A month before the 2003 Entry Draft, the Hockey’s Future-Lightning staff examined the state of the Lightning prospect system and compiled a pre-draft preview. The article, which included categories such as team needs, strengths, weaknesses, and draft tendencies, appeared in the Hockey’s Future Magazine Draft issue. The following evaluation shows the before and after effects of the 2003 Entry Draft.
“The Lightning needs an impact player on the blueline. Much of this off-season will be spent trying to find a two-way defenseman capable of logging 25 minutes a night while chipping in 35-45 points.
The money-conscious Lightning remains in a multi-year hunt for a capable and affordable scoring winger for Vincent Lecavalier, and that’s even if his left winger, 79-point man and unrestricted free agent Vaclav Prospal, returns. The latest experiment, Ruslan Fedotenko, fell to the third line late in the season, failing to meet pre-season expectations. When Martin St. Louis was moved with Lecavalier and Prospal, the line led the team to a series win over the Capitals. Subsequently, the Richards-Modin line fell apart. Finding a sixth scoring line forward is a must for GM Jay Feaster—again. If Prospal leaves town, add another affordable scoring winger to the wish list.”
The Lightning didn’t add a NHL defenseman at the draft, though the St. Pete Times reported Feaster tried several times to pry Roman Hamrlik from the New York Islanders. The Lightning did, however, address defense with its picks. Five of the 11 players taken were defensemen, including three of the first four players taken and four of the first six. Armed with two new second rounders, Feaster opted for Calgary Hitmen defender Mike Egener at 34 and Minnesota high schooler Matt Smaby at 41. Newfoudlander Doug O’Brien came two picks later.
Playing the role of a thief, Feaster turned the 62nd overall pick into 67-point-man Cory Stillman. Whether the perennial 20+ goal-scorer is Prospal insurance, that sixth forward, or Freddy Modin’s replacement (whose name has been thrown around in trade rumors, specifically to the NYI for Hamrlik), remains to be seen.
Everything seemingly depends on Prospal being re-signed, but our sources tell us he could be close to returning to the Bolts. If so, Tampa’s most glaring weakness again switches to the backline. After the departure of defensemen Nolan Pratt, Stan Neckar, and Janne Laukkanen, Tampa only has five NHL defenders on its roster. This paves the way for super-prospect Andreas Holmqvist to sign and make the journey across the ocean from Sweden. Also, look for Feaster to continue to pursue Hamrlik and scan the mid-range level of available unrestricted free agents. One name to keep in mind is Oleg Tverdovsky, who didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Devils.
In terms of the prospect system, the Bolts needed better defensive and goaltending depth. Mission accomplished. With Egener, Smaby, and O’Brien, the Bolts have a nice stable of prospects on the backline. Throw in previous choices Andreas Holmqvist, Gerard Dicaire and Paul Ranger, and the defense becomes a prominent strength.
“Coming off of its first playoff berth since 1996 and their first Southeast Division crown, the Lightning still has one of the youngest rosters in the NHL. Furthermore, the Lightning has arguably the strongest stable of young centers in the league with Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Alexander Svitov.
In the system, the team has collected a good number of second line quality scoring wingers in Alexander Polushin, Anton But, and Adam Henrich. Also, the team has a multitude of checking line wingers highlighted by Evgeny Artukhin, J. F. Soucy, and Dennis Packard, all of whom have exceptional size and speed.”
In an effort to obtain more NHL help, the Lightning didn’t have to part with one of its young core, and that’s a good thing. One of our sources tells us Svitov’s name was overheard in a conversation coming from the Lightning draft table telling the person on the other end of the phone Alex was untouchable.
Defense has finally caught up to the forwards in terms of quality depth. The Egener and Smaby additions, combined with Ranger, Dicaire and Holmqvist, as was mentioned earlier, gives the Lightning a fine group to work with. Some are big, some are skilled, but all are very good skaters with good balance. Goaltending depth is now a strength with the additions of Jonathan Boutin and Gerald Coleman.
“The Lightning’s greatest weakness with regard to its prospects is their inability to secure an adequate AHL affiliate. Only by securing a stable long-term, full-affiliation can the Lightning hope to capitalize on the strength of its scouting staff and sustain their recent successes at the NHL level.
On the ice, beyond Swedish blueliner Andreas Holmqvist, there is no sure-fire help at defenseman on the horizon, although Gerard Dicaire and Paul Ranger show promise. The team lacks a clear-cut goaltender of the future, and finally, while there is excellent depth on the wings, a game-breaking sniper with the upside to someday take a spot alongside franchise center Vincent Lecavalier remains lacking.”
The Lightning still don’t have a stable, long-term, full AHL affiliation, but was able to strike a deal with the Hershey Bears to provide Feaster’s former AHL employer with six prospects. Something is better than nothing.
The Bolts got significantly better on the backline with Egener and Smaby, so the defensive weakness has been addressed. As far as a sure-fire goalie of the future goes, Boutin, a third round pick, may be the leading candidate right now. Former third rounder Evgeny Konstantinov continues to catch the eye of Lightning scouts with his raw ability, but it is still extremely underdeveloped and inconsistent. He enters the final year of his rookie contract this fall, a season that is pivotal in his career, especially with developing big-man Brian Eklund pushing him. Gerald Coleman was taken in the 2003 draft, adding further depth, and may be the surprise of the entire corps. Prior to the 2002-03 season, at least one scout thought Coleman would be the second goalie taken in the ’03 draft after Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Bolts still don’t have a sure-fire sniper to accompany Lecavalier. Though Tampa may be thinking it’s easier to acquire forwards than defensemen down the line, that doesn’t necessarily apply to true finishers. The Bolts went into the draft wanting to replenish the backline and goaltending depth, and it was obvious they were sticking to that plan. While Tampa may have quality depth, there are no probable all-stars in the bunch.
“Since Jake Goertzen took over scouting duties for the Lightning after the 1999 Entry Draft, the team has focused on selecting players with both excellent size and speed. This is exemplified by selections Nikita Alexeev and Evgeni Artukhin. The Lightning hasn’t drafted a player below 6’0″ in three years, and prefers players with a “nasty streak.”
Size and athleticism are also important components of the Lightning’s philosophy in drafting goaltenders, evidenced by picks Brian Eklund, Joseph Pearce, and Vasily Koshechkin—all 6’5” or taller. Feaster and Goertzen always point to competitiveness in goaltenders as a top ingredient, also.
In the past, Lightning drafts have had a heavy European flair, especially Russian, but that trend was broken under GM Jay Feaster in the 2002 Entry Draft when eight of the thirteen players selected by Tampa hailed from North America.“
Goertzen stayed true to form by not choosing any player below six feet tall. Where Goertzen has stuck to the size and speed aspect with forwards in the past, this year that was true with the defensmen. A strong shift is apparent toward big and mobile defensemen. Under former GM Rick Dudley, behemoth prospects like Mathieu Biron and Kristian Kudroc were acquired despite their weaknesses in balance and mobility. Biron was left unprotected in last year’s waiver draft and ended up in Florida, and Kudroc wasn’t given a one million dollar qualifying offer this week after several injuries and lack of quality playing time hampered his development. The new direction the Lightning are taking has them proud of the fact all their big backliners are capable of skating all 180 feet of the rink.
Goertzen also stayed true to form by selecting big goaltenders. Boutin is 6’1” and Coleman 6’4”. Strengths for both include agility, character, and athletic ability.
Also, the organization continues to move its focus to North America, as nine of the eleven picks were either Canadian or American.
Farm System Grade:
Defining the farm as those prospects signed and available to the Lightning, the Bolts didn’t improve the situation much for next year … yet. While Egener, Smaby and Boutin may prove to be great picks down the line, next season will be average on the partial Tampa Bay farm in Hershey. While the Bolts added to the group by signing Dicaire, they chose to lose defensemen Darren Rumble (signed a contract to play in Russia, but may be signed before July 15th), Corey Foster, and Harlan Pratt as well as forwards Ryan Tobler, Matt Elich, and Boyd Kane.
They did add a significant forward, however.
Leading the Lightning troops in Hershey should be ex-Vermont star and recent Lightning signee Eric Perrin. Perrin was to Martin St. Louis at the University of Vermont what Brad Richards was to Vincent Lecavalier at Rimouski — like brothers. On the ice, the “Vermont Brothers” excelled to the tune of leading virtually every category in the Catamount record books. When both undrafted mighty-mites signed AHL contracts with Cleveland, St. Louis got his shot in Calgary. Perrin never got his shot—until now. At St. Louis’ request during his exit interview, the wheels started in motion to sign Perrin. Feaster made the announcement only a few weeks ago. Perrin likely takes over for Martin Cibak as the 15th forward. Cibak, Dmitry Afanasenkov (who will be brought back over from Switzerland), Shane Willis, J.F. Soucy, and pending a contract Ryan Craig will be candidates for the forward ranks, while the just-signed Dicaire, whom Feaster expects to earn an invitation to the Lightning’s main camp in Brandon, Jeremy Van Hoof and Marek Priechodsky lead a very thin group on defense sure to be strengthened through free agent additions and the eventual signing of Holmqvist. Dicaire, a first-team WHLer last season, adds a much-needed skilled puckmover to the Lightning’s farm. Konstantinov and Eklund will compete for one spot among Hershey goalies.
Editor’s Note: Look for Hockey’s Future-Lightning’s new prospect rankings and depth chart in the coming weeks. We will also provide updates of each prospect profile, as well as resurrect the “Lightning Roundtable” discussions.
Pete Choquette contributed to this report.