Lightning 2003 draft evaluation

By Phil Laugher

Tampa Bay finished the 2003 Draft with another double-digit haul of draft picks. While the Lightning ended up with a wealth of picks, seven of their 11 choices were made in the final 70 selections of the draft.

Only four of Tampa Bay’s 11 picks have appeared in an NHL game, with 192 NHL games spread between them. Only two of these players remain in the organization. And their top draft selection has appeared in none. Perhaps an even more surprising fact than that is that 85% of the NHL games played from the Lightning’s 2003 draft class have come from their final selection of the weekend.

Mike Egener, D

2nd round, 34th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

Egener was the Lightning’s first of eleven draft choices in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and it was hoped that he would develop into a stalwart physical rock on the point for many years to come. Egener had put together an impressive performance in the CHL Top Prospects Game, as well as playing strongly for the Canadian Under-18 team, elevating his status that had suffered as a result of a concussion that curtailed much of his season. Having traded away their first round pick, Egener became their first choice, 34th overall.

There was little hope that he would ever develop into much of an offensive threat from the back end, given that Egener scored only six goals in four full seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. However, Egener brought to the table strong play in his own end, a willingness to mix it up physically, a great work ethic, and excellent leadership ability.

Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency, as well as the numbers game, have gotten the best of Egener during his four-year professional career, that has not yet netted him an NHL appearance. Coming off of a final junior season where Egener suffered a concussion, he had a modest rookie campaign with Springfield hampered by a knee injury. Things got worse in his sophomore season, where a poor camp, and a slow start with the Falcons, resulted in his demotion to the ECHL, and another knee injury.

A relatively consistent third season resulted in his being offered a one-year deal with the Lightning, however a multitude of issues prevented the physical player from being much of a contributor. A crowded blue-line in Norfolk led the coaching staff to consider using Egener as a fourth-line winger – an experiment that appeared to be working well until another injury derailed his season. A conditioning stint ahead of schedule caused further setbacks, and Egener ended up appearing in only 26 games between Norfolk and Mississippi. Injuries, inconsistency, and incidentals have gotten the better of Egener thus far in his career.
 

Matt Smaby, D

2nd round, 41st overall
NHL Games Played: 14
Status: NHL Prospect

Smaby was the second of five defensemen chosen in the 2003 draft. Like their previous selection in Egener, the Lightning opted to choose a big, mobile defenseman. Smaby fit the size quotient admirably, boasting a 6’5 frame, and displaying a great physical edge and strong lateral mobility. Selected out of the heralded Shattuck St. Mary’s program, the Lightning knew that given Smaby’s college commitments, he would be a long-term project in the system. Smaby entered the University of North Dakota following his draft selection.

Smaby quickly rose through the depth chart of the Fighting Sioux system, playing a regular shift with North Dakota almost immediately, and serving as a key member of the blue-line during their Frozen Four chase in his sophomore season. Smaby’s unquestioned leadership earned him the team’s captaincy for his junior year. It was also that year that Smaby began to show progress in his offensive game, picking up an impressive 19 points in 45 games, as well as a team-high 109 penalty minutes.

Smaby has since turned pro, and has played two modest seasons in the professional ranks. In his rookie campaign, the physical blue-liner continued work on his all-around game, and also began displaying more discipline as when to utilize the big hit. He was a threat to win a full-time job with the Lightning this past year, but was demoted early on in the season so as to ensure maximum playing time. He was recalled late in the season, and looked steadier on the point. He is a front-runner for a top-six spot on the Lightning in the 2008-09 season. Of the eleven prospects selected by the Lightning, he boasts both the greatest upside, and the highest likelihood in reaching that potential.

Jonathan Boutin, G

3rd round, 96th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

After having struck gold delving into the QMJHL for offensive prospects in the past, the Lightning made their first foray into what was perceived to be the biggest strength of the league – goaltending – in selecting Boutin with their third pick. Boutin displayed great mechanics playing for Halifax and PEI, but was notorious for getting rattled early between the pipes, and regularly losing focus.

Boutin made the jump the professional ranks with lowered expectations, and began to bring his game around, displaying increased consistency. He was one of the few bright spots in the Lightning minor league system in 2005-06, being named an all-star in the ECHL for Johnstown, and providing some stability between the pipes for Springfield in the second half of the season.

He had the misfortune of being overshadowed by the Lightning’s fast-rising Finnish netminder Karri Rämo, who outshone Boutin during split-time (despite the latter’s consistent play over the course of the season). Rämo spent some time on the shelf early in this past season, so Boutin was given the ball, but by the second half of the season, after Marc Denis was demoted, Boutin was back into a rotating role. He has yet to appear in the NHL (save for an emergency call-up), but is on the cusp. Whether that opportunity will come with the Lightning is up in the air.
 

Doug O’Brien, D

6th round, 192nd overall
NHL Games Played: 5
Status: Bust

With their fourth selection, the Lightning once again went back to the blue-line, but chose a defenseman with greater offensive upside than Egener or Smaby before him. O’Brien had been an offensive threat from the point with the Hull Olympiques the previous season, posting 44 points as a power play specialist for the QMJHL’s Memorial Cup representative.

After jumping to the pros, he was able to post modest numbers from the point for Springfield over the better part of three seasons. After a five-game stint with Tampa Bay, it became clear that O’Brien was a one-dimensional player whose play in his own end would be a big liability in the top level. O’Brien was traded to Anaheim midway through the 2006-07 season. After an underwhelming finish to the season, O’Brien left North America for the Finnish League this past season.
 

Gerald Coleman, G

7th round, 224th overall
NHL Games Played: 2
Status: Bust

Coleman was selected from the London Knights, in the midst of their heyday. A graduate of the U.S. Development Program, the Lightning hoped that the athletic goaltender could be a useful component several years down the line, developing his raw ability. Coleman posted ridiculous numbers in his final year in junior, losing only two games and posting a 1.70 goals against average, though he lost his starting job for London in the Memorial Cup due to consistency issues (his replacement, Adam Dennis, led the Knights to the 2005 championship).

Coleman turned pro the following season, appearing in 43 games – splitting time with Brian Eklund and Jonathan Boutin for Springfield. He also saw two appearances in an emergency role for Tampa Bay. That would be the end of his playing time with the Lightning. A goaltending logjam, coupled with further inconsistency, resulted in Coleman’s trade to the Ducks midway through the season. Coleman has seen limited time with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Portland, missing the bulk of this past season with a concussion suffered in his first game of the season. With concussion worries, and a looming restricted free agency, Coleman’s professional future is muddled.

 

Jay Rosehill, D

7th round, 227th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

The Lightning went back to the well in choosing a physical defenseman with good size with their sixth selection, picking Rosehill out of the AJHL. Coming out of Junior A, Rosehill was dubbed a quality stay-at-homer with intense physical play and minimal offensive ability, and that has been his modus operandi in the pros. After a one-year stint with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Rosehill turned pro with Springfield. He has spent the better part of three years serving as a sixth or seventh defenseman with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, not putting up much in the way of offense, but playing a mean game in his own end. He brings a serviceable game to the table, but will likely be a career AHLer.
 

Raimonds Danilics, F

8th round, 255th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust
 
The Lightning took a flyer on the Latvian winger with an eighth round pick. Danilics had posted modest number playing junior hockey in his homeland, and displayed excellent skating ability and great offensive instincts. He was convinced to try his hand in North America in the 2004-05 season, splitting an unimpressive stint between the USHL and the NAHL, before returning to Europe. He has played the last four seasons with HK Riga 2000 in the Latvian league, posting solid offensive numbers.
 

Brady Greco, D

8th round, 256th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

Another pick, another physical defenseman added to the Lightning fold. Greco, a 6’3 defenseman, was selected out of the USHL after posting a 29-point, 225 penalty minute season (after having spent his freshman season with Michigan Tech). A transfer to Colorado College saw a modest performance from Greco with the top-flight WCHA squad. The smooth-skating defenseman spent the bulk of his rookie season with Johnstown, posting 10 points in 29 games. His sophomore season was an unmitigated disaster, with Greco suffering a serious shoulder injury early in the season. Things got worse mid-season, when Greco ran into off-ice legal problems, resulting in his departure from the organization.
 

Albert Vishnyakov, LW

9th round, 273rd overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust

The Lightning went back to the former Soviet Union for another late-round selection, choosing the role playing winger Vishnyakov with their ninth pick in the draft. He had already spent the better part of two seasons playing in the top Russian league, and it was hoped that with his maturity and his all-around style of play, he could be lured overseas. He hasn’t, choosing rather to stay in Russia. He split last season with Spartak Moskva and Metallurg, picking up ten points in 27 games.
 

Zbynek Hrdel, RW

9th round, 286th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust
 
Hrdel was drafted with a late-round selection based on a modest first season with the young and talented Rimouski Oceanic. While the Lightning had no illusions of Hrdel following in the wake of other past Rimouski selections (Lecavalier, Richards), Tampa hoped that he could be an offensive contributor down the line. His seeing time alongside Sidney Crosby in the following two seasons boosted both his expectations, and his numbers; so when he turned pro, it was hoped that he would be an offensive threat on the wing. That was not the case, as Hrdel failed to establish himself at the AHL level in his first three pro seasons.
 

Nick Tarnasky, C

9th round, 287th overall
NHL Games Played: 169
Status: NHL Player
 
Only five players were chosen after Tarnasky in the 2003 Entry Draft. Drafted on the basis of his size and hard-nosed play, Tarnasky displayed great perseverance once he turned pro, given his unimposing skill set and mediocre foot speed. Such selections had not panned out for the Lightning in recent years, with players with similar frames, similar skating ability, and much better skill sets – Adam Henrich and Darren Reid from the previous draft class – not making much progress, which makes Tarnasky’s road to the NHL all the more unexpected.

Tarnasky had already played with three teams in two seasons before the Lightning used their final selection on him. Not really much of a scorer, the 6’2, 233-pound centerman had gotten by on grit and responsible defensive play, as well as a tireless work ethic and an aggressive physical game. After an offensive outburst that saw the Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, product notch 26 goals, he turned pro.

In the professional ranks, Tarnasky displayed the same sort of grit, hard work, and physicality that he made a name for himself with in the WHL. In his rookie season, he appeared in 80 games, mostly on the third and fourth lines, registering 17 points and intimidating along the boards. After a strong start to his sophomore campaign, he was given a token call-up to the Lightning in late-October of the 2005-06 season.

For the past two seasons, Tarnasky has been a fixture on the Lightning fourth line. He has posted 20 points in 169 career NHL games. The remaining ten Lightning picks from the 2003 NHL Entry Draft have appeared in a combined 21 games.