Lightning: Top 20 prospects

By Chad Schnarr

The prospect’s name is followed by their likely destination for the 2003-04 season.

1.D Andreas HolmqvistTampa Bay Lightning / Hershey Bears, AHL

2002-03 Linkopings, SEL: 43 GP, 4-9-13, 28 PIM.
Signed and finally on this side of the Atlantic, Holmqvist will fight for an NHL roster spot in camp. In all likelihood he will start the season with Hershey of the AHL and be called up to the big club some time before the All-Star break. A fine skater with good puck skills and grit, Holmqvist will add offense to the Bolts backline both 5-on-5 and on the power play.

2.RW Alexander Polushin CSKA, RSL

2002-03 CSKA, RSL; 47 GP, 5-6-11, 22 PIM.
Polushin stays at the no. 2 spot and remains a big part of the Lightning’s future. Polushin is a solid package of size, skill, poise, and above-average skating ability. He lacks a sniper’s mentality, but is a great complimentary player who will likely be signed and in North America in 2004-05.

3.D Mike EgenerCalgary Hitmen, WHL

2002-03 Calgary, WHL; 40 GP, 2-8-10, 210 PIM.
The Lightning’s first pick in the 2003 draft debuts at the 3-spot thanks to his great size, maturity, skating ability, and physical play. After missing a good portion of last year with a concussion, Egener will look to develop his raw offensive skills this year with the Hitmen, but not before making an impression at Lightning camp. Look for Egener to impress at Lightning camp so much that he makes the decision-makers think twice about keeping him with the big club. Ultimately he will be sent back to Calgary, which will be the right decision. Egener immediately becomes a prominent part of Tampa’s future on defense.

4.Evgeni ArtukhinHershey Bears, AHL

2002-03 Moncton, QMJHL: 53 GP, 13-27-40, 204 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 6 GP, 1-2-3, 29 PIM.

“R2” has been signed by the Lightning after nearly returning to Russia for next season. The New Brunswick Times and Transcript reported Artukhin would not return to Moncton next year only days before the European signing deadline. The Bolts quickly signed him after originally thinking he’d return to the Q. Artukhin will get a good chance to make the Bolts out of camp, but has a ticket waiting for him to Hershey of AHL. Artukhin’s physical game is better suited for the North American pros and look for him to get a cup of coffee this season with Tampa.

5.LW Adam HenrichBrampton Battalion, OHL

2002-03 Brampton, OHL: 63 GP, 31-33-64, 84 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 11 GP, 4-1-5, 25 PIM.
Jay Feaster’s first draft choice moves into the top-5 thanks to a well-rounded performance in the OHL this past year. Henrich improved his consistency and plus/minus rating (+24) while maintaining scoring 30+ goals. The Battalion’s leading scorer is no doubt disappointed about not getting an invitation to Canada’s WJC development camp, but will be one of the better players in the OHL this season. He will be a leader on and off the ice for Brampton, and is becoming a physical force in the league.

6.D Matt Smaby University of North Dakota

2002-03 Shattuck St. Mary’s (USHS): 57GP, 3G 20A 23P, 114PIMs
Tampa’s second of two second round selections in the 2003 draft is heading for NCAA powerhouse North Dakota next year. The big rearguard skates well for his size and is looking forward to adding some offense to his game now that his broken wrist is finally healed. The challenge will be for Smaby to get playing time with ND, but look for him to make a name for himself his first two years with the Fighting Sioux.

7.LW Anton ButYaroslavl, RSL

2002-03 Yaroslavl: 44 GP, 16-13-29, 16 PIM.
Many expected But to get his shot in Tampa this year, but the skilled and fast winger remains unsigned. But’s numbers have improved every year, but his high profile status in the RSL combined with the low-end proposition of a two-way entry contract if he moved to the NHL doesn’t bode well for those expecting to see him in a Tampa uniform any time soon. Acquired as part of a package from the Devil’s for Andrei Zyuzin, But’s speed and shot would look great on one of the top two lines in Tampa, but at this point that’s looking like that may never happen.

8.C Martin CibakHershey/Hamilton, AHL

2002-03 Springfield, AHL: 62 GP, 5-15-20, 78 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 6 GP, 1-2-3, 4 PIM.
After re-signing a one-year deal crushed rumors of Cibak returning to Europe, Martin now looks forward to training camp with the intentions of making the squad this time. Cibak nearly made the club last year, being a late cut. That task will be harder this year as his two-way contract makes him more likely to be sent down over one of the plethora of waiver-eligible young forwards Tampa must choose from to fill their forward lines. Cibak is a good playmaker who will fight for AHL scoring line time. His two-way game and work ethic have developed so well he’s often stuck in a checking role, rather than utilizing his offensive capabilities. With the signing of Eric Perrin, Cibak’s spot on the organizational depth chart may have fallen an additional slot.

9.G Evgeny KonstantinovRussia (Team/League TBA)

2002-03 Springfield, AHL: 39 GP, 13W-23L-1T, 3.24 gaa, .889 sp%, 1 SO.
2003 Playoffs: Did not play.
Hockey’s Future-Lightning has learned Konstantinov will be sent to Russia to start the year after no agreement could be made with either Hershey or Hamilton to house a Lightning goaltender. The former third rounder reamins the Bolt’s no. 3 goaltender on the depth chart as Konstantinov may be recalled from Russia until January 16th. The team will monitor the situation closely and make a decision in January as to where Konstantinov plays the rest of the season. “George” will have difficulty finding an RSL gig, and may wind up in a lower league. Hopefully a return home helps his confidence. Konstantinov is a gifted, athletic goaltender with good raw skills, but continues to be plagued by inconsistency and slow development.

10.D Gerard DicaireHershey/Hamilton, AHL

2002-03 Kootenay, WHL: 72 GP, 15-44-59, 79 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 11 GP, 2-6-8, 12 PIM.
The recently signed Dicaire will enter training camp with little chance of making the club, but will likely be a key contributor to either Hershey or Hamilton of the AHL. Dicaire is a puck mover with excellent puck skills and a developing physical game. Two years from now Dicaire will be pushing for playing time in Tampa.

11.C J.F. SoucyHershey/Hamilton, AHL or Pensacola, ECHL

2002-03 Montreal, QMJHL: 65 GP, 24-31-55, 168 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 7 GP, 0-2-2, 24 PIM.
Soucy was signed by Tampa after a breakout season in the Q and a hat-trick against the Thrashers in an exhibition game last season. Soucy has great size, skating ability, and enough grit to make him a possibility for duty on the bottom two lines in the coming years. With a good camp Soucy should land an AHL gig, but the ECHL remains an outside possibility.

12.C Ryan CraigHershey/Hamilton, AHL or Pensacola, ECHL

2002-03 Brandon, WHL: 60 GP, 42-32-74, 69 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 17 GP, 5-8-13, 29 PIM.
Signed last month, Craig has the chance to play himself into a prominent role with either Hershey or Hamilton, otherwise be assigned to the ECHL. The organization will look closely at him at the Traverse City rookie tournament and based on his play there Craig could receive an invitation to the team’s main camp in Brandon, Florida. If Craig plays well in Brandon, he should land in the AHL. Craig has good offensive skills, heart, character and leadership, but is held back by his skating.

13.D Paul RangerOshawa Generals, OHL

2002-03 Oshawa, OHL: 68 GP, 10-28-38, 70 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 13 GP, 0-3-3, 10 PIM.
Ranger is quickly becoming a key prospect to watch in the Lightning’s system. The smooth skating rearguard put up impressive numbers for the Generals last year, earning a nomination for the OHL’s Best Defenseman and an invitation to Canada’s WJC Development Camp. Lightning prospect followers are very anxious to see what Ranger will do for an encore this season.

14.Dennis PackardHarvard University

2002-03 Harvard: 30 GP, 8-8-16, 32 PIM.
Coming off a somewhat underachieving and oft-injured junior season, Packard enters his senior year with Harvard with his future uncertain. Packard is another solid package of size and speed but has yet to add the offensive game many expect of him, though he continues to tease by showing flashes of above-average offensive ability. A solid year will land Packard a contract, but another so-so year may make cause the Lightning to think twice.

15.C Dmitri KazionovLada Togliatti, RSL

2002-03 Lada, RSL: 4 GP, 0-1-1, 4 PIM.
The Lightning’s fourth round pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft was selected by Kingston in the CHL Import Draft last summer but stayed his native Russia. Kazionov has good size, playmaking abilities and a two-way game that should earn him more playing time in the RSL this year for Lada.

16.G Jonathan BoutinHalifax Mooseheads, QMJHL

2002-03 Halifax, QMJHL: 22W-11L-2T, 2.90 gaa, .889 sp%, 4 SO.

Boutin, the first French-Canadian goalie drafted by Tampa, is looking to have a bounce-back year in the Q after losing his starting job mid-way through last season. Boutin has promising raw skills and will be one to watch this season.

17.D Doug O’BrienHull Olympiques, QMJHL

2002-03 Hull, QMJHL: 71 GP, 10-34-44, 102 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 19 GP, 3-12-15, 18 PIM.
An older prospect, O’Brien is an offensive defenseman who stepped up his game last year during the Memorial Cup Tournament, earning a spot on the tourney’s All-Star squad. O’Brien, who hails from Newfoundland, also earned a valuable invitation to Canada’s WJC Development Camp. Unranked by CSS entering the 2003 draft, look for O’Brien to be a diamond-in-the-rough for Head Scout Jake Goertzen and the Lightning.

18.G Brian Eklund Pensacola Ice Pilots, ECHL

2002-03 Pensacola, ECHL: 10W-6L-0T, 3.66 gaa, .896 sp%.
A former late-round pick, Eklund played well, but sparingly for Pensacola last year in his first pro season out of Brown University. With Pensacola’s starter Maxime Gingras out of the panhandle this year, Eklund has a good shot at the starting job. Eklund will be an emergency no. 3 goaltender for the Bolts during the first half of the year with Konstantinov in Russia, but his use will be nothing more than re-filling water bottles for Nikolai Khabibulin or John Grahame. Eklund gained valuable experience last year spending the spring practicing with the Lightning and working under Lightning Goalie Coach Jeff Reese.

19.D Jeremy Van Hoof Hershey/Hamilton, AHL or Pensacola, ECHL

2002-03 Pensacola, ECHL: 66 GP, 4-5-9, 51 PIM.
2003 Playoffs: 4 GP, 0-1-1, 4 PIM.

The underrated Van Hoof should find a spot with either Hershey or Hamilton of the AHL this year after very solid play with Pensacola of the ECHL last year. A steady stay-at-home defenseman, Van Hoof lacks great skating ability, but his positioning, poise, and maturity should go a long way in earning him a full-time promotion.

20.D Henrik BergforsSödertälje, SEL

2002-03 Södertälje: 8 GP, 0-0-0, 0 PIM.
The surprise of 2001’s training camp, Bergfors continues to impress with his physical play and good positioning on the backline. Look for Bergfors to earn a contract as soon as next summer if he continues to develop at his present pace.

Graduating from last year’s list:
#1 Alex SvitovTampa Bay

Dropping Out/Moving On from last year’s list:
#7 Kristian KudrocFlorida Panthers (released)
#12 Dmitry Afanasenkov Hershey/Hamilton
#16 Joe PearceBoston College
#18 Aaron LobbTBA (not offered contract)

News & Notes: The Lightning has reached a dual affiliation agreement with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL and have renewed their affiliation with Pensacola of the ECHL. Tampa may assign up to six players to Hershey of the AHL, four players to Hamilton of the AHL and an unlimited number to Pensacola of the ECHL. The Bolts continue to look for a full AHL affiliate for the 2004-05 season.

*Rankings compiled by Pete Choquette and Chad Schnarr. Prospect ratings and depth chart have also been updated and can be viewed on the Lightning’s main page at Hockey’s Future. Prospect profiles will be updated during August and September.