The Norfolk Admirals will attempt to put last season’s dismal performance behind them, in which they finished near the bottom of the AHL standings with only 33 wins. This season the team should be able to count on a more stable and better balanced line-up and could contend for a playoff spot.
Returning this season to headline Norfolk’s group of forwards is Brandon Bochenski, who led the team with 27 goals last year. He, along with fellow returnee Blair Jones, will need to step up his game in order to help make up for the absence of last season’s leading scorer Zenon Konopka, who made the Tampa Bay Lighting out of training camp for the first time in his career.
This season will mark the first full pro season for Lightning prospect Dana Tyrell. Tyrell is coming of a disappointing knee injury which kept him off Team Canada’s gold medal winning junior squad. The injury also cut short his season with the Prince George Cougars to only 30 games. Fully healthy now, he will provide Norfolk with a solid effort every game and also give them a little extra scoring punch.
Norfolk will also be looking for some offense from crafty puckhandler Mitch Fadden. The 2007 fourth-round pick will be making his professional hockey debut this season, coming out of Tri-City of the WHL.
Another Tampa Bay prospect looking to impress this season is Martins Karsums. Acquired in last season’s Mark Recchi trade with Boston, Karsums played a total of 18 games with the Lightning, scoring one goal and four assists. This season he will be expected to be one of the top point producers for Norfolk.
The remainder of the Norfolk’s forward lines will be made up of Ryan Craig, Mitch Fritz, Adam Hall, Chris Lawrence, Juraj Simek, and Paul Szczechura. Also making the club this season are Tommy Goebel, Justin Keller, Travis Whitehead. All three forwards were invited to camp on a try-out basis and performed well enough to stick around.
While Norfolk’s group of forwards are much different from last season, it’s not the case for the defense. All seven defensemen on the opening-night roster saw some action with the Admirals last season.
A lot is expected this year of Matt Lashoff, who will be starting his first full season in the Tampa Bay organization. Lashoff does a little of everything and doesn’t have any glaring faults with his game. He won’t lead the team’s defensemen in scoring, but he will contribute offensively without taking anything away from his defense. Lashoff should see a lot of ice time this season.
Acquired in the trade that sent Dan Boyle to San Jose, Ty Wishart is another Lightning prospect who will be a key piece of the Norfolk blue line. Last season with the Admirals, Wishart played a total of 61 games. He was relied upon to shut down the opposing team’s top forwards. He will again be counted on to be a shut-down defenseman this season but will also be expected to use his powerful shot more to create offensive chances.
Towering Slovakian defenseman Vladimir Mihalik will be playing in his third AHL campaign this season. At 6’7, Mihalik has the potential to dominate physically at the pro level and will be looked upon by the Norfolk coaching staff to take on a more physical role with the club this season.
Unlike last season when four goaltenders started more than 10 games each, the situation between the pipes heading into the 2009-10 campaign seems more stable. After starting 25 games last season, and also spending time in the ECHL, Finn Riku Helenius will likely start the bulk of the team’s games. He will likely be backed up by either 2009 draftee Jaroslav Janus, whose strong camp helped him avoid being returned to junior, or World Junior Championship hero Dustin Tokarski. Both rookie goaltenders should push hard for playing time this season. One will likely be assigned to the ECHL, though the Admirals have no official affiliate heading into the season.
Prospects at Training Camp
The Lightning had several high-profile prospects at this year’s training camp.
The most well known of course was 2009’s second overall pick Victor Hedman. When camp opened it was a forgone conclusion that Hedman would be on the Lightning’s opening night roster. That didn’t stop him from giving a full effort during camp and in preseason games where he logged huge minutes. Hedman probably won’t see the same type of ice time during the regular season, but he will play a key role for the Lightning and arguably is already a Calder Trophy candidate.
Somewhat of a surprise to make the team out of training camp, forward James Wright will begin the 2009-10 with Tampa Bay out of the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. Wright worked hard during camp and showed enough tenacity to stick with the club. He will be counted on for grit and energy more so than for any offensive production.
Failing to make the Tampa Bay roster but still performing well was 2009 draft pick Carter Ashton. In three preseason games, he scored one goal. Ashton will continue to develop with the Lethbridge Hurricanes this season and will certainly be on Team Canada’s radar when their World Junior Championship selection camp rolls around.