Articles that are feature stories.

Lightning Minor Pro Preview: Goaltenders

The Syracuse Crunch will open training camp on September 28 with more talent than they originally expected. The NHL lockout forced the postponement of the Lightning’s training camp and subsequently meant all prospects and young NHLers expected to start the year in Tampa will now start the year in the AHL.

Lost in this situation is the opportunity to have out-of-nowhere stories like Cory Conacher or Brett Connolly last year or perhaps most famously, Dmitri Afanasenkov in 2003.

While that’s bad news for the Tampa Bay media and fans, it’s good news for the Syracuse fanbase, who at this point is like a kid with a birthday the day after Christmas. Not only does a championship team show up at their arena’s front door, now they get a significant upgrade in talent to that team - a team that was already expected to compete for a championship.

This is also good news for the Florida Everblades – another team coming off a championship – as they’ll get the players pushed down from Syracuse.

The question is who?

Here’s a look at the latest minor pro organizational roster of the Tampa Bay Lightning and some notes and predictions for each player, broken down by position.

Complete 2011-2012 Lightning Player Usage Charts

For many, including myself, the 2011-2012 Player Usage Charts [PDF] released by Robert Vollman (and friends) have proven invaluable, as the foreword suggests, for putting "last year’s player production into context". Based on zone start and quality of competition data, these charts help us to see how a team's players were utilized by their coach in relation to each other.

The following graphic helps interpret the significance of a player's bubble (the size of which reflects his Relative Corsi, blue being a positive value and white a negative value) on a team's chart:

Again, Clare Austin of Raw Charge has already done an excellent job assessing the Lightning's player usage last season under coach Guy Boucher based on the Hockey Abstract charts. However, these excluded all players with less than 10 games played which meant that Mike Angelidis (6 games), J.T. Brown (5 games) and Evan Oberg (3 games) were not shown on the Lightning's chart.

Regardless of the extremely small sample sizes, it seemed worthwhile to generate usage charts that included them, even if only for the sake of a little extra discussion:

2011-12 Supplemental Rankings

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:

The Future is Already Here: Advanced Stats and BoltProspects

The revolution in hockey analysis, late-developing and centered around the increased reliance on statistical information, has been underway for some time now. A small and marginalized movement in the past for various reasons, advanced analysis has gained such widespread traction that its relevance and influence is no longer deniable. That isn't to say that advanced stats are close to or ever will be the panacea for evaluating hockey players and teams. As Robert Vollman, one of the leading hockey statisticians out there, explained in the foreword to his recently-released 2011-2012 Player Usage Charts:

"...objective hockey analysis acts a useful supplement to everybody’s own experience-based understanding of the game..."

Part of a larger sports trend, this shift, predictably, has faced some well-reasoned skepticism (for example, Daniel Wagner's Kierkegaard, Choice and the Limitations of Advanced Statistics) and, from traditionalists, prolonged resistance and outright disavowals (here's looking at you, Brian Burke and Mike Milbrury). At present, there's a very charged discourse surrounding the merits of advanced statistics but, no matter one's take, clearly a new era in professional hockey has dawned when the powers that be are attending conferences on sports analysis, teams (including the Lightning) are adding analysts to their operational staff and mainstream sources are catching on. For these reasons alone, it's worth keeping up with the times.

Observations from Day 5 of Tampa Bay’s prospect development camp

The final day of camp was comprised entirely of half-ice, 3-on-3 tournament action between six groups:

Team Brewer - Devos, Milan, Mullin, Witkowski

Team Hedman - Koekkoek, Namestnikov, Nesterov, Paquette

Team Lecavalier - Bradley, Brown, Gotovets, Landry

Team Malone - Clarke, Gauthier, McNally, Peca

Team St. Louis - Blujus, Czarnik, Dotchin, Richard

Team Stamkos - Hart, Langelier-Parent, Sergeev, Sustr

Following are the takeaways from watching as much as Day 5's scrimmages as I could individually focus on:

Prospect Camp Observations - Day 3

By Mike Gallimore

The third day of camp opened Thursday with goalies-only instruction followed by a mixture of power skating sessions, passing and shooting drills, which I saw the bulk of but could not stay to see in their entirety.

Following are just a few takeaways from watching Day 3's on-ice action:

Prospect Camp Observations - Days 1 & 2

By Mike Gallimore

Day 1

With a national holiday Wednesday, promising a lighter workload and an afternoon excursion to see the Rays looming, the Lightning's prospects and invitees took to the ice for several sessions Tuesday morning and afternoon. As GM Steve Yzerman took the time to stress, this camp is strictly a tool for presenting the culture of professional hockey, getting a feel for each player's conditioning, abilities and, in the case of returning participants, progression and provide some structured learning opportunities.

Lightning Free Agency and Trade Season Preview

The NHL free agency period starts July 1 and while the Lightning were active in past years, the shallow pool of players available this year may mean they spend more time observing than participating.

It’s no secret the Lightning need a defenseman and Assistant General Manager Julien Brisebois recently told the Syracuse Post-Standard the team plans to add two blueliners before the fall. A look at the numbers says that’s true.

Lightning Head Coach Guy Boucher frequently dresses seven defensemen and the team could easily carry eight on the roster throughout the year.

Expected to start the season on the Tampa Bay defense are Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer, Brian Lee, Brendan Mikkelson, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Keith Aulie. The first hole is in the top-4, where someone like free agent Ryan Suter of Nashville would fit perfectly. Of course, he’d fit “perfectly” on to 29 other NHL rosters, too.

The Lightning were bombarded with injuries on the backline last year, led by veteran Mattias Ohlund missing the entire year with knee problems. While Ohlund is trying to make a comeback, that may not happen until next year – if at all. The bottom line is Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman likely isn’t counting on any contribution from the veteran Swede.

Speaking of Yzerman, he recently told the Tampa Bay Times that if he can’t get defensive additions through free agency or trade, he could look to the AHL for help. The options there include frequent flier Evan Oberg, reigning AHL Defenseman of the Year Mark Barberio, or hard-hitting Radko Gudas, who was arguably Norfolk’s best defenseman in their Calder Cup run last season. Gudas is also a right-handed shot, which is craved by Tampa Bay.

Lightning's List of 15

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. He’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.

It’s Murray’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 Boucher’s up-tempo style. He’s also not scared to take an injured player if it means he’s going to end up with an NHLer in a few years. We’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, doesn’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 “the list,” so we’re going to have to guess.

Based on Yzerman’s criteria, we feel the Lightning may be targeting the following 15 prospects as their “best available for the Lightning.” It does not mean best overall for everyone.

Bolt Prospects 2011-2012 Final Rankings

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.

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