

WGGB-TV out of Springfield, MA is reporting that Lightning University of Massachusettes-Amherst prospect defenseman John Wessbecker has been named to the HEAST All-Academic Team for the fourth consecutive year, earning him the Distinguish Scholar Award. Wessbecker, 22, completed his senior season at UMass-Amherst with 1 goal and 4 assists in 35 games as a stay-at-home blueliner. The Lighting have until August 15 to sign Wessbecker to an entry-level contract or he becomes a free agent.

Marshall Named to HEAST All-Academic Team

According to a story in the Burlington Free Press, Lightning University of Vermont prospect Matt Marshall has been named to the Hockey East All-Academic Team along with four other Catamounts for his freshman season of 2008-09. Congratulations to Matt on receiving this honor.

Smolenak Speaks About Jump to Europe

Lightning forward prospect Radek Smolenak discusses his decision to jump to the KHL next season instead of resigning with the Lightning organization in a story on the Czech hockey site hoke.cz

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.

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