With the 2009-2010 NHL season completed and the Chicago Blackhawks crowned as Stanley Cup champions, and the passing of the annual deadline to sign draft prospects, BoltProspects is pleased to release its 2009-2010 Final Rankings for the season. The release of the Final Rankings will precede a daily series we are going to be running up to draft day titled 11 for 6. 11 for 6 will examine the top 11 prospects we at BoltProspects feel fans should be aware of as the Lightning prepare to pick 6th overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Today, though, we will be releasing our final talent evaluation of the team's current prospects for the 2009-2010 season. As a consequence of the club's decision not to sign them, Kyle DeCoste  and Matias Sointu  have been dropped from consideration as their rights are no longer held by the team. Also, bear in mind that several of the prospects on the rankings have just completed their third or fourth professional seasons and are restricted free agents, some of which may not receive qualifying offers from the Lightning thereby relinquishing their rights. Until qualifying offers are announced, though, all of those prospects remain eligible for the list.
The rules that define a prospect remain the same as always on BoltProspects. To be considered a prospect for the sake of our rankings, a player must be under 24 years of age on the Lightning's opening night of the NHL season. Players 24 or over are considered overage prospects and are no longer eligible for consideration. The exception to this rule are NCAA based players, who are considered prospects for the tenure of their college careers. For the skating positions, a prospect is considered graduated if they play 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games. For goaltenders, a player who has 30 or more NHL decisions in a single season or 41 or more career NHL decisions is considered graduated and no longer eligible for the list.
With the advertising and legal disclaimers out of the way, here are the Final Rankings...
1.) G Dustin Tokarski , Norfolk (AHL)
He had a winning record, 4 shutouts, and a very solid .915 save percentage as a rookie playing behind a very inexperienced defensive corps in Norfolk. He also shouldered the burden for the Admirals in the final month of the season after Janus went down with knee surgery. Did we mention he was a rookie? We expect the Lightning to take their time with Tic and give him at least another season in Norfolk, but he's the real deal.
2.) RW Carter Ashton , Regina (WHL)
Ashton had subpar numbers in junior last season but looked surprisingly quick and strong at times in his 11 game amateur tryout with Norfolk at the end of the year, despite being the youngest player in an Admirals uniform. New GM Steve Yzerman is talking Ashton up as a potential scoring line solution for next season.
3.) RW Richard Panik , Belleville (OHL)
Panik had a wide-ranging, interesting season, going from OHL juggernaut Windsor, to the Slovakian U20 WJC team, to OHL jugger-not Belleville, to an ATO with Norfolk in the AHL, to the Slovakian World Championships team. What we learned? Panik has the tools, but probably needs a year in the minors to put it all together. He's strong as an ox and very skilled with the puck. The Lightning have the option of signing Panik and placing him in Norfolk of the AHL next season.
4.) RW Dana Tyrell , Norfolk (AHL)
As presaged by BoltProspects, Tyrell had a huge second half and ended up being Norfolk's leader in assists at season's end. Tyrell's speed could melt the paint off the side boards. Don't be surprised if he makes the Lightning out of camp.
5.)LW/C Johan Harju , Dynamo Moscow (RUS)
Harju has already signed a one-year deal with the Lightning and redeemed himself after a lost season with Dynamo Moscow in the KHL by being one of Sweden's best forwards at the World Championships. He's got better than even odds at making the Lightning, especially considering he's extremely versatile. He can play both wing positions and showed this year in the KHL he's very capable in the faceoff circles as a centerman. His calling card when he played in Sweden, though, was as a big time goal scorer. Some think he could be the second coming of Johan Franzen.
6.) LW/C Alex Killorn , Harvard (ECACHL)
Killorn remains the best Lightning prospect no one ever talks about as he remains neatly stashed at Ivy League Harvard. Killorn has speed, a high skill level, and leadership intangibles. Expect him to be a player new GM Steve Yzerman falls in love with. In fact, with Montreal first rounder Louis Leblanc likely leaving Harvard early, Yzerman may choose to pursue signing Killorn early this summer if he reacts the same way to Killorn as almost all the folks in the Lightning brass have in the past.
7.) D Ty Wishart , Norfolk (AHL)
Wishart proved his offensive upside by leading all Admirals defensemen with 9 goals and 32 points last season, but saw his plus-minus suffer in the process. After looking solid positionally as a rookie, he looked lost at times last year. The trick now will be for Wishart to balance the offensive and defensive sides of his game in Norfolk in the final year of his entry-level deal. One problem potentially looms, though. Will the more lumbersome Wishart be able to adapt to new coach Guy Boucher's system?
8.) G Jaroslav Janus , Norfolk (AHL)
Janus was so good this season that he forced a former first rounder across the ocean to Sweden and actually outpaced wunderkind Dustin Tokarski by posting an eye-popping .922 save percentage in 13 games with Norfolk. Janus is extremely athletic and extremely competitive, and could quietly be the best long-term goaltending prospect the Lightning have.
9.) LW/C Alex Hutchings , Barrie (OHL)
An injury plagued playoffs put a damper on an otherwise superb season for Hutchings, who had 47 goals and 81 points in 68 games. Hutchings has speed to burn and a good motor. Expect him to start in Norfolk next season where he begins to prove his meddle as a Brian Gionta clone. Many of the league's other scouting staffs are already cursing themselves for letting Hutchings slip all the way to the 4th round of last year's draft.
10.) D Matt Lashoff , Norfolk (AHL)
Lashoff is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He rebounded after a poor first half to finish with 8 goals and 24 points for the Admirals, but he never really put a dent in his poor plus-minus rating. No one doubts Lashoff's skating ability and his soft hands, the problem is his lack of defensive polish and willingness to stick his nose in along the wall. Still, of all the Norfolk defenders, Lashoff probably is the closest to making the NHL, and he might be an ideal fit for Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system.
11.) C Mitch Fadden , Norfolk (AHL)
Fadden shook off an injury riddled first half with Norfolk and came on strong in the second half displaying his skill and playmaking ability. He finished the year with 7 goals and 19 points for the Admirals and proved he is a dangerous offensive player at the AHL level. The next step is for Fadden to prove he can better use his linemates on the rush and in the offensive zone, and continue to improve in the defensive zone and along the wall. With his skill level, he's a player who could move up faster under GM Steve Yzerman.
12.) D Vladimir Mihalik , Norfolk (AHL)
Mihalik staunched the bleeding by stopping the slide of his stock with a solid, but unspectacular season for Norfolk. He learned how to prepare like a pro and had a solid defensive season, but he hasn't developed offensively in three seasons and his first step was painfully slow in a late season call-up with the Lightning. He's waiver eligible next season, but we doubt anyone will want Mihalik as long as his skating makes him so pylonesque. If ever there was a player who wasn't made for Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system, Mihalik might be it.
13.) C/RW Blair Jones , Norfolk (AHL)
Jones had a disappointing end to his year after almost breaking through and making the Lightning full time around mid-season. The team has to decide whether to re-qualify Jones, and as more of a lunch pail style power forward, he may not be a good fit for Steve Yzerman's Lightning. Consistency issues remain the central challenge of Jones' professional career.
14.) D Mark Barberio , Moncton (QMJHL)
Barberio capped a monster year for Moncton in which he had 17 goals and 60 points in 65 games with a QMJHL championship and a Memorial Cup berth. Barberio's always been knocked for having an awkward skating stride, but it's never stopped him from putting up huge numbers in the Quebec league and playing 20+ minutes every single night for the Wildcats. Expect him to become a fixture on the blueline for Norfolk next season.
15.) G Riku Helenius , Sodertalje (SWE)
Riku Helenius rebounded to play very well for Elitserien club Sodertalje at the end of their regular season and in the Kval till Elitserien series after being chased out of North America by an emerging Jaroslav Janus. Helenius has one more year left in his entry-level deal, but the Lightning have reportedly already given Helenius permission to stay with Sodertalje next season. That may be a much better spot for his development than in the three-headed Tokjanius monster in Norfolk. He'll get lots of starts in a very good league, and could play himself back onto the radar quickly.
16.) Juraj Simek , Norfolk (AHL)
The Lightning also need to make a decision on Simek, whose entry-level deal is now up. Simek set career highs with 21 goals and 36 points for Norfolk and continued to show good speed and above average hands, but has yet to see NHL regular season ice. Will he get a new lease on life under a new GM, or will he decide to head to Europe?
17.) D Scott Jackson , Norfolk (AHL)
Jackson, a former 2nd round pick of St. Louis, quietly was Norfolk's strongest defensive blueliner last season playing over 20 minutes a night on the team's top pairing. At a spindley 6'4", Jackson reminds BoltProspects of ex-Lightning d-man Nolan Pratt and he earned his call-up to the team at the very end of the regular season. Unfortunately, the slow of foot may not be terribly attractive to new coach Guy Boucher, and speed has never been Jackson's strong suit.
18.) D Kevin Quick , Norfolk (AHL)
Next season is a moment of truth for Kevin Quick. After showing up to training camp out of shape and eventually breaking his foot in the regular season, the 2009-2010 campaign was a lost season for Quick. His 4 assists in 47 games was a colossal disappointment and now Quick must meet the challenge in the final season of his entry-level deal. Quick has the wheels and at times has shown an incredible ability to push the play, but he's never had the numbers to show for it. It has to start now. If ever there was a prospect who was made for Guy Boucher's 1-3-1, it's Kevin Quick. If he doesn't step up now, he's got no one to blame but himself.
19.) RW Martins Karsums , Dynamo Riga (KHL)
After falling flat on his face in Lightning training camp, Martins Karsums was quickly dispatched to Norfolk where he played an uninspired half a season of hockey before leaving for Dynamo Riga and the Latvian Olympic team. Karsums played better in Russia and for his national team at the Olympics and World Championships, but at this stage of the game it appears his game is not suited for the tighter checking and smaller ice surfaces of North America. We doubt he will even receive a qualifying offer from the Lightning.
20.) LW Radek Smolenak , Abbotsford (AHL)
Smolenak has already signed with Sparta Praha of the Czech league and is also unlikely to be qualified. Despite a high battle level and a good shot, Smolenak has managed to tick off just about every coach in the AHL he's played for. As a consequence, we don't expect to see the former third round pick back.
21.) D Luke Witkowski , Western Michigan (WCHA)
Witkowski got decent ice time as a freshman with Western Michigan, playing 32 games for the Broncos. He's a long-term project, but he's got a good battle level and leadership intangibles.
22.) C Matt Marshall , Vermont (HEAST)
Next season, Marshall's junior year, will be the year when our expectations ratchet up. Marshall has world class speed, but has only managed 2 goals as an underclassman for the Catamounts. With more ice time and responsibility, we expect Marshall to be much more of a contributor next season.
23.) C Denis Kazionov , Ekaterinburg (RUS)
After bouncing around for most of his young career between different teams in Russia and brief stop in the Czech Republic, Kazionov finally stuck for a full season with Ekaterinburg in the KHL last year. His play was impressive enough to earn a transfer to the more highly regarded Mytischi organization. Kazionov's a big, strong young center who turns 23 in December and may be a late bloomer.
24.) RW/C Chris Lawrence , Norfolk (AHL)
Lawrence played well the final month of the season for the Admirals and became one of the club's best defensive forwards. That said, at the end of his three year entry-level deal, Lawrence has just 10 goals total in his AHL career after scoring 47 in his final junior season with Mississauga. In other words, it's hard to believe the big forward will be qualified by the Lightning.
25.) D Kirill Gotovets , Shattuck St. Mary's (USHS)
Gotovets only had modest numbers in the US prep ranks this season, but he ended his year with the honor of playing for Belarus at the World Championships. He didn't play much, or all that well, but that's a considerable achievement for such a young player. He's slated to head to Cornell of the ECACHL starting in the Fall.