Springfield Report and Draft Preview

By Pete Choquette

Marty McSorley in Springfield

In case you missed it, hockey’s most famous axeman was named by the Phoenix Coyotes as the new head coach of joint-affiliate Springfield of the AHL. Marty McSorley replaces embattled Falcons coach Marc Potvin, who was fired at the end of yet another campaign in which the Falcons failed to reach the AHL postseason. During that time, Potvin clashed at times with some of his players, including Lightning defensive prospect Kristian Kudroc. Furthermore, Potvin drew complaints for displaying a strong bias towards a certain Arizona-based affiliate’s prospects when doling out ice time, especially in regards to the forwards.

At the very least, expect McSorley to endorse an even more physical and intimidating style of play. The Lightning should see this as a good environment for Kudroc and Alexander Svitov to grow up in, and hope that less physical players like Mathieu Biron and Nikita Alexeev can buy into the approach as well. As for ice time, we can only hope McSorley shows more equity in his handling of Tampa’s forwards. On a related note, Jay Feaster began to honor his commitment to Springfield to add more AHL veterans to the mix by picking up the option on quasi-toughguy Ryan Tobler.

Who Will Be Tampa’s Goalie In Springfield?

Since my last article on the goaltending situation, Dieter Kochan’s fate was further sealed by the signing of former Lightning and Wings netminder Kevin Hodson to a three-way contract. On the same day, the Lightning signed former seventh round pick Brian Eklund of Brown University. While the team lauds Eklund’s abilities with statements like “one of the better NHL-style goaltenders in the NCAA,” the cold truth is that Eklund, a senior, couldn’t keep his starting job (at Brown) away from freshman Yann Danis. The Lightning seemingly are using the signing to create competition for the Falcons spot with underachieving but supremely talented prospect Evgeny Konstantinov. With all due respect to the Lightning, no one is buying, and that job will be Konstantinov’s. The Lightning elected not to sign former draft pick defenseman Aaron Gionet by the June 1st deadline. Gionet, a strong character player with very limited upside, will go back into the draft on Saturday.

Supplementary Draft Preview

The only thing that’s certain for the Lightning on June 22nd at this point is that nothing is certain. Jay Feaster has freely admitted he is willing to trade the Lightning’s first round pick for immediate help and has also shown a willingness to trade down in the first round to pick up help. Furthermore, in recent weeks, he has stated he will be looking for a goalscoring winger in this draft, with the number one criteria for who he picks being their ability to step into the NHL right away.

Feaster has expressed the opinion that Jay Bouwmeester, Kari Lehtonen, and Rick Nash will all be gone by the time the Lightning’s pick comes up at four. Conventional wisdom would have most teams selecting Finnish defenseman Joni Pitkanen, but with Feaster looking for goalscoring help on the wings, the Lightning could reach for Medicine Hat winger Joffrey Lupul, or the gritty Scottie Upshall of Kamloops, or possibly trade down and still select one of the two. The general manager has also praised diminutive Chicoutimi super-scorer Pierre-Marc Bouchard, although such a pick would seemingly be against Feaster’s sandpaper edict by further downsizing a team which already prominently features recently re-signed Martin St. Louis.

Were it my pick to make, under the circumstances Feaster predicts, I would select Pitkanen. However, in his first draft, where he is trying to separate himself from Rick Dudley, who was notoriously European happy in his drafting, a selection from the rugged WHL might better fit the bill. If that is the case, it is my sincere hope he is targeting Lupul, rather than chasing Scottie Upshall, who is also smaller than average and had a mediocre second half.