After all the personnel changes by the Lightning organization, I assumed the first couple of days of camp would be taken up with introductions. Between trades, signings, invitations, and every other conceivable means of acquiring players, the Tampa Bay training camp roster looked very little like last years. The Lightning had a horrible past two seasons, but they did have a core of good players. Injuries were also a problem for the Bolts. Rick Dudley, G.M. of the Lightning, did a good job of bringing in a lot of players. One of the biggest problems in the last couple of years in Tampa was depth. With having to hurry draftees into the lineup and no real minor league system to speak of, the team was not able to develop any depth within the organization.
There was some good young talent on the team last season. With very few exceptions, the additions made late last season by then G.M. Jacques Demers and Rick Dudley this summer were also young and talented. By far the player with the most potential is Vincent LeCavalier. Pavel Kubina was a pleasant surprise as a rookie last season. Added to the roster were Chris Gratton, Alexander Daigle, Andrei Zyuzin, Steven Guolla, Sergey Gusev, and Colin Forbes. Already in the system were Paul Mara, Brad Richards, Mario Larocque, Matt Elich,Karel Betik, Eero Somervuori, Zac Bierk, and Kyle Kos. All with NHL potential, albeit hit or miss in some cases. Added in this seasons draft were Sheldon Keefe, Kaspars Astashenko, Jimmie Ovelstad, Fedor Fedorov, and Mikko Kuparrinen. The Lightning should be far and away the youngest team in the NHL this season. Add to that the large percentage of their key prospects are also very young, and the future looks very bright.
Training camp provided some very nice surprises. Several players who were considered either long shots or hit or miss showed that they have the ability to play at the NHL level at some point. Brad Richards and Sheldon Keefe showed tremendous talent and are both very close to joining the Lightning. Steven Guolla did nothing but impress the team with not only his ability but attitude as well. Three players selected this summer in the draft who could have been called reaches showed much more than had been hoped. Mikko Kuparinen, Fedor Fedorov, and Kaspars Astashenko all proved that they will be fighting for roster spots very soon. Matt Elich continues to amaze people with his speed. As a sidenote I have to say that I have scouted or seen countless players over the years. I have no problem with saying that Elich is the fastest skater I have ever seen. This is no exaggeration. He not only has outright speed but doesn’t lose a beat with the puck. He is however, still a little raw in the skill department.
With new management, a new system, and most importantly a new attitude, things look very positive in Tampa. How much of a difference all the changes will make is yet to be seen, but I can honestly say that regardless of how things change in the standings, this team will no longer be the laughing stock of the league. With roughly 75-80% of their players 26 or younger, there is only one way for this team to go. UP.