CHL Exhibition Update

In recent CHL exhibition action:

Richard Panik (2009 2nd) had a goal and three assists in a 5-3 Windsor exhibition win over Plymouth Saturday afternoon. Panik has three goals and five assists in his first two North American games. And he's not even playing next to likely 2010 No.1 overall pick Taylor Hall yet. Panik couldn't be in a better situation. He's playing for a coach (Bob "The Boogie Man" Boughner) and GM (Warren Rychel) who were both hard-nosed, disciplined players and expect the same out of their Spitfire players. As the defending Memorial Cup and OHL champions, and expected 2010 champion for both, the Spits will be in Canada's spotlight and have targets on their backs all year. They'll get everyone's A-game defensively. This should help Panik speed his development for NHL play. Finally, he'll be surrounded by players such as Hall, Ryan Ellis, and Cam Fowler, which means he has a very high statistical ceiling. This will be fun to watch.

Goaltender Jaroslav Janus made his exhibition debut for Erie Saturday, stopping 31 shots in a 4-4 tie with Niagara. Janus can return to Erie this year as an overager, though there was speculation he'd go to Europe or be signed by the Lightning and placed in the Central League or assigned to an ECHL team. It's good to see him back with the Otters, even if it's just to get work before Tampa Bay's rookie camp this week.

The "other" 2009 Lightning first rounder, Carter Ashton, had an assist for Lethbridge in preseason action Friday.

Matias Sointu, who is making his North American debut with Ottawa this year, has one assist through two exhibition games for the 67's. Sointu missed most of last season with an injury in Finland.

The Q opens regular season play this week, so look for BoltProspects' Game Night summaries to appear shortly.

Brian Lawton's Offseason Report Card: A

We're still about a month away from the puck dropping on another NHL season, but the prospect season begins this week when Dimitri Kazionov's Ak Bars Kazan club lets the KHL regular season out of the barn. Shortly thereafter the Lightning will open camp for one of the most interesting and promise-filled seasons they've embarked upon in some time. There are still a few finishing touches that need to be put on the work, as there will likely be some key waiver decisions and possibly another trade, but now seems as good a time as any to evaluate what sophomore GM Brian Lawton did this summer.

Welcome to North America, Mr. Panik

(Windsor Star) It may not always be the case when it comes to their cars, but Windsorites sure like European imports on the ice. Slovakian winger (and Lightning 2009 second rounder) Richard Panik set about making fans forget about the loss of slick Russian centre Andrei Loktionov to the Los Angeles Kings with an impressive display of power, speed and trickery. Panik was simply the best player on the ice by a wide margin in scoring a pair of goals and adding two assists in Windsor's 5-3 win over the Sarnia Sting in the exhibition-season opener for both clubs Thursday. For the rest of the story, see the Windsor Star by [url=http://www2.canada.com/windsorstar/news/sports/story.html?id=648315d7-a3ee-4d29-834d-a4d4ac9dc565]clicking here[/url]. (Star photo)

Lightning Release Rookie Camp Roster

(Lightning Facebook page:) The Tampa Bay Lightning will hold a rookie camp in preparation for the opening of their 2009-10 training camp, which begins on September 12, at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum September 8-11.

The camp will feature two on-ice sessions per day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. The camp is free and open to the public.

Rookie Camp Roster:

It's Official: Tanguay a member of the Lightning

(Tampa Bay Lightning release) The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed free agent left wing Alex Tanguay to a one-year contract today, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced.

“We are extremely pleased to announce Alex’s signing today,” Lawton said. “He is a player we had targeted some time and I could not be happier about welcoming him to the Lightning organization. We fully recognized the need for another top six forward and in signing Alex we feel we could not have possibly done any better.”

DeCoste Determined Heading into Pivotal Season

([url=http://beta.saultstar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1721672]Sault Star Feature[/url]) When asked, there's no hesitation. Kyle DeCoste quickly admits that yes, this is the biggest year of his life. A fifth-round draft choice of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, DeCoste's play over the next several months will determine whether he gets a professional contract. But it may take the London, Ont., native some time to be completely ready for his fourth Ontario Hockey League season. The 19-year-old right-winger, who joined the Soo Greyhounds just before last season's Jan. 10 trade deadline, is recovering from shoulder surgery in April. The six-foot-two, 196- pounder, is "almost 100 per cent back," after having a torn labrum (cartilage) repaired on his left side. But the surgery kept DeCoste, who scored 15 times a season ago, including seven in 26 games for the Greyhounds, from training the way he needed to. For the rest of the story, see the Sault Star by [url=http://beta.saultstar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1721672]clicking here[/url].

Tanguay to Tampa?

RDS [url=http://www.rds.ca/hockey/chroniques/281306.html]is reporting[/url] free agent winger Alex Tanguay will sign a one-year contract with the Lightning. Tanguay spoke two weeks ago with current Bolts and fellow Quebec-natives Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, apparently seeking information on living and playing in Tampa. Tanguay would be a huge signing for Tampa Bay, as the club has a large hole or two to fill among the top-6 forwards. The club has not announced any signing, but with Fan Fest Saturday, it's possible an announcement could be made at that time. Update: The Tampa Tribune's Erik Erlendsson, via [url=http://www.twitter.com/erlendssontrib]Twitter[/url], confirms after speaking with a source that Tanguay has agreed to terms on a one year deal with the Lightning, but it won't be official until early next week as Tanguay has to take a physical. TSN also reports a contract is pending a physical. Stay tuned.

On Smolenak and Lashoff

Two very interesting and unrelated things happened today with the signing of Bolt Prospects #2 rated prospect Matt Lashoff and the release by KHL club Nizhnekamsk Bolt Prospects #17 rated prospect Radek Smolenak. Despite the wide disparity in terms of where they sit on the rankings, both prospects could still find themselves making significant contributions to the Lightning this season.

First, about Smolenak: the rumors I have heard suggest that Radek was pretty upset about not getting a recall in the second half of last season and I suspect that may have come up prominently in his discussions with the team before he left North America for the offseason. Given how quickly he signed with Nizhnekamsk once he left, I also suspect it would be fairly easy for there to be some bruised feelings on the Lightning's side too. With all that said, though, Smolenak's unexpected dismissal from Nizhnekamsk should be seen as an opportunity for both sides to potentially benefit after a short divorce, and I hope the Lightning are reaching out to Smolenak and his agent to let him know that there is still a place for him in the organization.

Smolenak is a player who is on the cusp of being an NHL player. His deficiencies are clear: he needs to get better defensively in his third of the rink and he doesn't have world class speed. That said, his strengths are equally clear in that he possesses considerably grit and physical bravery, especially around the opposing team's net, and a finisher's touch with a quick release and a razor sharp shot. The Lightning go into the 2009-2010 campaign with very little for certain on their lower lines. It's hard to envision anyone other than Jeff Halpern, Stephane Veilleux, and Adam Hall having a lower line job locked up in Tampa this coming season. The other three or four spots on the roster are open to a world class free-for-all, and a player with Smolenak's peculiar combination of grit and skill could find himself drawing a big league paycheck with a good camp. True, that assumes Smolenak has been training and conditioning properly and can shift his mindset from the disappointment of his release from Nizhnekamsk and any hard feelings that still linger with the Lightning toward leaving it all on the line to make the team. It also assumes that there are no legal entanglements in Smolenak's Russian deal and that he is a complete free agent and that the Lightning are interested in bring Smolenak back across the pond. But it's a possibility, and it's a possibility with very little downside as the worst case scenario would be the Lightning having Smolenak waiting down in Norfolk again playing for an AHL club that could desperately use his 20-30 potential goals at that level. If it's possible, and both sides are willing, they should make a fourth year for Smolenak in the organization happen.

And then there's Matt Lashoff, who was one of the few exciting reasons to watch a Lightning game late in a failed season last year after he was acquired at the trade deadline for Mark Recchi. I mention Lashoff as a bubble player not because I think he'll be sent down to the AHL, but because the numbers game may make it difficult for Lashoff to receive the ice time he needs to reach his considerable potential. Make no mistake, the skating ability Lashoff possesses is a rare and breathtaking assett. The kind of smooth, powerful acceleration that Lashoff has is special, and the fact he possesses soft hands and an ability to distribute the puck well makes him a potential force for the Lightning. But he finds himself at the bottom end of a logjam that includes new addition Mattias Ohlund and the returning Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros, who missed the second half of last season with injury. Lashoff has the ability to every bit as good as those three players and it's not hard to envision a future where he could become a perennial 30-40 point a year defenseman who is well capable of playing 20-22 minutes a night. True, to get to that time Lashoff must commit to paying attention to detail in his own end of the rink and to showing more edge and willingness to battle to win puck battles. But, the possibilities are almost boundless for Lashoff, and so it would be foolish for the Lightning to not commit to making sure Lashoff recieves every opportunity to reach his potential and equally foolish for Lashoff not to step up and make sure he makes clear to Coach Tocchet that he refuses to slip off the bubble.

Smolenak and Lashoff are just two of a host of young players, from Steve Downie to Blair Jones, who have the potential to contribute greatly to a revival in Tampa Bay starting next season. And, starting next month with training camp, a great story is going to be written by some of these players, and it's a story that I can't even guess the outcome of. Maybe that's why two obscure transactions in the dog days of August made me excited for hockey, and the promise of a new season. Let's get it cranked up.

Bolts Ink Matt Lashoff For Two Years

The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed defenseman Matt Lashoff to a two-year contract, Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced today. “We were extremely pleased to bring Matt into the fold at the trade deadline,” Lawton said. “We are even more excited to get him under contract for the upcoming season. His signing today only further enhances the overall depth of our organization at defense as we head into training camp.”

Lashoff, 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, has played in 58 career NHL games with the Lightning and the Boston Bruins, recording a goal and 15 points. The 22-year-old played in 12 games with Tampa Bay after being acquired from Boston, recording seven assists.

A native of East Greenbush, New York, Lashoff played in a career-high 28 NHL games during the season with the Lightning and Bruins, posting career bests for assists and points with eight. He averaged a career-high 23:46 in ice time with Tampa Bay and recorded a point in three of his first four games with the Lightning.

Nizhnekamsk Cuts Smolenak During KHL Pre-season

Reports have surface on the Czech site iDNES.cz that Nizhnekamsk of the KHL has cut Bolt prospect forward Radek Smolenak from its pre-season roster. Smolenak had signed a contract with Nizhnekamsk at the end of May 2009 after his entry level deal with the Lightning expired. Smolenak's defection back to Europe came as a surprise after a somewhat successful six-game debut with Tampa during the 2008-09 season. The 22 year old left winger posted a career year bagging 24 goals and 25 assists along with 165 penalty minutes in 71 games for the AHL Norfolk Admirals after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Lightning. Heading into the 2009 summer, it appeared that Smolenak was poised to push for a Lightning roster spot in the 2009-10 training camp, but his decision to forego resigning with Tampa as a restricted free agent signaled that he wasn't interested in the possibility of returning to Norfolk.

"It all happened quickly. I joined the preparatory matches and trained, but the mood overall was very good. In the four games we'd succumbed, then head of the club announced that Neftekhimik issue a bit differently," Smolenak said in a loosely translated quote from the Czech web site. Smolenak further indicated he had no immediate plans as to the next stop for his hockey career, but the Bolts continue to hold his NHL rights after issuing the gritty winger a qualifying offer in June. With the trade of the speedy and physical Evgeny Artyukhin to Anaheim earlier this month, the Lightning may very well still be interested in getting Smolenak back to North America for the 2009-10 season.

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