Connolly and Ashton top Tampa Bay Lightning’s junior prospects

By HF Staff
Photo: The sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft, Brett Connolly has appeared to bounce back from a hip injury that shortened his 2009-10 season. (Photo Courtesy of www.whl.ca)

While the bulk of Tampa Bay’s talent may currently reside in the AHL, the organization’s best prospects are currently plying their trade in the CHL. The team, heavily focused on rebuilding its blue line, used four successive draft picks in the mid-rounds on CHL defenseman. Half of the Lightning’s prospects play in the OHL, but former first-round draft picks Carter Ashton and Brett Connolly play in the WHL.

WHL

Brett Connolly, C, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 1st round (6th overall) in 2010
May 2, 1992. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 203 lbs.

It was somewhat of a surprise to see Brett Connolly selected sixth overall in the 2010 draft considering he played just 16 games the prior season. Now healthy, Connolly is showing precisely why he was considered one of the biggest upside plays in the draft. Despite being held pointless in his last four games, Connolly has already stockpiled 25 points, including 15 goals, through 20 games.

Surprisingly, Connolly has just four powerplay goals with the other 11 coming at even strength. His strong play to open the season has already been noticed, as he was named as the player of the month for October by Hockey’s Future. He will also represent Team WHL in the upcoming Super Series, his second appearance for the WHL.

Carter Ashton, RW, Regina Pats
Acquired: 1st round (29th overall) in 2009
Apr. 1, 1991. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 200 lbs.

This year offers Ashton the potential to finally explode onto the junior hockey scene. Ashton has begun his first full season with the Regina Pats playing on the wing for the diminutive, slick-passing center Jordan Weal (LAK). To this point in the season, Ashton has 11 goals in 20 games and five goals in his last four games.

The recent uptick in Ashton’s production may be accredited to his higher compete level. The young power forward has become extremely effective in front of the net, scoring on both deflections and rebounds. The chance to play with Weal has been invaluable as well, helping Ashton to better understand how to work with linemates to create offensive chances. He will be allowed to continue to progress against the top-level opponents at the Canada World Junior Camp. Ashton was one of 24 forwards from 1991 and 1992 invited to this camp.

Teigan Zahn, D, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 7th round (186th overall) in 2010
Apr. 1, 1990. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 210 lbs.

In his sixth year with the Blades, as the oldest player on the team, Zahn has become the emotional and physical leader of the Saskatoon Blades. As captain, the veteran has continued his crunching, grating style of play that has made him of demotic appeal in Saskatoon. Zahn has recorded three fighting majors to this point in the season and is a plus-six for the first place Blades.

Zahn has been productive at the beginning of this season, encouraging given he had been surpassed by several younger defensemen in an injury plagued 2009-10 season. This bruising defenseman has terrific intangibles, but not a ton of talent upside. He may develop into a depth defenseman role, or may be nothing more than a leader for the Norfolk Admirals down the road.

OHL

Richard Panik, RW, Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 2nd round (52nd overall) in 2009
Feb. 7, 1991. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 218 lbs.

Panik, thought by many to possess first round talent, finally showed why at the beginning of this season. An explosive offensive threat, the young Slovak recorded an impressive 22 points in his first 12 games of the season. However, he then went ice cold with his goal on November 13th being his first point in eight games.

Panik’s combination of size, speed and hands are as good as they come. One of his end to end rushes was one of the OHL’s plays of the week for October 20th. However, Panik is prone to bouts of inconsistency. It will be seen if Belleville Bulls head coach George Burnett will be able to guide Panik through the brumal rigors of the OHL season.

Brock Beukeboom, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 4th round (96th overall) in 2010
Apr. 1, 1992. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 199 lbs.

Beukeboom has struggled in the early going for the Soo Greyhounds, one of the worst teams in the Western Conference of the OHL. Beukeboom, a minus-nine, failed to record a point until his 15th game of the season. Some of this can be attributed to 18-year-old spending much of his time playing with 16-year-old Gianluca Curcuruto.

Amongst the Lightning’s CHL prospects, Beukeboom probably has the most talent. A lot can be learned about a player as they struggle in a difficult situation. Beukebooom will try to turn around a young, unproven Greyhounds team, but will also get an opportunity to showcase his talents with better players for Team OHL in the Subway Super Series.

Geoff Schemitsch, D, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 1st round (6th overall) in 2010
Apr. 1, 1992. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 180 lbs.

There was some hope that Schemitsch would use this season with the Owen Sound Attack to get bigger and stronger. The smooth-skating blueliner already possesses a well developed offensive set, particularly with his passing and thinking out on the ice. However, the youngster has been sharply criticized for his complete lack of a physical game.

Despite the criticisms, Schemitsch is again proving himself useful in 2010-2011. He is second on the Owen Sound blue line with 11 points through 17 games. More impressive, Schemitsch is plus-ten on the season, doing his best to quiet critics of his defensive game.

Michael Zador, G, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 5th round (148th overall) in 2009
May 8, 1991. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 172 lbs.

The news seems to have gone from bad to worse for Zador. The young goalie struggled through the past season on a very bad Oshawa team. But that cannot be whole explanation for a goaltender finishing with 4.14 goals-against-average. Unable to improve muc
h on last year’s struggles, Zador has now lost his starting job to 18-year-old Kevin Bailie.

While still not an elite team, the Generals have played above .500 hockey this season. The team is enough that Zador and his current 3.37 goals against average is unacceptable. Zador is a goalie that enjoyed very brief success playing for Canada in the U-18 World Juniors Championship. However, evidence indicates that the brief success in the U-18s will not be indicative of the rest of Zador’s professional career.

QMJHL

Adam Janosik, D, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 3rd round (72nd overall) in 2010
Sep. 7, 1992. Ht: 5’11, Wt: 178 lbs.

As a smaller, quicker defenseman, Janosik excels on the powerplay, where he is again one of the Olympiques primary options on the back-end. Despite a slow start, the 72nd overall pick in last year’s draft is hitting his stride of late with points in back to back contests. Janosik has two goals and six assists on the season for the Olympiques, who are in the middle of the pack.

The lone prospect in the QMJHL, Janosik picked a good spot to adjust to the American game. As a smaller defenseman, the QMJHL’s faster, more open game is appropriate for this Slovak export. Janosik may never become much more defensive than he is already, but he does possess the tools to develop into a useful powerplay specialist down the line for the Lightning.

Article was written by John Henry Schroeder.