By Pete Choquette
It's been a long, strange trip for Bolt Prospects to arrive at this year's Midterm Prospect Rankings. Between the end of the NHL lockout and an abbreviated training camp, call-ups, graduations, and trades, there's been a lot of movement in the rankings. One lesson learned from the first half of this season: no more standing still for Lightning prospects. Even first and second round picks can't afford to stagnate in their development with so much quality depth within the organization. More than that, the youth movement is already beginning in Tampa Bay with three prospects currently up with the Lightning and recently graduated Keith Aulie also with the NHL club.
We're now almost two months deep into the second NHL lockout in less than a decade. As difficult as it is to remember, though, hockey goes on. It goes on in small junior rinks in Canada and on campuses throughout the U.S. It goes on in the sporting halls of Sweden and Russia. And, it goes on in Syracuse, New York, where players on the cusp of making the highest level of hockey in the world patiently await the mere chance to make their case to play in the NHL. For those players, and in spite the cynical greed of the NHL's business wing, Bolt Prospects presents its 2012-2013 Preliminary Rankings.
We delayed the release of the rankings a few weeks when optimism ran high that hockey would be back after Thanksgiving, believing that perhaps an NHL training camp was in the cards for some of our prospects. But with the breakdown of talks between the commissioner and the NHLPA, it looks like a Lightning camp is far from imminent. So, we press forward, in spite of the setback.
Now that the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is complete along with the Lightning's Prospect Developmental Camp, Bolt Prospects is proud to release our 2011-2012 Supplemental Rankings, our final rankings of the season. We'll begin again in the Fall shortly after training camp with the 2012-2013 Preliminary Rankings. With the Lightning adding several good prospects through the draft and a banner season on the ice for the prospects the team already had, we have expanded our list from the traditional 20 to 25 which reflects the unprecedented depth the organization has developed this year.
A quick review of the rules, as always: skaters who play 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games are considered graduated, and are no longer eligible for the rankings. As a consequence, Brett Connolly is no longer eligible for inclusion in the rankings. Goaltenders who earn 30 or more NHL decisions in a single season or 41 or more career NHL decisions are considered graduated, and are no longer eligible for the rankings. Players 24 years of age or over on opening night of the Lightning's season are considered overage prospects and are not eligible for inclusion in the rankings. NCAA players are exempt from the 24-year-old rule and are eligible for the rankings for the duration of their college careers.
With the disclaimers aside, here are our 2011-2012 Supplemental Rankings:
Lightning Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray said repeatedly this week that the club has about 15 players it views as a tier above the rest of the 2012 draft class. Heâ€™s gone as far as saying they are comfortable with their top-15, there are no ties in the rankings, and his staff is confident they will get a great player with pick 10 and one of their top-15 will be available with their second first rounder, No.19.
With as unpredictable and dividing as this draft is, Murray and the Lightning appear set to let their list do the deciding for them.
Itâ€™s Murrayâ€™s job to take the philosophy and wishes of the NHL general manager, in this case Steve Yzerman, and formulate his list. A few weeks ago, Murray said Yzerman requested the list be made of players who will make an impact at the NHL level someday with an emphasis on skill, hockey sense, and compete level.
Yzerman has to assume his coach, Guy Boucher, will be his coach in a few years when these teenagers are ready for the NHL, which means they have to be fast enough to fit into Boucherâ€™s up-tempo style. Heâ€™s also not scared to take an injured player if it means heâ€™s going to end up with an NHLer in a few years. Weâ€™re not convinced Yzerman likes to swing for the fences, as former GM Jay Feaster used to say, by taking a player who while having a high ceiling, doesnâ€™t also have an NHL floor.
Unfortunately, Bolt Prospects has been unable to scrape together the funds to a reputable hacker (oxymoron?) or Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, not Jeremy Renner) to obtain â€œthe list,â€ so weâ€™re going to have to guess.
Based on Yzermanâ€™s criteria, we feel the Lightning may be targeting the following 15 prospects as their â€œbest available for the Lightning.â€ It does not mean best overall for everyone.
Best. Prospect. Season. Ever.
After each of the previous six seasons in which we've posted Final Rankings for the Tampa Bay Lightning's prospects, we've had the opportunity to look back on the year and celebrate the progress the organization has made in cultivating and developing its youth. Steady improvement has been made year-to-year as we've tracked the achievements of the team's young players around the world.
This year, the team reached heights we never imagined 6-1/2 years ago, with 9 of our top 10 prospects winning championships in their respective leagues this season. The Lightning's depth has our rankings bursting at the seams, with a few prospects that could make it to Tampa Bay next season surprisingly finding themselves on the outside of the top 10. Bottom line: we have no idea how the Lightning's developmental organization is ever going to top what they did this season.
Then again, with a large bag full of top-60 picks in this year's NHL Entry Draft, perhaps the seeds of the Lightning's next great prospect season are less than two weeks away from being planted.