Lightning Signing Day 2003
The Tampa Bay Lightning has signed C/LW Jean-Francois Soucy of the ex-Montreal Rocket to an entry level contract, according to a team press release. For the former 2001 8th round (252nd overall) selection, the signing caps a meteoric and improbable rise up the Lightning’s prospect ranks over the last season. In three seasons prior to the 2002-2003 campaign between Montreal and Val-d’Or, Soucy amassed an unimpressive 15 goals and 44 points in 169 games.
Facing his signing year though, the 20-year-old French-Canadian did everything that could be asked of an 8th round pick and more. In training camp scrimmages, Soucy managed to surprisingly hold his own statistically with two other more highly touted youngsters, 2001 3rd rounder Evgeni Artukhin and 2001 4th round pick Aaron Lobb. Soucy then proceeded to do the unthinkable in notching a workman-like hat trick in his first NHL exhibition game against the Atlanta Thrashers on September 20th, 2002 before being sent back to Montreal to begin his junior season. With the Rocket, Soucy managed to best his combined career totals by posting 24 goals and 55 points in 65 games while also adding a career high 168 PIMs.
The 6’3″ 187 lb. Soucy’s greatest asset is his superior straight line speed which allowed him to become a very solid forechecker this season with Montreal. In his previous two seasons in Montreal, where he has played largely the left wing position, the conservative defensive style of the team helped cultivate him as a solid defensive player, as well. Soucy also possesses a decent shot, and occasionally flashes some signs of stickhandling brilliance.
For Soucy to be successful in the professional ranks though, he must continue to show the enthusiasm, effort, and work ethic he has displayed this season in his quest to secure his contract. He must spend much of the offseason bulking up to survive at the next level, as his lean body may prove unable to handle the rigors of the physical AHL. In addition, Soucy must continue to work on his balance, passing, and must remain willing to assert himself in the physical game as he did this past season. Soucy already showed a propensity for occasionally landing big hits this year in the QMJHL, and with added bulk he could continue to do so in the pro ranks.
Hockey’s Future projects Soucy’s maximum upside at a checking line player, most likely at center, which is the position the Lightning seem to favor him at.
Other Signing Day News
Hockey’s Future has learned that the Lightning has decided not to offer 2001 4th round selection Aaron Lobb a contract, and he will re-enter the draft in late June. In addition, contrary to local newspaper reports, winger Evgeni Artukhin and defenseman Arthur Femenella are not facing the June 1st signing deadline. Artukhin will likely return to the Moncton Wildcats to play his overage year of junior next season, and Femenella, a 2001 6th round choice who has spent the last three seasons with Sioux City of the USHL, will attend the University of Vermont in the fall.
Other Prospect Signing News
Hockey’s Future has also learned the Tampa Bay Lightning have offered contracts to two 2002 draftees, center Ryan Craig of the Brandon Wheat Kings and defenseman Gerard Dicaire of Kootenay. Craig, an 8th round pick who scored 42 goals and 74 points in 60 games after rehabbing an offseason knee injury was recently named the CHL’s Humanitarian of the Year and was selected as the top leader in the WHL. Dicaire, a lefthanded power play wizard who notched 15 goals and 59 points in 72 games with Kootenay, was a 5th round selection of the team after re-entering the draft. Prior to that, he was a 2nd round selection of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2000 draft. Contract negotiations will continue with the two WHL standouts throughout the summer, and the team retains their rights until the summer of 2004.
Meanwhile, on the European front, the team hopes to sign defenseman Andreas Holmqvist, a 2001 2nd round pick who just completed his rookie season in the SEL with Linkoping. Due to the Lightning’s current lack of an affiliation agreement, it is speculated Holmqvist would be returned to Sweden to finish out the 2003-2004 season if he is unable to land a permanent roster spot at the NHL level. It appears highly unlikely older prospects Dimitry Bezrukov, Anton But, and Eero Somervuori will be offered contracts, with the AHL situation and money being contributing factors.
Editor’s Note: Somervuori was signed to a one-year deal on June 4, less than a week after Feaster stated signing Somervuori, Bezrukov, and But, specifically, was very unlikely to happen. The Somervuori signing is igniting rumors that negotiations with unrestricted free agent Vaclav Prospal have hit a very serious low and a spot among the top-6 forwards has become open. In the team’s press release, Feaster is quoted as saying he expects Somervuori to compete for a spot on the top two lines this fall.
Affiliate Woes Continue
With Rochester reaffirming their affiliation with the Buffalo Sabres, the Lightning are unlikely to have an official affiliation on the AHL level next season. The team currently plans to disperse prospects to a number of AHL teams, with speculation that Hershey and Philadelphia are two of their potential destinations. The Lightning will spend next summer just as they did the previous two; trying to flag down a stable full minor league affiliation. The Lightning have not had a full affiliation that has lasted longer than two seasons since the Atlanta Knights moved to Quebec City after the 1995-96 season.
It is impossible to stress enough the importance of securing a stable full affiliation by next summer at the latest. With prospects like Adam Henrich, Dennis Packard, and Paul Ranger slated to face their own signing deadlines at that time, it is imperative the team set up a functional developmental apparatus by then.
Editor’s Note: For more information on the Lightning’s minor league affiliate history, see Pete Choquette’s previous article, “No Minor Problem,” on the Hockey’s Future Lightning page.