Thanks for the questions this week as we move closer to the Olympic break and the trade deadline.
The tea leaves reveal...
@BoltProspects Do you see Yzerman making a spot for Brett Connolly ? ..or do you see him traded? #BPMailbag
I think the only way to do that is to trade Teddy Purcell (top-9 forward who’s moderately expendable and doesn’t have a no-trade clause), but that wouldn’t be the wisest move mid-season as experience is a big deal in a playoff push. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Connolly move as I think Drouin and Kucherov are ahead of him on the projected 2014 roster for roughly the same spots (skill, possession forward). I think, big picture-wise, better balance could be attained by trading Connolly for a defenseman close in age/development (I’ve always thought Ryan Ellis would be a logical target. Not so much anymore, but there’s a name).
I’d like to say Yzerman likes his young forward prospects too much to deal one, unless it’s a Bishop-type deal, but after last week’s Mailbag projecting the roster for the next two years, there’s just not room for them all.
@BoltProspects Does Namestnikov have future in TBL? Looks like there are no C vacancies for a while. [Maybe a] trade is better for him? #bpmailbag
I think there absolutely is a future for him in Tampa. One of the underrated parts of the Filppula signing is he can play both wing and center. I think within two seasons you’ll see Stamkos-Johnson-Vladdy down the middle for Tampa Bay. I don’t see room for him next year, but you never know. He’s very close. The Kucherov-Namestnikov-Brown line in Syracuse to start the year was at times as good as the Top Gun line was last year for them.
That’s all for this week. Questions for next week can be tweeted to @boltprospects hashtagged #BPMailbag on Twitter, or posted to our fabulous messageboard.
@BoltProspects Do you think Yzerman will eventually go back to DET? Personally, I think he prefers to work in sunny Tampa #BPMailbag
When Ken Holland retires you can bet the Wings will go after Yzerman. It probably depends on what the situation is in Tampa at that point, but Yzerman has his coach in place and a deep-pocketed owner who trusts him and gives him all the freedom he could ask for. He’d get close to the same in Detroit, too, though. I think if the option presented itself he’d end up staying in Tampa, but as is his style, he’d take the time to thoroughly analyze the decision. I can almost guarantee it’s not even on his radar right now (not that you said it was). I also think it’s ignorant for any Wings fan to assume it’s a given he’ll return. It’s not.
@BoltProspects Are there any NCAA senior goaltenders who are looming free agents that the #tblightning may approach? #BPMailbag
It’s getting close to the time where I really start paying attention to stuff like this, so I’m rather unprepared here. TB has room for a No. 5 late this year and next, if not a year beyond that. They could sign a free agent like they did with Pat Nagle  a few years ago. They could also use the draft to select an overage goaltender or non-CHL ‘tender like they did Gudlevskis and plug him into the system. One name to watch is Sam Brittain for Denver, who was a recruit of Lightning assistant coach George Gwozdecky. Brittain is a Panthers draft pick (fourth round). If he’s unsigned, the Lightning could be interested.
Some of the top free agent NCAA goalies include Ryan McKay, who ironically was Adam Wilcox ’s partner in USHL Green Bay. Wilcox was moved to Tri-City because the Gamblers wanted McKay as its No. 1. McKay is a sophomore for Miami, though. Wilcox is also a sophomore. I’d expect a junior or senior to be signed, if any at all.
Another guy to watch is Clay Witt of Northeastern, a junior. He’s originally from Tampa/Brandon and is having an exceptional season. He’s 6-2 and the Lightning usually like 6’3” and above, but keep an eye on him. At the least, he could be a prospect camp invitee. He was born in 1991.
I’d like to see defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk of New Hampshire signed. The brother of Toronto’s James, he’s 6-2, IS A RIGHTY, and moves the puck well. Plus, he doesn’t cost a player or pick asset. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them dip into the NCAA free agent defenseman pool.
@BoltProspects which prospects could play in SYR after their season is over? #BPMailbag
D Slater Koekkoek  (OHL Windsor), Jake Dotchin  (OHL Barrie), Dylan Blujus  (OHL North Bay), Henri Ikonen  (OHL Kingston), Adam Erne  (QMJHL Quebec), Jonathan Drouin  (QMJHL Halifax).
Koekkoek will likely be available after round one of the OHL playoffs. Out of Dotchin, Blujus, and Ikonen, there’s a good chance one is done after the first round, and maybe two. Quebec should last at least a round, and Halifax could go all the way.
The earliest someone could join the Crunch would be the end of March, which would leave about 9 regular season games to play in for Syracuse if they stepped right in. Last year, junior players practiced and got in a game here or there, but nothing impactful. Koekkoek and Erne could step right in and do well, Ikonen would be serviceable, and Dotchin and Blujus would likely follow the Witkowski path from last year. I’m not even considering Drouin as a possibility. That would be a major upset.
@BoltProspects What was causing Connolly to struggle at the NHL level and how will he overcome it when he gets called back up? #BPMailbag
Connolly was SO good at camp. His confidence was oozing, but there just wasn’t a fit for him as Cooper wanted to keep the Top Gun line intact. In retrospect, maybe you keep Connolly and send down Panik, but at the time Panik was coming off a huge playoff performance and he provides a bit of a power forward element that Connolly doesn’t. Connolly obviously wasn’t happy when he was sent to Syracuse and it showed. When he got his chance to come back up, he hadn’t found his camp game yet and couldn’t in Tampa either. He’s a good player, but when his confidence is off his timing is off. It will sound silly, but he needs to come into Tampa with a cockiness about him that he damn sure belongs in the NHL. That will help. Don’t just try to fit in nicely. That’s a pet peeve of mine with prospects making the jump. Be who you are. As a great man once said, 50% of the game is 90% mental.
@BoltProspects 2 Q's. 1) Will the bolts pick up an enforcer? 2) Who's your favorite bolts prospect and bolts player in general? #BPMailbag
1. Doubtful at best. If you hooked Cooper up to a lie detector he’d probably tell you he wish he had someone or multiple someones for the fourth line that could send appropriate messages, but he doesn’t. One of my favorite pictures from the Norfolk championship run was Cooper leaning over (I think) Labrie and Nielson’s shoulders on the bench after someone had taken a run at an Admiral skill player. The next shift the two of them were out there smashing heads. Cooper likes the rough stuff, but I don’t think Yzerman will give him an enforcer in the traditional sense. Crombeen is under contract for another season, keep in mind (not that he’s an enforcer, just saying he’s someone who would have to move to make room).
2. I enjoy watching Kucherov the most. He does so many things that others can’t do and he’s excited about what he does. I like his personality and decorum on the ice, as well. I also appreciate JT Brown's game a lot. JP Cote is my “favorite” non-prospect. I love/appreciate his story and think he’s an outstanding human being. You saw a glimpse of it when he hugged Paul Kennedy. You also saw a ton of former teammates congratulating him on Twitter when he got his NHL contract earlier this year. In terms of on-ice performance, I love Bishop’s style, Palat’s underrated smarts, and Stamkos’ healthy arrogance.
@BoltProspects what Defensemen do you see Yzerman making a run for at the deadline? #BPMailbag
I think he has to acquire someone who can play in the top-4 because if there’s a long playoff run, Salo is a realistic bet to get injured and you never know what you’re going to get from a rookie (Gudas). BUT… he doesn’t want to mortgage future parts for a rental (Girardi, MacDonald, Russell), and Girardi is probably too expensive a UFA re-sign to fit into future financial plans – especially with so many RFA’s this year. In a non-cap world, I’d say go after Girardi. He’s a righty and a good influence on and off the ice.
Trade options to flip a prospect forward into a defenseman, I already mentioned Ryan Ellis (not a perfect fit), but others could be (and I have NO idea if they’re available): Cody Franson (Leafs), Jason Demers (SJ), Justin Faulk (Canes), Adam Larsson (NJD). I’m throwing darts here.
@BoltProspects What’s the longterm plan with some of the college guys like Wilcox and Peca?
Wilcox is a sophomore, so expect him to stay with the Gophers at least one more year, if not two. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get a contract. At that time, he probably starts out as an AHL 1-B or 2 and works his way up. I like his future, but it’s hard to project how high he’ll rise until he gets into the pros. Goalies are so hard to read as so many can’t make the jump.
Peca is a junior and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t return to Quinnipiac for his senior year next season. As I mentioned in “This Week in TampaCuse,” he should be the Bobcats’ top-line center next year. He started at wing his first two years and was moved to a 2-way center role this year. Then he jumps into Syracuse and could be behind Tanner Richard  as a 2C or 3C with the Crunch to start. He’s a few years away.
That’s all for this week. Keep the questions coming to @boltprospects using the #BPMailbag hashtag, or post them on our message board.