Although things look pretty bad at the moment for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the future holds some real promise with their stable of young players. Led by last years overall number one pick, Vincent LeCavalier, the Bolts have a core of solid and talented players who should propel this team back into playoff contention within the next few years. The one factor that puts a little bit of a damper on the fans optimism is that the majority of their younger players are still in Juniors and are not ready to make the leap for at least another two years. Under the supervision of Head Scout Don Murdoch, Tampa Bay has had a top ten rated draft the last 5 years. Bad decisions and lack of patience by previous management has led the team to bail out on some of their promising young guns and they are forced to pretty much start over. Seeing that the Ottawa Senators have taken same track that the Lightnings current staff wants to take, and in light of their recent success, hopes abound for fans in the Sunshine State. Despite the rankings of this website, currently 16th,I personally feel that they have good depth in the organization.
I am including Vincent LeCavalier in this article as a prospect because regardless of the fact that he is a regular player, he is still 18 years old and is still part of if not the future of this team. Vinny, as he is called here, has been treated with kid gloves this season by coach and GM Jacques Demers. He was given little ice time early in the season, and it really hasn’t increased that much in recent times, even though the team has gone to a youth movement. Even with his limited chances he has shown that he will be an elite player in this league. He has shown nothing to make his predraft scouting reports wrong. He has incredible vision and hockey sense. His offensive abilities are among the best in the league. The only thing keeping him from reaching stardom is the fact that he is still learning the league and he does have some defensive liabilties. He ahs worked very hard on his defensive game and has shown solid improvment. Their is no doubt that given the oportunity to shine next year, he will show the league that there is yet another young gun to keep their eyes on.
The immediate future seems to rest on the backs of a couple of good young defensive propects. Pavel Kubina has shown signs that he may well be the best defensmen in the organization, not Paul Mara. He has size, speed, and good instincts. He is young, however, and often shows this on the ice. He very rarely makes the same mistake twice though,which shows he is mature beyond his years. He has also shown some very good offensive ability in recent weeks as he gains confidence and the coaching staff has given him the green light with the puck.
Mario LaRocuqe has gotten in to a few games recently and has shown that he has the talent to play in the NHL. He has also shown that he is not to play regularly yet at this level. This unfortunately may make him the victim of the numbers game. If he does need another year in the minors, he may be passed over by some other players. There is some interest i him from other teams, and he could become a major piece of a trade in the near future.
Paul Mara is obviously a talented player, but his dismal performance at last years training camp, where he was given a strong chance to make the team, was disappointing. He also has not had the dominating year this season that he should have. His agent ,Bobby Orr ,has said publicly in Tampa recently that Paul will be in much better shape when he shows up at camp this summer and will show that he is ready to make his presence felt in the NHL next year. I would never doubt the word of the great Bobby Orr, but we’ll see.
Kyle Kos, in my opinion, could become a real player. He has shown real potential each of the last two training camps and is having a very good season in Junior this year. He has incredible speed which will help him in his jump to this level and if he can bulk up just a little, he could become a good player in the NHL.
Karel Betik has been a real surprise this season with the Cleveland Lumberjacks. In fact was to be called up ahead of Mario LaRocque until he got hurt. There is still a good chance he will get in a few games this season, and it will be very interesting to see what he makes of his chance to show his abilities.
Curtis Rich and Jason Robinson also both look like they could eventually make it to the NHL, although Jason may get caught up in the numbers just as LaRocque may. He always seems to be on the verge of taking the next step but just barely misses his shot at the team taking that extra look at him. This upcoming camp will probably make or break his career. Rich, however, shows signs that he may very well become a good player. He is still young and should only get better. A good camp could propel him to the minors and hopefully a shot at the NHL within another year or two.
Lastly Andrei Skopintsev, who I find hard to call a prospect because of his age(27), is a rookie and has bounced back and forth from the minors. He looked great in camp until he dove head first in front of a shot in preseason game that fractured his jaw and delayed his career a bit. He has recently been recalled and in just 4 or 5 games has shown the ability to be a real steady backliner. He won’t turn many heads but shold be a solid 4, 5 or 6 D in the NHL.
Forward prospects are not as plentiful or talented as defense in the organization but there are a couple of good ones. Brad Richards has shown he can score without LeCavalier, and this makes management very happy. It is hoped that he could be reunited with Vinny in a couple of years and rekindle the magic the had at Rimouski. Brent Peterson shows some real scoring touch but current coach Demers is not one of his biggest fans. Hopefully they will not get rid of him before Jacques desides to hire a new coach and concentrate on his GM duties.
Eero Somervuori, a small but talented scorer, has looked very good this year and could be a real surprise. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the ice.
Added to these three forwards are a group of hit or miss players who have the potential but it will be a matter of time before we really know wether they can help this team turn things around. Among them are Dimitri Afanasenkov, Martin Cibak, Xavier Delisle, Matt Elich, Samuel St.Pierre, and Jan Sulc.
With the team looking like they are a lock to get the overall number one again this year, and another high pick next the next year, they will go for goal scoring big time. This having been said, they are actually leaning toward taking Pavel Brendl with the number one pick at this point. Even though he is more of a power forward than goal scorer, they like his game and feel that he may become a better scorer than he is now in the future. Of course that could change as things progress in the rest of the Junior season. Patrik Stefan and the Sedin brothers are also high on their list.
To sum things up it looks as if the Lightning have some hope for the future. They have a pretty good stable of defensive players which I feel they may be able to move 1 or 2 in order to bring in some veteran help for the immediate future. Except for a couple of close to sure things they are mostely hit or miss at the forward spots. Look for them to go hard after scorers this draft and don’t count out the chance that they move their first pick this season. Although they are in a rebuilding mode, they need help now and can’t afford to finish last in the NHL again next year.