Lightning midseason CHL/USHL prospects update

By Phil Laugher

The Tampa Bay Lightning currently have eight prospects playing junior hockey in Canada and the United States. Six of these players are suiting up in the Canadian Hockey League, while another is currently playing in the BCHL. They also have one more prospect in their system that was hoping to be playing at a higher level this season, however, through circumstances far away from a hockey rink, saw him relegated to a lower level.

Of the six CHLers in the Lightning system, five of them are currently seeing action in the WHL, while one plays in the QMJHL. After the graduation of Chris Lawrence to the professional ranks at the end of the 2006-07 season, the Lightning are left without a prospect in the OHL.

WHL

Dane Crowley, D – Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 6th round, 168th overall, 2006

Crowley returned to the WHL for his fifth and final full season this year, serving as the elder statesman on the blue line for what was a dominant offensive juggernaut of a squad in Everett last season. Crowley was named an alternate captain for the Silvertips at the start of the season, and his leadership has been counted on the year, as the Silvertips are not nearly as potent a squad as they were last year.

Crowley has started to build on the slow progress he made on his offensive game last season. Crowley currently sits fifth on Everett in goals with 10, (trumping his previous career high of eight). His 17 points are second among defensemen on the team. Always with a great shot in his repertoire, but often reluctant to use it, Crowley has finally started to show that there may be more than just physicality in his arsenal.

Mitch Fadden, C – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Acquired: 4th round, 107th overall, 2007

There are undoubtedly plenty of general managers kicking themselves right now for bypassing Mitch Fadden in the 2006 draft. Fadden, who went undrafted that year, was snatched up by the Lightning in the fourth round of 2007 with a mid-round pick, after the then-18-year-old notched an 84-point season. Fadden has continued his torrid pace this year, posting 21 goals and 32 assists in only 43 games, good enough for eighth in the league and scoring, and tops by a fair margin among all Hurricanes.

Fadden was selected to appear in both games for the WHL squad in the ADT Canada-Russia challenge series, deviating from his norm for the year by going pointless in both games. He made up for this by notching a five-point game the following night in his return to the Lethbridge lineup.

Fadden is an excellent skater with great hands and finishing ability, and has shown thus far that last season was not an aberration.

Riku Helenius, G – Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2006

After what turned out to be a lost season for Tampa Bay’s 2006 first rounder as a result of a serious shoulder injury, it was hoped that Riku Helenius would bounce back to the form that had him touted as one of the best goaltenders in the 2006 draft class. Helenius decided that it would be in the interests of his future within the organization to come across the Atlantic to play in the CHL after the Seattle Thunderbirds selected him early in the Import Draft.

Helenius got off to a quick start, picking up the win in four of his first five appearances, but he and his Thunderbirds ran into difficulties in November, when Helenius suffered through a personal eight-game winless streak.

He righted the ship just in time for Finland‘s World Junior camp, and made the team. Helenius split time with 2008-eligible Harri Säteri between the pipes, but it was Säteri rather than Helenius who Finland ran with in the medal rounds.

Torrie Jung, G – Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 6th round, 183rd overall, 2007

Torrie Jung was the only goaltender selected by the Lightning on the 2007 NHL draft weekend. He faced tough competition between the pipes with the Rockets this season, having the play second fiddle to overager (and former Minnesota Wild draft pick) Kristofer Westblom. Jung has only played in about 40 percent of the games for the Rockets, despite the fact that he has posted numbers superior to Westblom, with a 2.45 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.

Westblom and Jung have been alternating nearly on a game-by-game basis over the last month. If Jung continues his stellar play as of late, it will be difficult to keep the 18-year-old netminder on the bench for long.

Dana Tyrell, C – Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 2nd round, 47th overall, 2007

Tyrell has been a solid addition to the Lightning prospects cadre. Tyrell currently leads the Cougars in scoring with 35 points in 37 games, including 16 goals (which ties the team lead). He brings strong two-way play, excellent skating ability, and great leadership. Tyrell is the type of player who brings a solid mix of skill and energy that has been lacking in the Lightning forward prospect group over the past few seasons. His tenacious nature will be leaned on even more so now that veteran defenseman Ty Wishart was moved prior to the trade deadline.

Tyrell was invited to the Canadian World Junior selection camp in early December, but ended up being an early cut from the squad that eventually won Canada its fourth straight gold medal. Tyrell suffered through a bit of a knee injury in the lead up to camp (though that was not a factor in his early departure), and has been banged up and inconsistent upon his return to the Cougars. He has only picked up two points since November, with his strong start fading as the season has progressed and as the Cougars have declined.

QMJHL

Michael Ward, D – Lewiston Maineiacs
Acquired: 7th round, 197th overall, 2007

Ward is one of only two Lightning prospects patrolling the point in the CHL, and was the only defenseman selected by the Lightning during the 2007 NHL Draft Weekend. It took him a while, but the solid stay-at-home defenseman finally registered his first career CHL goal in his 97th career game. He currently sits with a goal and 10 assists through 43 games thus far this season. He has also added 68 penalty minutes and posted an even rating in his shutdown role.

Like many Lightning defensive prospects before him, Ward also brings a decent physical game to the table despite his relatively small stature, and is very responsible in his own end. If one does not notice him during the course of the game, he is doing his job.

BCHL

Justin Courtnall, LW – Victoria Grizzlies
Acquired: 7th round, 210th overall, 2007

Courtnall currently sits fifth on the Grizzlies in points with 10 goals and 19 assists through 43 games. His 43 games are tied for the team high (they have played 45 games). The gritty 6’3 winger has also picked up 69 penalty minutes, good enough for fourth on the team.

Justin’s father, former NHLer Geoff Courtnall, was named the new coach of the Grizzlies — their fourth in the 2007 calendar year — at the end of December.

USHL

Luca Cunti, LW – Chicago Steel
Acquired: 3rd round, 75th overall, 2007

Unfortunately, the first half of the 2007-08 hockey season was a write-off for Cunti. He had hoped to be able to suit up for St. Cloud State as a freshman, but was bogged down in the NCAA Clearing House, which took an inordinate amount of time in determining whether or not Cunti would be eligible to play for the WCHA squad.

As December rolled around, Cunti decided to try to salvage something from this season as far as his development was concerned, and went to play for the Chicago Steel of the USHL, who had his junior rights. Cunti has picked up three points in his first five games with the Steel, and will finish the year with the squad. The Steel have gone undefeated since the Swiss import joined the team. Hopefully for the sake of Cunti’s development and the Lightning’s investment, next year is without similar difficulties beyond their respective control.