If NHL dynasties are built from the ground up and within, scouts may be the most underrated pieces of the process. Sure, they get their hat-tips at the draft, and some get to share the stage with the recognizable faces of the franchise, but for the most part they go about their work watching 200 games a year and writing countless player reports without fanfare.
As prospect followers, we’re big fans of these unrecognizable faces.
Brad Whelen, an amateur scout for the Lightning in western Canada, was featured on The Pipeline Show this week, giving us a chance to at least put a voice with a name.
A former head scout with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, Whelen is one of four amateur scouts with the Lightning and covers the Western Hockey League, as well as the four Junior A leagues in western Canada (BCHL, AJHL, SJHL, MJHL), and some Canadian university hockey.
The golden age of the Lightning farm system continues. Despite the Syracuse Crunch's loss in the AHL's Calder Cup Finals, the Lightning organization can still boast arguably the finest prospect depth in the NHL. That depth is further bolstered by a 2013 NHL Entry Draft that saw the Lightning add a potential franchise player and also a player who was ranked by several scouting services in their top 15 prospects in the draft class. As of right now, it truly appears the Lightning may be set for a generation at the forward and goaltending positions. And, while there's still much work to be done on defense, it's no exaggeration to say the future has never been brighter. Indeed, Hockey Prospectus has even gone so far as to name the Lightning the top prospect system in the league, which is a true feather in the cap of an organization that was universally panned by the hockey media for player development just a half decade ago.
Bolt Prospects' 2013-2014 Final/Supplemental Rankings follow our websites rules for eligibility for prospects. Players 24 years or older on opening night of the Lightning's season (or what was supposed to be opening night prior to its cancellation due to the NHL lockout, in the case of this season) are considered overage prospects and are not eligible for the rankings. For that reason, a prospect like Riku Helenius isn't in the list. Additionally, skating prospects that have appeared in 41 NHL games in a single season or 82 career NHL games are no longer eligible for the list, which is why Brett Connolly is considered graduated and no longer in the rankings. For goaltenders, the bar is a little lower with 30 NHL decisions in a single season necessary for graduation and 41 NHL decisions in a career being the threshold to become a Bolt Prospects Alumni. Finally, all NCAA-based players remain eligible for the rankings regardless of age for the full duration of their college careers. There will be a quiz later.
Until then, please enjoy Bolt Prospects' 2013-2014 Final/Supplemental Rankings...
Name: Jonathan Drouin
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 186 lbs
Club: Halifax (QMJHL)
Tampa Bay elects to forego selecting perhaps the best need pick in favor of the player who might be the best prospect in this draft in slick winger Jonathan Drouin out of Halifax. Drouin starred on a line with top overall pick Nathan MacKinnon as Halifax swarmed to QMJHL and Memorial Cup titles.
Drouin mixes some of the best hockey sense and passing ability to be seen in the draft in quite some time with world class stickhandling ability and lateral quickness and skating. He truly appears to have the puck tied to the blade of his stick with a string. Add to that a solid shot and you have a player who is equally adept at shooting, passing, or making you look foolish by carrying it past you in the offensive third. As an added intangible, Drouin might also be one of the fiercest competitors in the draft, and while he may not be a bone cruncher he will go to the high traffic areas to make plays.
Drouin is not the ideal NHL size and he doesn't have a top level gear in terms of straight line speed. Those knocks should be tempered by saying he does have excellent lower body strength and really just needs to get his upper body strength to the same point, and his straight line speed may be compensated for by his lateral agility and advanced ability to read the play. Also, like many young forwards, he needs to continue to work on his play in the defensive third.
Top Line Left Winger and Top-20 NHL Scorer
Names That Have Been Floated: Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis, Denis Savard, Gilbert Perrault
For the Syracuse Crunch, it’s all about setting the tempo.
With the Grand Rapids Griffins visiting the Onondaga County War Memorial for Games 1 and 2 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday and Sunday, the Crunch are focused on their own play more than the Griffins’ talented forwards.
"What we really have to focus on isn't what they're going to bring at us," said Syracuse defensemen Jean-Philippe Cote. "We've got to set the tone, and play as high-tempo as we can."
"We don't want them to dictate the pace of play…We don't want them to play their game; we want them to play our game," said Crunch forward JT Wyman.
That game plan has worked for Syracuse.
After sweeping the Portland Pirates in the first round and the Springfield Falcons in the second, the Crunch topped the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in five games. Ondrej Palat is tied for the league lead in postseason points (20), and Tyler Johnson, the league’s most valuable player, is just three points behind.
Despite being a former first-round draft pick, Philippe Paradis isn’t known for his scoring touch.
The Syracuse Crunch grinder was held without a point in his first 11 games of the Calder Cup playoffs as he was more focused on finishing his checks to soften up the opposition’s defense.
With a chance to eliminate the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last Saturday, Paradis finally broke through to the scoresheet in a big way. The Quebec native scored three times in a 7-0 rout, and the Crunch finished off the Penguins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I was just trying to get the first one," Paradis said. "The game was tight; that one was more important than the other ones. I just put the puck on the net and ended up scoring."
While Syracuse’s Ondrej Palat is tied for the postseason points lead with 20 points, and the league’s most valuable player, Tyler Johnson, is three points behind, the Crunch’s depth players -- the shutdown line and crash and bang guys -- have chipped in with some of the more crucial goals.
With Syracuse hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday, the Crunch are hoping to continue receiving offensive output from each player.
For Jean-Philippe Cote, leadership begins off the ice.
The Syracuse Crunch defenseman knows that although he needs to use his play as an example for the younger players on his team, there is another element to wearing a letter on his sweater. Cote believes getting the best out of each player begins with making them feel comfortable.
"I like when a guy like (rookie defenseman) Andrej Sustr comes to me like 'Is there anything I can do to be a better player?'" Cote said. "I love it. I like discussing hockey with those younger guys. But to get someone on the team, that happens outside the ice."
Like last year on the Calder Cup-winning Norfolk Admirals, the leadership of captain Mike Angelidis and alternate captains Cote Mark Barberio -- among many others -- has pushed the Syracuse Crunch into the American Hockey League finals.
JT Brown may be a rookie on a line with a pair of veterans, but he certainly doesn't look out of place.
Twelve games into his first Calder Cup run, the Syracuse Crunch forward has been counted on to provide timely goals and tough defense that wears down the opposition's top line. Flanked by JT Wyman and Mike Angelidis, Brown is learning from two guys with plenty of postseason experience.
"You don't have to do too much, they're always doing what they're supposed to," Brown said after practice Tuesday. Syracuse hosts Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday. "They're vets and they know what needs to be done."
Angelidis, the Crunch's captain who hoisted the cup with the Norfolk Admirals last season, has been impressed by Brown's effort every night.
"He's a fast learner," Angelidis said. "And we're learning things from him too. He's got a good head on his shoulders and he works hard."
Vincent Lecavalier's tenure with the club that drafted him first overall in 1998 has been a stretch of lean and occasionally tumultuous seasons interrupted by a cluster of four consecutive postseason appearances that included a Cup and, several years later, another deep playoff run. Though the Lightning's first bona fide superstar and despite widespread admiration for his efforts on and off the ice, Lecavalier has been dogged (see Exhibits A , B, C, D and E) at various junctures of his professional career by speculation that he is or should be destined for some other hockey market.
He came close.
Lecavalier was nearly traded on three known occasions: first, to Toronto in late 2001 after bristling under the tutelage of temperamental coaching newcomer John Tortorella (cooler heads prevailed), then, in 2006, Lightning GM Jay Feaster shopped Lecavalier to Vancouver for goaltender Roberto Luongo, and finally, in 2009, Canadiens and Lightning brass established parameters for a deal that was never consummated.
Knowledge of these episodes has no doubt kept the prospect of his departure from the Lightning simmering, but it's the succession of injuries and diminished production following an 11-year, $85 million extension signed in 2008 as well as the arrival and rapid emergence of new No. 1 center Steven Stamkos that have really stoked the flames of conjecture. What was once a confluence of impassioned, covetous rumor-mongering that served as a grim specter for those concerned with the state of the Lightning has become a discussion steeped in practicality for fans and pundits alike.
The Crunch forward plowed through Springfield Falcons goalie Curtis McElhinney, creating a rebound for Mark Barberio to bury less than a second later to give Syracuse a two-goal lead in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last week. It was Namestnikov’s first of two assists on the night, his first professional postseason points.
"Not a lot of players make that play," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "A lot of players go behind the net instead of going to the front of the net. He's got the courage and the speed to make those plays."
For Zettler, it’s just one example of the recent development in Namestnikov’s game.
"Over the last two or three weeks, his play has really elevated," Zettler said of the 20-year-old. "He's really skating well, he's battling for pucks and going to the hard areas."
For a 30-goal scorer, Brett Connolly is essentially flying below the radar.
Overshadowed by the success of the Syracuse Crunch's top line, Connolly has quietly continued his nearly one point per game pace in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He has five points in seven postseason games, having already notched 31 goals and 32 assists in 71 games in the regular season.