Now that the 2010-2011 NHL season is underway it is time for BoltProspects' 2010-2011 Preliminary Rankings of the Lightning's top twenty-five prospects. This year's installment reflects a talent pool that has both high-end prospects and depth for perhaps the first time in the club's history, a fact that was celebrated by both GM Steve Yzerman and Head Coach Guy Boucher during training camp this fall. The Lightning is still looking for high end talent at the defenseman position, but at forward and between the pipes there's no doubting the potential.
Before we proceed, I am required to recite the BoltProspects prospect criteria rules. As always, any player 24 years of age or older on opening night of the Lightning's season (10/9/10) is not eligible for inclusion on the list and will be considered an overage prospect. The prime example of this rule is versatile forward Johan Harju , who turned 24 in May, and therefore is not eligible for this year's list. The same is true for forward Blair Jones , who turned 24 in September. The exception to this rule is NCAA-based players, who remain eligible for the list until the completion of their college careers. Prospects under 24 will be considered graduated to the NHL level when they meet the appropriate criteria for games played or decisions. For skaters, any player who appears in 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games is no longer considered a prospect. For goaltenders, any netminder who has 30 or more decisions in a single NHL season or 41 or more career NHL decisions will be considered graduated.
Now that that's out of the way, Guy Boucher says no more d-to-d passes. Let's go:
1.) RW Brett Connolly , Prince George (WHL)
So far, Brett Connolly has passed every test that he has faced since his semi-controversial selection by the Lightning in the first round of the June draft. Connolly, who faced questions about an injured hip that he refused to have an MRI conducted on, was one of the Lightning's leading scorers at the Traverse City prospect tournament and also had a strong training camp with the big club. He was lackluster in limited exhibition action for the team, but has lit it up since being returned to Prince George of the WHL. Connolly has earned comparisons to San Jose's Patrick Marleau for his smooth, almost effortless ability to put points on the board.
2.) G Dustin Tokarski , Norfolk (AHL)
When the Lightning signed goaltender Dan Ellis  to a two-year contract this summer, they did so with the seeming intention that Dustin Tokarski would take over the starting position in Tampa Bay at the end of that term. Though small in stature, Tokarski exhibits the ability to make himself large in the net with excellent positioning and calm, economical movement in his crease. He's also shown a winner's penchant for showing up big in big games throughout his young career. When you think of Tokarski, think of a Marty Turco-esque talent who is less adventurous handling the puck.
3.) RW Carter Ashton , Regina (WHL)
After a decent Traverse City tournament and training camp, no prospect had a better exhibition season with the Lightning than 2009 first rounder Carter Ashton. The big power forward showed good strength around the opposition's net and feathery soft hands in tight with a couple of great finishes. Unfortunately, after being returned to Regina, Ashton has gotten off to a bit of a slow start in the WHL. Still, the Lightning see a younger version of Ryan Malone , with more burst, in Carter Ashton.
4.) RW Richard Panik , Belleville (OHL)
The Lightning have been waiting patiently for man-child Richard Panik to turn the corner developmentally, and he appears to have done so since being returned to Belleville of the OHL. The strong, sturdy forward had a decent Traverse City tournament and drew praise in the early days of the Lightning training camp. He didn't leave camp with a contract, though, which is something he appears to be dead set on rectifying given his blazing fast start to the OHL season. Panik, who was considered a potential lottery pick a year before the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, is often compared to fellow Slovakian forward Marian Hossa for his uncanny strength on the puck and his high skill level.
5.) RW Dana Tyrell , Tampa Bay (NHL)
In the end, only one prospect survived to make the Lightning's opening night roster: speedster Dana Tyrell. If the adage is true and speed indeed kills, then Tyrell should be classified as a weapon of mass destruction. His acceleration and top end speed is mind-blowing and he plays the game with an extremely high motor and zero fear of getting his nose dirty. In the long term, as he begins to work his way up from the checking lines over the next few years, the Lightning may have a grittier version of Antoine Vermette.
6.) LW Mattias Ritola , Tampa Bay (NHL)
Right before the start of the season, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman decided to raid his former organization by snagging forward Mattias Ritola off waivers from the Red Wings. Ritola is small in stature, but he's a good skater with a high skill level who is responsible enough defensively to also play in a checking line role. That's the reason the Wings re-signed Ritola to a three-year deal this summer and why they couldn't have been happy to see him plucked away.
7.) C Alex Killorn , Harvard (ECACHL)
With Montreal first rounder Louis Leblanc leaving town, there's little doubt Harvard will have to rely on junior forward Alex Killorn this season. Because he plays out of the lineup at an Ivy League school, which also serves to limit his participation in other Lightning prospect functions, Killorn has remained the team's stealth prospect. Killorn is an extremely well-rounded prospect who skates well, has good skill, and strong leadership skills. With Leblanc gone, and Harvard struggling after two sub-par seasons, it may fall on Killorn, who has been compared to Brian Rolston, to turn that program around.
8.) D Ty Wishart , Norfolk (AHL)
This is the year for Ty Wishart to start to meld the two parts of his game together. Two years ago, as a rookie, Wishart displayed good positioning in his defensive zone and a calm, composed demeanor with the puck, but the former Sharks first rounder struggled to post more than anemic offensive numbers. Last year, Wishart led Norfolk's defenders with 9 goals and 32 points, but he was pitiful in his own zone in the process. Entering his third pro season, can Wishart finally put it all together?
9.) RW Alex Hutchings , Norfolk (AHL)
The grand theft of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft may have been fourth round selection Alex Hutchings. The smallish yapper put up numbers in junior hockey the likes of which hadn't been seen in Barrie since Atlanta's Brian Little was a Colt. Fresh off of last year's 47 goal and 81 point campaign in the OHL, Hutchings was signed at the end of training camp and placed with Norfolk of the AHL. Hutchings needs to build strength over the next couple of seasons, but he brings a lot of speed, a lot of skill, and a lot of passion to the rink and has drawn comparisons to Brian Gionta for his play.
10.) G Jaroslav Janus , Norfolk (AHL)
The Lightning really have an embarrassment of riches in goaltending prospects, and one of the jewels they have is 2009 sixth round choice Jaroslav Janus. The Slovakian-born netminder earned a contract and a promotion from the junior ranks midway through last season by showing constant improvement in his positioning to go along with his superior athleticism. We expect Janus to be sent to Florida of the ECHL once veteran Cedrick Desjardins  gets healthy in Norfolk, but don't take that as a negative. The Lightning want Janus to get starts, and if he continues to progress at the rate he has improved over the last year, he could one day challenge Tokarski for starting duties in Tampa Bay.
11.) D Mark Barberio , Norfolk (AHL)
His skating stride may not be the prettiest, but after putting 60 points up last season in his final junior campaign, Mark Barberio has shown he's a hockey player. Now, in his first year of professional hockey, Barberio has the look of a steady regular in the Norfolk Admirals' lineup. His offense may not cleanly translate to the pro ranks, but Barberio has good hockey sense in all three zones and was traditionally a minutes-eater in junior. He's drawn comparisons to Craig Rivet as a player who can contribute with a solid, all-around game.
12.) D Radko Gudas , Norfolk (AHL)
The Lightning drafted a pre-packaged folk hero when they selected Radko Gudas in the third round of this summer's draft. Gudas, who played in the WHL for Everett last year as an import coming over from the Czech Extraliga, earned a reputation for brutal open ice hits and a willingness to drop the gloves despite standing at less than six feet tall and weighing in at under 200 pounds. Gudas' reputation for mixing it up physically actually overshadowed the fact Gudas set records in Everett for his plus-minus rating and that he also posted 37 points in his rookie season in the league. Now 20 years old, it was a no-brainer for the Lightning, who consider Gudas a Darius Kasparaitis clone, to sign Gudas and place him with Norfolk of the AHL this season. He's one of a group of four defenders the Lightning took in the middle rounds of the 2010 draft in the hopes of bolstering their depth at the position in order to meet the needs of Guy Boucher's up-tempo system.
13.) D Brock Beukeboom , Sault Ste Marie (OHL)
The second of the quartet of 2010 blueline mid-round picks for the Lightning is Brock Beukeboom, son of ex-Ranger Jeff Beukeboom. After a quiet Traverse City tournament, Beukeboom was returned to Sault Ste Marie of the OHL, where he was promptly named as the team's captain. Beukeboom, who only recently converted to defense after playing most of his youth hockey as a forward, has decent skating ability and has shown steady improvement in his offensive abilities. He's not as much of a banger as his father was, but he has drawn comparisons to Francois Beauchemin as a good, potential two-way performer.
14.) D Adam Janosik , Gatineau (QMJHL)
The 2010 blueline mid-round pick with the most potential might be Adam Janosik of Gatineau. Despite being a physically immature 17-year-old import last season, Janosik posted 9 goals and 35 points in his rookie year. Having just turned 18-years-old in September of this year, Janosik has plenty of time to get bigger and stronger, and if the Slovakian born defender ever sees his body grow to match his skills, watch out. He's got good wheels and has already shown a great intangible knack for running a power play, which has earned him comparisons to Mark Streit.
15.) D Vladimir Mihalik , Norfolk (AHL)
Now in his fourth season of professional hockey, former first rounder Vladimir Mihalik should be knocking on the NHL's door. However, after struggling with his conditioning his first two seasons of pro, Mihalik's been trying to play catch-up with his development and he now has the additional challenge of trying to earn his way onto a team coached by Guy Boucher that runs a system that simply isn't suited for a slower footed defenseman like Mihalik. The question may be now whether Vladimir can raise his stock enough to catch the attention of another NHL club that doesn't play such an up-tempo style, so the Lightning can cash out and get something for Mihalik rather than lose him to Europe for no return.
16.) D Scott Jackson , Norfolk (AHL)
Similar to Mihalik, Scott Jackson finds himself in the unenviable position of playing in an organization whose defensive system doesn't lend itself to less mobile blueliners. Jackson played well last year for Norfolk, acting as the defensive anchor on the team's top pairing, and even earned a call up and an NHL debut at the end of the season. However, like Mihalik, it's hard to see where he fits on the roster of a Guy Boucher coached team.
17.) D Geoffrey Schemitsch , Owen Sound (OHL)
Rounding out the Lightning's mid-round 2010 blueline draftees is Geoffrey Schemitsch of Owen Sound, a player in the Mike Lundin  mold who blends superb mobility with outstanding hockey sense in the offensive zone. Schemitsch came out of nowhere to post a 40 point season last year in the OHL, earning a spot on Canada's U18 World Junior Championships team, and he has shown no signs of slowing down statistically in the early going this year. The knock on Schemitsch has been that the next hit he throws will be his first. But, honestly, that hasn't held Lundin out of the NHL, has it?
18.) C Mitch Fadden , Florida (ECHL)
Mitch Fadden was the unfortunate victim of nagging injuries that forced him to miss significant time in Traverse City and in training camp for the Lightning. He was then a victim of Norfolk's newly found depth at forward, as he was sent down to Florida of the ECHL to regain his condition by getting more playing time. Fadden is as talented as they come, make no mistake. He's a very good skater with a high degree of creativity, especially with the puck on his blade. His stickhandling is at an almost elite level, to the point that it may actually be holding him back as he struggles to learn how to share the puck with his linemates to open up the ice and create more chances.
19.) D Kevin Quick , Norfolk (AHL)
If you're looking for a Renaissance story at the bottom of the rankings, the guy you might want to watch is Kevin Quick of Norfolk. Despite having fantastic mobility and a demonstrated ability to carry the puck out of his own zone, Quick has never been able to put up big numbers as a pro. He also earned his way into the doghouses of several coaches he played for as a result of an off-ice incident and questionable training habits. However, this season Quick finds himself with a new coach who seems willing to give Quick more ice time and a spot on the power play and in an organization where Guy Boucher's system seems tailor-made for him. Seriously, if Quick can't make it under these circumstances, he might as well just pack it up and start selling tires back in Connecticut. This situation is perfect for him, and he needs to step up and seize the opportunity.
20.) RW Juraj Simek , Norfolk (AHL)
The Don of the mythical Presov Mafia, which includes Janus and Mihalik, the Slovakian born and Swiss trained Simek almost took his wares to Russia this season for Dynamo Riga. However, after failing to break through in his tryout in the KHL, Simek returned to the Lightning organization where he'll be counted on to provide scoring depth in Norfolk. Simek set a career high with 21 goals last year with Norfolk and he's a dependable player for the Admirals who has good wheels and is responsible in his own end. We're still not sure his game will ever translate to the NHL, but he's the type of depth forward a team needs to be successful in the AHL.
21.) C James Mullin, Fargo (USHL)
Much to the chagrin of the Flyers, the Lightning stole Philadelphia-born Jimmy Mullin  right out from under their noses at the end of the fourth round of this June's draft. So far, that theft looks like it's going to be a felony and not a misdemeanor as Mullin has gotten off to a very hot start in his first year in the USHL. Typically, the USHL has been a stingy league for offensive players, but with a lot of speed and skill, Mullin hasn't had many problems finding the scoresheet early on in his rookie year. Mullin has committed to play at Miami of Ohio in the CCHA beginning next season, and if he can add some bulk to his tiny frame, the Lightning may have a bona fide scoring line player at the end of his collegiate career.
22.) G Riku Helenius , Sodertalje (SWE)
It might be the end of the road for Riku Helenius, who is now in the final year of his entry-level contract. The former first rounder was loaned to Sodertalje of the Swedish Elitserien midway through last season, after the emergence of Janus, and played well in the Kval till Elitserien at the end of the year as the club's starter. Returning this year to Sodertalje, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Helenius to get plenty of starts and see plenty of pucks in a high quality league. However, Helenius has already surrendered his starting job to youngster Pontus Sjogren, just as he lost his starting job in Seattle of the WHL to Jacob DeSerres and in Norfolk of the AHL to Tokarski. Even Stevie Wonder could see that pattern developing.
23.) D Charles Landry , Montreal (QMJHL)
Bonus pick. That's the term the Wings use for young prospects they invite to Traverse City and subsequently sign and return to junior for development. That practice followed Steve Yzerman to Tampa Bay where he signed defenseman Charles Landry. Landry, who played 48 games for Guy Boucher in Drummondville two seasons ago, posted a 30 point season a year ago for the Voltigeurs. As Michael Vernace  can attest, having a Guy Boucher endorsement in your back pocket probably is golden in the Lightning organization right now.
24.) C Brendan O'Donnell , Penticton (BCHL)
In the sixth round of the 2010 draft, the Lightning selected Brendan O'Donnell out of the lower level junior ranks in Winnipeg, Manitoba. O'Donnell has decent skating ability and a well-rounded game and has committed to play for North Dakota of the WCHA next season. This season, though, he's testing his abilities at a higher level of junior hockey with Penticton of the BCHL, where he has put up decent numbers early on this year.
25.) D Luke Witkowski , Western Michigan (CCHA)
Rounding out the top-25 is rugged character defenseman Luke Witkowski of Western Michigan. The sophomore defender was the captain of a Fargo club that made it to the Clark Cup Finals in the USHL prior to starting his college career, and he played a decent amount of minutes for a freshman blueliner last year. Now in his second season in the NCAA, our expectation is that Witkowski should receive plenty of ice time to blossom on a fairly young Broncos team that is returning only two upperclassmen on defense.