Rumors have been swirling all week that Montreal first round draft pick Louis Leblanc may have already decided to leave Harvard University after one season with the Crimson. Montreal writer Pat Hickey penned a story for the Montreal Gazette on Wednesday claiming the speedy forward might be weighing whether to go to the QMJHL or sign with the Canadiens and play in the AHL for Hamilton. Compounding the intrigue was that Leblanc, whose junior rights were held by Chicoutimi, apparently had a preference to play for the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL so he could also attend classes at McGill University to continue his education.
Today, at the tail end of the QMJHL Midget Draft, Chicoutimi traded Leblanc's rights to the Montreal Juniors, along with a 3rd round pick, for Guillaume Asselin and a 2011 first round pick. That will only serve to intensify speculation that Leblanc may leave Harvard. If Leblanc leaves, he will add to a list of players not returning to the Crimson that already included graduating seniors Doug Rogers, Chad Morin, Alex Biega, Jack Christian, and Ian Tallett. While only Rogers, Morin, and Biega were serious contributors to Harvard last season, it's important to bear in mind the club has only won 9 games each of the past two seasons. Losing those players and their leading scorer, Leblanc, may be a death sentence for Ted Donato's club next season.
All that begs the question: what about Alex Killorn? Killorn, a 2007 3rd round pick of the Lightning, has been routinely singled out over the past couple of seasons as being one of the team's best young talents in prospect camps but has failed to garner much publicity playing for a sinking Harvard club. If Leblanc leaves, can the Lightning allow one of their ten best prospects to languish through another potential single-digits win season at Harvard? Would it be better for his development to sign Killorn and have him begin his pro career with Norfolk of the AHL? Expect new GM Steve Yzerman to seriously contemplate that option if Killorn impresses him as much at this summer's prospect camp as he has other Hockey Operations people with the Lightning in previous camps.
If Killorn were to be signed, he'd join fellow signees Johan Harju and Mark Barberio from an already strong class of incoming pros. The team could also still sign 2009 2nd round pick Richard Panik, who just completed his first World Championships appearance for Slovakia.
Hat tip to our Chad Schnarr, who has been following this situation closely on BoltProspects' Twitter feed.
According to a Twitter report from Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune, the Tampa Bay Lightning have signed prospect defenseman Mark Barberio to an entry level contract. Details of the contract are not yet know, but the Lightning had until Tuesday, June 1 to ink the blueliner or he would have been eligible to return to this summer's NHL entry draft. The Lightning are under the same deadline to sign prospect forward Kyle DeCoste or lose him to the draft as well. Both players were drafted in the 2008 NHL Entry draft -- a draft class that includes forwards Steven Stamkos and James Wright, and goaltender Dustin Tokarski.
Barberio led his Moncton Wildcats to a berth in the 2010 Memorial Cup tournament as the QMJHL champion. Barberio scored 17 goals and added 43 assists in 65 regular season games for the Wildcats.
Hockey Expressen is reporting that the agent of Lightning goaltending prospect Riku Helenius, Jay Grossman, has announced the Finnish born former first round pick will play for Sodertalje in the Swedish Elitserien again next season. Helenius joined Sodertalje late last season and backstopped the club to a first place finish in the Kval till Elitserien, the annual promotion/relegation tournament. The move may be a positive for Helenius' development, as he is expected to be Sodertalje's starter next year and the Lightning already have a glut of Norfolk-bound goaltenders with Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus in the fold. Having Helenius in Sodertalje allows the Lightning the luxury of having him develop with plenty of starts in a premiere European league. Helenius is entering the final year of his entry-level deal with the Lightning.
The website HockeyExpressen is reporting that the Lightning have signed Swedish forward Johan Harju to a one year contract, estimated to be worth approximately $700,000. Harju, a 2007 6th round pick, exercised an out-clause in his contract to leave Dynamo Moscow of the KHL last week at the conclusion of the club's playoff run. Harju scored 4 goals and 18 points in 55 games with Dynamo this year, which was his first in the KHL.
Prior to his stint in the KHL, Harju was known as one of the most prolific goal scorers in Sweden's top league, the Elitserien. Harju's career season came two years ago when he ranked among the league's leaders with 27 goals and 49 points in 55 games. Drafted as a winger, Harju played most of this season at center, and his versatility will help his chances of making the Lightning in the Fall. Standing at 6'3" and 205 lbs, the power forward has drawn comparisons to Detroit's Johan Franzen. He turns 24 on May 15th.
In related news, Harju's life-long teammate Linus Omark signed a 2-year deal to play with the Edmonton Oilers yesterday. Both players are currently training with Team Sweden for the upcoming World Championships in Germany.
The KHL's regular season came to a close Sunday, the NCAA is in the midst of its conference playoffs, and Canadian junior regular seasons will be closing next weekend. So, it's getting close to signing season, and I figured I'd post a little on the blog about some of the players who will potentially be joining the organization in the coming weeks and months. Before I do, though, I wanted to quickly address the new ownership situation.
There was a little pearl in Erik Erlendsson's blog post about Dustin Tokarski being returned to Norfolk and Riku Helenius being assigned to Sodertalje of the Elitserien. The Lightning are apparently intersted in once again making an attempt to sign Russian star goaltender Vasily Koshechkin, who is currently playing for Magnitogorsk in the KHL. Koshechkin, a mammoth 6'6" netminder who was an 8th round pick in 2002, has 14 shutouts over the past two seasons, and arguably has been the best netminder in Russia over the past four seasons. The Lightning made multiple attempts to sign Koshechkin when Jay Feaster was the team's GM, but Koshechkin always chose to remain in Russia. Will Koshechkin, who turns 27 in March, now try his hand at the best hockey league in the world?
The post also mentions the possibility of Karri Ramo returning from Omsk of the KHL as well. Ramo has one more year remaining on his deal with Avangard, but he has an NHL out clause for a signing window this summer. It is believed Koshechkin will be a free agent this summer after he signed with Magnitogorsk earlier this year when his original deal with his longtime club Togliatti was voided after Lada couldn't meet payroll on multiple occassions.
Late tonight, after the conclusion of the Admirals' game against the Adirondack Phantoms, the Lightning and GM Brian Lawton announced that Head Coach Darren Rumble has been relieved of his duties. Assistant Coach Jim Johnson has been named the new Head Coach and Assistant Coach Leigh Mendelson will remain with the team. Rumble departs the Admirals, officially, with a 50-61-6-5 record in one and a half seasons with the team, although he unofficially assumed the role of Head Coach midway through the 2007-2008 season. Norfolk is currently 17-23-2 this season, which is last place in the AHL's East Division and six points out of a playoff spot.
In my mind, two things contributed to Brian Lawton's decision to make a move. First, although the Lightning have promoted several players to Tampa Bay this season, Norfolk returned a very deep roster dotted with numerous NHL and AHL veterans. While it may not have been fair to expect this team to be competing with Hershey for the division title, this roster probably should be in the thick of the pack in the East Division fighting for second or third, not in last place. The second factor is that, although some prospects like Blair Jones and Dustin Tokarski are having excellent seasons, some of the Lightning's most prized prospects have struggled, namely Matt Lashoff and Dana Tyrell.
GoErie.com reported Thursday Lightning prospect Jaroslav Janus of the Erie Otters has signed with Tampa Bay. The report states it's a two-way contract, and will end the young goaltender's junior career.
Update: The Lightning have confirmed the signing, saying it's a standard three-year deal, and Janus has been assigned to Norfolk.
Dustin Tokarski and Riku Helenius have been splitting No.1 duties in Norfolk, but after Lightning goaltender Antero Niittymaki missed a game last week, Tampa Bay recalled Helenius and Norfolk was forced to sign a goaltender for just a two days to fill the second slot with the Ads.
Update 2: Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports Tokarski and Janus will get the majority of the work in Norfolk with Helenius waiting his turn. Erlendsson spoke with Lightning/Admirals GM Brian Lawton Saturday.
Janus, a sixth round pick of the Bolts this past summer, went 7-4-2-0 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage with Erie after returning to the team in November from a long amateur tryout with the Admirals. He made two starts in Norfolk, allowing three goals.
The Norfolk Admirals announced today that they have signed former NHL All-Star forward Mark Parrish to a Professional Tryout Contract (PTO). In addition, the Admirals announced that they have released forward Travis Whitehead from his Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO).
Parrish, 32, is a 5-foot-11, 200-pound veteran of ten National Hockey League seasons. He has appeared in 704 career NHL games between the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars, recording 216 goals and 169 assists in those games. Parrish, who appeared in the 2002 NHL All-Star Game, was originally a third round draft pick (79th overall) of the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.
Parrish appeared in 44 NHL games last season with the Stars, recording eight goals and five assists. He also appeared in three games with the American Hockey Leagueâ€™s Bridgeport Sound Tigers and netted one goal and one assist in those games. Parrish has only appeared in six career AHL games between the Sound Tigers and the Beast of New Haven, scoring three goals and one assist.
Whitehead did not appear in any games with the Admirals. The professional rookie completed his collegiate career at Buffalo State University last season.
The Admirals open the home portion of their season this Friday and Saturday against the Manchester Monarchs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's 2009 6th round pick Jaroslav Janus has made the Norfolk Admirals season opening roster as the team's third goaltender. Janus, still without an NHL entry-level contract, has been retained by the Admirals on a Professional Tryout contract. Janus has drawn praise from Lightning GM Brian Lawton as having had a strong training camp, and there have been reports Janus' agent has been contacted about a contract. Janus joins fellow Bolt netminding prospects Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski battling to establish themselves as the Admirals go-to-guy in the nets for the 2009-10 season. It is still possible for the Lightning to reassign Janus to his OHL junior team in Erie, but that option is looking less and less likely. Janus led the Slovakian World Junior team to a medal-round finish last year.