Lightning Top 20

By Chad Schnarr

1.C Alexander Svitov

Previous Ranking: 1
Springfield (AHL): 11 GP, 4G 5A 9P, 17 PIM, +4
Tampa Bay (NHL): 26 GP, 2G 2A 4P, 32 PIM, Even

Svitov retains his #1 ranking though he hasn’t “wowed” the hockey world … yet. After starting the year in Tampa, Svitov was sent to Springfield to gain confidence and work on his offensive game. Both times he has returned to Tampa from Springfield, he has exhibited more jump and has shown an increase in confidence. If Svitov continues to gain confidence with and without the puck, he could make a significant impact on the Lightning club as soon as late this season. His play along the boards and in his own zone are well ahead of where a teenager should be at this point in his development. Svitov was named to participate in the NHL’s Young Stars game during the 2003 All-Star weekend.

2.D Andreas Holmqvist

Previous Ranking: 3
Linkoping (SEL): 35GP, 3G 9A 12P, 22PIMs, -9

Dubbed the most NHL ready prospect in the Lightning’s system by the team’s scouts last summer, Holmqvist has shown flashes of brilliance in his rookie season on a Linkoping club which is struggling at the bottom of the Elitserian table. A right-handed shot with exceptional skill, the 6’4 Holmqvist is an outstanding mix of size and offensive punch. Turning 22 this summer, the young Swede could be a much-needed shot in the arm for the beleaguered Tampa Bay defensive corps next season.

3.LW Anton But

Previous Ranking: 4
Yaroslavl (RSL): 32 GP, 13G 11A 24P, 14PIMs, +16

The highly skilled winger, whose skating has been compared to that of current Lightning winger Jimmie Olvestad, currently leads defending Superleague champions Yaroslavl in scoring and has been in the top-10 of league scoring much of the season. Turning 23 this summer, But has a Superleague championship and a bevy of international experience under his belt, and could be ready to make an impact on NHL ice as early as next season.

4.RW Alexander Polushin

Previous Ranking: 2
CSKA (RSL): 31GP, 2G 5A 7P, 16PIM
Russia (WJC): 6 GP, 2G 6A 8P, 4 PIM, +9

As evidenced by his excellent play for the Russian’s top line in U-20 play over the last two years, which has included two consecutive gold medals at the WJC’s, Polushin could easily have the highest potential of any prospect in the Lightning system. A tireless worker and unselfish teammate, Polushin too often passes up the offensive spotlight for his linemates, which has caused his numbers with CSKA to suffer this season. Another year of seasoning in Russia and Alex could be ready to make a big splash in North America.

5.RW Evgeni Artukhin

Previous Ranking: 7
Moncton (QMJHL): 34GP, 7G 17A 24P, 108PIM, +6
Russia (WJC): 6 GP, 1G 0A 1P, 10 PIM, Even

Artukhin plays well in spurts but hasn’t put everything together consistently yet. He spends a good amount of time in the penalty box, partly due his eagerness to play a rough physical game in a league that’s not the prime setting for it. He’s got good skills, but prefers the rough side, a combination that should see him get a pro contract this summer. He received fourth line ice time for Russia as a surprise piece to the WJC gold medal-winning club. Artukhin scored the game’s opening goal in Russia’s semi-final win over Finland.

6.LW Adam Henrich

Previous Ranking: 6
Brampton (OHL): 40 GP, 16G 20A 36P, 64 PIM, +19

Henrich entered the season with an eye toward the 40-goal mark, but his current pace suggests he will miss that mark by a fair margin. Henrich has scored in bunches this year, netting several multi-point and multi-goal games, but not scoring consistently. His plus/minus rating is up considerably from a year ago and all reports indicate his play away from the puck is improving. A 2002 draft choice, Henrich is still a few years away from hitting NHL ice.

7.D Kristian Kudroc

Previous Ranking: 5
Springfield (AHL): 17GP, 0G 2A 2P, 17PIM, Even

After looking to rebound from a down year last season, Kudroc suffered a concussion early in the 2002-03 campaign and has only recently returned to the ice. The sooner he catches up to where he left off prior to last season, the sooner he’ll see ice time in Tampa. As the Lightning continue to fall in the standings, the likelihood of Kudroc getting another audition increases.

8.C/W Martin Cibak

Previous Ranking: 8
Springfield (AHL): 42GP, 3G 14A 17P, 62PIM, -5

Cibak has been among Springfield’s assist leaders all season while continuing to show some of the spunk and grit that got him in Lightning Coach John Tortorella’s good graces last season. His goal numbers should be higher, but that won’t stop him from getting an audition should the Lightning fall out of the playoff race.

9.G Evgeni Konstantinov

Previous Ranking: 10
Springfield (AHL): 24GP, 8W 14L 1T, 3.56GAA, .879sv%, 1SO

Konstantinov remains the Lightning’s number-three goalie on their depth chart, though if he were thrust into NHL duty the Lightning would likely go shopping for help. A third round pick in 1999, Konstantinov hasn’t progressed as the Lightning has hoped so far, but he’s still a few years away from being in his “prime.” Konstantinov remains inconsistent as he tries to increase his competitiveness—something Tampa has demanded he improve. His lateral movement is still very quick, but his skills and mental approach have yet to come together. Newly named goaltender consultant Kevin Hodson should help Konstantinov’s development.

10.LW Dennis Packard

Previous Ranking: 9
Harvard (NCAA): 15GP, 3G 3A 6P, 20PIM

Now a junior, Packard’s numbers should be much higher than they are (9 goals, 20 points last season). He’s got the size (6’5), skating and skill to be among the better players in the ECAC, but has struggled to overcome an offensive slump, possibly due to injuries (missed four games recently). Power forwards usually take a little longer to develop and Packard will have to use this and next year to earn a pro contract. No need to panic.

11.D Gerard Dicaire

Previous Ranking: 16
Kootenay (WHL): 48GP, 10G 29A 39P 59PIM, +9

A former second round pick of the Sabres, Dicaire’s game has been very steady this season. He has improved his shot and physical game and has continued to show good leadership as an alternate captain for the Ice. He’s among the WHL’s best defenseman at running the power play (8 PPG) —a role he should play next year for Tampa’s AHL affiliate.

12.LW Dmitry Afanasenkov

Previous Ranking: 17
Springfield (AHL): 39GP, 4G 9A 13P, 25PIM, -18

Afanasenkov was at #17 to start the year because of his forgettable 2001-02 season and his lackluster approach to the game. However, with a decent training camp he appeared to play himself back into the Lightning’s future—for now. He is, however, no where close to being a sure-fire NHLer from the blueline in, as he was tabbed by then-GM Rick Dudley, but he’s getting better. A streaky offensive player, Afanasenkov continues to work on his play away from the puck and in his own zone. He could see NHL time late in the season should the Lightning fall completely out of the playoff race.

13.C/W J.F. Soucy

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Montreal (QMJHL): 43GP, 19G 22A 41P, 132PIM, +3

The surprising Soucy started the year with a bang, netting a hat trick against Atlanta in an NHL exhibition game. After missing a couple games in Montreal with a concussion, he has been a point-per-game player and among the Q’s best clutch performers. Like Artukhin, he spends a lot of time in the box, feeling shame. A lanky, gritty forward with excellent skating skills, Soucy is now adding some offensive flair to his game, which should earn him a contract come spring.

14.D Paul Ranger

Previous Ranking: 14
Oshawa (OHL): 45GP, 7G 19A 26P, 42PIM, +17

With the exception of Soucy, perhaps no Lightning prospect as increased his stock more than Ranger. A smooth skating rearguard, Ranger is among the Generals scoring leaders and has gained the trust of his coaches enough to be put in all game situations. Ranger has responded with solid and steady play and just may be a steal for Jake Goertzen and the Lightning as a sixth round pick .

15.C Dmitri Kazionov

Previous Ranking: 11
Lada Togliatti (RSL): 3GP, 0G 0A 0P, 4PIM

Kazionov is a tantalizing package of size and skill who simply hasn’t put it together yet at any level of Russian hockey. He has only played three games this season with Lada Togliatta of the Superleague, and has had disappointing numbers with their farm team in the Upper League. He probably should have accepted the Kingston Frontenacs’ offer to come play Canadian junior this season.

16.G Joe Pearce

Previous Ranking: 12
Chicago (USHL): 22GP, 11W 7L 2OTL, 2.96GAA, .894sv%, 1SO

Pearce is currently playing as part of a goaltending tandem for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. A big goalie with decent raw skills, Pearce will have four years at Boston College to develop, starting next fall.

17.C Ryan Craig

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Brandon (WHL): 35GP, 26G 22A 48P, 46PIM, +20

Craig is another who’s stock has shot up considerably. Though his skating is questionable, his offense and leadership are not. Craig, captain of the CHL’s #1 ranked team, is among WHL scoring leaders and competes every night—something Jay Feaster and company love to see. Craig put off knee surgery last year to help guide his Wheat Kings deep in the playoffs. After missing the first month of this season recovering from surgery, he has been better than before. Craig’s success should translate to the AHL level, but it remains to be seen how his game will translate onto NHL ice.

18.RW Aaron Lobb

Previous Ranking: 13
Guelph (OHL): 40GP, 8G 11A 19P, 73PIM, +4

Lobb is still struggling to recover from major knee surgery last season. However, his numbers aren’t meeting expectations and he’s had a hard time finding quality ice time in Guelph. Part of that is due to being a healthy scratch for reportedly being apprehensive about playing in traffic, and he was also one of a dozen Storm players who were suspended for missing a curfew. Lobb has good size (he bulked up while recovering from the surgery) with decent hands who will compete physically at times and won’t hesitate to fight. He is playing for a contract this summer and it will be interesting to see if Feaster believes in Lobb’s upside enough to see past his struggles the last two years.

19.D Jeremy Van Hoof

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Pensacola (ECHL): 42GP, 4G 4A 8P, 31PIM, +25

A former second round pick of the Penguins, Van Hoof has impressed at the ECHL level to the tune of a club high +25 rating, which is tops in the ECHL for defensemen. To illustrate how impressive that stat is, the next highest plus/minus rating on the Ice Pilots is only a +6, and the Pilot’s highest scoring defenseman, Brad Dexter, checks in at –17. Van Hoof is not a great skater, not overly tough (will drop the gloves if necessary), and doesn’t have a great shot (though his four goals are all game-winners, tops on the team), but when he is on the ice the odds are against the opposition scoring a goal and your chances greatly increase. His two strongest assets are his work along the boards and his conservative "safe" play. When Van Hoof gets you on the boards, you’re there until he decides otherwise. Van Hoof has strong leadership abilities and is mature beyond his years. To make any kind of impact at the NHL level, he will have to improve his skating. Van Hoof should get his shot in the AHL at the close of the season, or at the least next season for Tampa’s AHL affiliate.

20.D Henrik Bergfors

Previous Ranking: 20
Orebro (Allsvenskan, SWE): 18 GP, 0G 0A 0P, 60 PIM, -5

Between his size and his unrelenting willingness to crush opposing forwards, Bergfors could one day become a fan favorite in Tampa. He displayed his North American style physical aggression in an extremely rare early season brawl in the Allsvenskan, which garnered him a five-game suspension. Although he has failed to score a point in his first season in the second-tier league, he has a mildly impressive plus/minus on an all-around terrible Orebro team.

Dropping Out:

#15 C Karri Akkanen, Ilves, Jr. (Fin-Jr.)
#18 D P.J. Atherton, Minnesota (NCAA)
#19 D Paul Lynch, Maine (NCAA)

Top-20 Honorable Mention:

C Karri Akkanen, Ilves, Jr. (Fin-Jr.)
D P.J. Atherton, Minnesota (NCAA)
D Arthur Femenella, Sioux City (USHL)
G Brian Eklund, Pensacola (ECHL)

Organization’s strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths:
1. Youth at the center position (Lecavalier, Richards, Svitov, Cibak, etc.)
2. 2nd line type scoring depth on wing (Polushin, But, Henrich)
3. Size and speed in potential checking liners (Artukhin, Soucy, Packard, Lobb)

Weaknesses:
1. Lack of bluechip defensemen prospects beyond Holmqvist
2. Not having a full AHL affiliate
3. No clear-cut goaltender of the future
4. Lack of a bluechip first line sniper prospect on the wing

*Rankings compiled by Pete Choquette and Chad Schnarr.

*Stats as of 1-19-2003

*Criteria for who appears on this list adheres to the criteria set by HF for all prospects, as this criteria is used on the Top 50 Prospects and Team Organizational Rankings as well. The Top 20 prospects list reflects a combination of the prospect’s current standing to earning a roster spot on the NHL team and his long-term projections. If a player is not close to making the NHL team but he has a solid long-term potential, he is considered below a player with solid potential but is closer to securing a full-time spot on the NHL team.