Lightning North American Pro Report

By Timothy Bennett

Lightning Minor League Report*

A look at Lightning prospects with professional contracts throughout
North America.

National Hockey League

W Dmitry AfanasenkovGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)41491325(-20)
2003-2004 Tampa Bay (NHL)


Stock: Rising

Without a doubt, Dmitry Afanasenkov has been the
most pleasant surprise on the prospect horizon this season for the Tampa Bay
Lightning. While the organization and its fans have long awaited one of the
Russian forwards in its stable to make an impact, most thought that would come
in either Alex Svitov, Nikita Alexeev, Anton But,
Evgeni Artukhin, or Alex Polushin. Following a terrible season
last year with the Springfield Falcons that resulted in his reassignment to
the Swiss league two-thirds into the campaign, Afanasenkov is making believers
out of his skeptics this season. One of his biggest skeptics, none other than
Lightning head coach John Tortorella, admitted that prior to this season’s training
camp, he had written off this former 1998 third round selection. Tortorella
went on to admit that Afanasenkov was the biggest surprise of camp, and that
he has completely changed his mind about the winger.

Afansenkov claimed a roster spot with the Bolts out of
camp along with a scoring line position with center Vincent Lecavalier. The
chemistry between Lecavalier and Afanasenkov has been obvious since the Lightning’s
season opening 5-1 victory over the Bruins in which Afanasenkov netted his first
NHL goal in three years. Not many have doubted his ability to score goals in the
NHL, but Afanasenkov is erasing doubts that he can compete at the NHL level
in all areas of the game. This solid 6’2” right winger is surprisingly strong
on the puck, wins battles along the boards, is responsible defensively, and
shows brilliant flashes of offensive creativity. If there’s a knock on Afanasenkov’s
game right now, it is his inability to consistently finish the quality chances
he is creating. With 24 shots on goal in 11 games, Afanasenkov ranks sixth on
the team in shots, but ranks last in shooting percentage among roster players
who have scored at least one goal.

C Martin CibakGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)625152078(-6)
2002-2003 Springfield(Playoffs)61234(-1)
2003-2004 Tampa Bay (NHL)1012312(+3)

Stock: Steady

After being the last man cut from the Bolt roster at training
camp last year, this season Martin Cibak finally made the team. This hardworking,
defense-minded center beat out Svitov and Eric Perrin for the last center position
with the club. While this former 1998 ninth round selection displayed some offensive
success earlier in the season while centering Fredrik Modin and Ben Clymer, he has recently
been swapping starts at center with the recently recalled Svitov. With Cibak’s
faceoff percentage hovering around 41-percent and Modin now playing on a scoring line,
it seems that Cibak’s roster spot is not very secure. The Lightning not only
need Cibak to improve in the faceoff circle, but they need him work more consistently
from game to game. The fourth center spot is still Cibak’s to lose, and it will
be up to him whether he takes advantage. Look for Cibak and Svitov to continue
platooning at the position until either man clearly claims the spot.

C Alexander SvitovGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)1145917(+4)
2002-2003 Tampa Bay (NHL)6344858(-4)
2002-2003 Tampa Bay (Playoffs)70006(-2)
2003-2004 Hamilton (AHL)1132531E
2003-2004 Tampa Bay (NHL)40112(+1)

Stock: Steady

After seeing 70 games last season for the reigning Southeast
Division Champions, Svitov seemed a lock to center Tampa’s third line this season.
But something funny happened on the way to opening night — the third overall pick
in 2001 lost his roster spot to Martin Cibak. Svitov’s training camp
was very disappointing as the organization cited a general lack of passion and
effort in his play. Svitov was sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL to improve his consistency, desire, and rediscover his nastiness. This young Russian has a huge NHL
upside, but he needs to be willing to pay the price to earn ice time in Tampa.
In Hamilton, however, Svitov did not disappoint. At the time of his recent recall
to Tampa after 11 AHL games, Bulldog head coach Doug Jarvis referred to
Svitov as his “best player.” With reports from Jarvis that Svitov
was working hard, the Lightning called him up after a roster spot opened when
Janne Laukkanen was released.

Svitov is a player the organization feels is needed in the lineup. They see Svitov capable of bringing a strong game on the
puck, winning one-on-one battles, and making life difficult for the opposition
with his size and strength. While Svitov looked
good in his debut in the recent 9-0 shelling of the Penguins, he lacked the
same effort and jump in the 1-1 tie with the Hurricanes. One definite bright
spot is that he has been solid in the faceoff circle, compiling a nearly 70 percent
success rate in his first four games back. His skating, however, remains an
obvious weakness.

While the jury is still out on whether Svitov’s recall to Tampa is permanent
or temporary, getting a good year of AHL seasoning
under his belt on one of Hamilton’s scoring lines would be beneficial. Between Cibak, Perrin, and
Sheldon Keefe being capable of pulling fourth line NHL time at center, the Bolts
should have the luxury of carefully developing Svitov with plenty of quality
ice time. But with Svitov’s size and upside, the Lightning may not be able to
resist the temptation to keep him in the NHL.

Hockey League

W Nikita AlexeevGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)3675128(-10)
2002-2003 Tampa Bay (NHL)374268(-6)
2002-2003 Tampa Bay (Playoffs)111010(-3)
2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)90116E

Stock: Injured

Like Svitov, Alexeev was expected to win a roster spot
in Tampa out of training camp this season, but a disappointing performance
earned him an assignment in Hershey of the AHL instead. With forwards Shane
Willis, Eero Somervuori, Perrin, Keefe, and Svitov also in the minors
and spoiling for a roster spot in Tampa, Alexeev had some stiff competition
in his bid to reclaim a spot with the Bolts. While he impressed Hershey head
coach Paul Fixter with his size, speed, and shot, Alexeev impressed no one with
his lone assist in nine games for the Bears. Continuing to perpetuate his enigmatic
label, Aleexev was handed ample opportunity to established himself as an offensive
threat, but failed to convert the physical skills he possesses into tangible
results on the scoresheet. Still, with all the opportunity afforded to him, Alexeev remained on the periphery
of the play and refused to pay the price to score goals in the high traffic

In early November, the opportunities for Alexeev came
to a screeching halt. While taking a faceoff against the Philadelphia Phantoms,
he injured his left shoulder, requiring surgery and a four to six month rehabilitation
stint. While Alexeev may still see some playing time late in the season, it
would be safe to assume that the development of this former eighth overall
pick in 2000 will be delayed by another year.

W Evgeni ArtukhinGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Moncton (QMJHL)53132740204(+6)
2002-2003 Moncton (Playoffs)612329(-6)
2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)


Stock: Steady

After enduring five straight
scratches to start the 2003-2004 campaign, Artukhin netted a goal in is first
professional game against the Binghamton Senators on October 24. Despite
a fight-filled preseason, Artukhin has managed to keep the PIMs minimal and
his defensive awareness heightened. One of Fixter’s uneasiness about Artukhin
was his commitment to his defensive responsibilities. While providing size and
toughness to the Bear lineup, along with some marginal offense, Artukhin has
proved he isn’t a defensive liability. This is good news for Fixter and Artukhin as it manages to keep Artukhin on the ice more than in the press box. One bright spot
so far this season for Artukhin is that it does not seem like
is being used in an enforcer role for Hershey.

C Ryan CraigGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Brandon (WHL)6042327469NA
2002-2003 Brandon (Playoffs)17581329NA
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)

2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)82022(-2)

Stock: Rising

This former captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings amassed
a remarkable junior career, providing offense, grit, and leadership. He was
awarded a rookie contract this summer by the Lightning, and proved that offer was no fluke by turning heads both at Tampa and Hershey training
camps. The Lightning’s lack of a full AHL affiliation robbed him of a chance
to begin the season in the AHL, but Ryan Craig didn’t let disappointment
quell his game. Starting the season in Pensacola of the ECHL as a rookie with
an ‘A’ on his jersey, Craig quickly brought more than just leadership to the
ice. Craig’s three goals and four assists in two games for the Ice Pilots garnered
him the ECHL Player-of-the-week award for the week of October 20-26 and merited
a recall to the Hershey Bears in the AHL. He promptly scored goals in back-to-back
games against the Philadelphia Phantoms and elicited praise from Bears head
coach Paul Fixter. Fixter cited Craig’s hockey sense, determination, grit, strength,
and defensive commitment as areas that standout in his game. Fixter believes
there is no question that Craig can play at the AHL level. However, this former
2002 eighth round selection will remain in Hershey as long as he continues to
earn playing time. The Tampa organization wants, above all else, Craig playing and
improving his skating, and will use Pensacola if necessary to secure an appropriate
amount of ice time to assure him of continued development.

D Gerard DicaireGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Kootenay (WHL)7215445979(+2)
2002-2003 Kootenay (Playoffs)1126812(-5)
2003-2004 Utah (AHL)71232(-4)

Stock: Rising

Second only to Afanasenkov, Gerard Dicaire was
possibly the biggest surprise at Tampa’s training camp this year, resulting in
his racing up the Lightning depth chart on defense. Loaned to the Utah Grizzlies
by the Lightning because of their lack of a full AHL affiliation, Dicaire is
in the process of proving himself all over again with a new club. This two-time
WHL All-Star has had a slow start to the season as he struggled through an early
season back injury that made him a scratch for all but three games in October.
However, Dicaire now seems to be getting on track offensively with the Grizzlies,
as he is 1-2-3 with seven shots-on-goal in his last three games, including netting
his first professional goal against the defending Calder Cup champion Houston Aeros on November

Now that Dicaire is healthy, the time is ripe for him
to establish himself as a regular on the Grizzlies blueline. While Dicaire has
looked good in his last three starts, he still is a healthy scratch far too
often to sit well with the Lightning. Look for the impressed Lightning staff
to keep a close eye on his development in Utah, and move to protect one of their
brightest young blueliners from a situation not favorable to his growth
as an emerging top prospect.

W Sheldon KeefeGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)3316153128(+6)
2002-2003 Springfield (Playoffs)

2002-2003 Tampa Bay (NHL)

2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)101452E

Stock: Steady

After a temporary absence from the organization
when the Rangers claimed him in the preseason waiver draft, the Bolts reacquired
Sheldon Keefe when the Rangers attempted to send him down to their minor league system.
A healthy scratch in all of his games with the Rangers this season, Keefe
has been thrust into a scoring line role on a Hershey team desperate for scoring
help amid numerous roster moves by the injury riddled Colorado Avalanche. But Keefe is
off to a slow start offensively for the Bears, as he deals with the disappointment
of not getting a fresh start with the Ranger organization and finding himself
once again relegated to the minors.

W Jimmie OlvestadGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)601113(-4)
2002-2003 Tampa Bay (NHL)3703316(-2)
2003-2004 Hamilton (AHL)141348(-2)

Stock: Steady

Olvestad has seen his NHL icetime diminish since he played a career
high 74 games for Tampa in the 2001-2003 season. A speedy forechecker, the
defensive-minded Olvestad works hard every shift and excels at hemming in the
opposition. His assignment to Hamilton out of the Tampa training camp included
a mandate to improve the offensive part of his game, which he’ll have to do
in order to regain even a checking line position on the Bolt roster. However,
his role in Hamilton has evolved into a similar role to what he had in Tampa — checking line duties and killing penalties. One bright spot is the
fact that his lone goal of the season came during a shorthanded situation. Olvestad
finds himself in a contract year, and with a handful of prospects in the queue
to be signed next summer, he needs to do something to make the Lightning feel
compelled to re-sign him.

W Eero SomervuoriGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Hameenlinna (FNL)5621244542NA
2003-2004 Hamilton (AHL)162462(+2)

Stock: Steady

The long-awaited North American debut of this 1997 seventh
round selection was saddled with preseason media predictions that Somervuori
would vie for the NHL’s Calder trophy for top rookie. As a third of Hameenlinna’s most potent
line with Atlanta’s Tommi Santala and Dallas’ top prospect Antii Miettinen,
Somervuori competed for a position on Lecavalier’s line during training camp.
While demonstrating he has the tools to play in the NHL, Somervuori also showed
he needs some seasoning in the AHL in order to get better acquainted with the
North American game, much in the same way the Dallas Stars handled Niko Kapanen.
Somervuori quickly showed his meddle in his debut on North American ice by scoring Hamilton’s first goal of the
2003-2004 season. While Somervuori was consistently one of Hamilton’s best players on one of their
scoring lines to start the year, he has recently dropped to checking line duties. With
Afanasenkov and Willis both playing so well, Somervuori, who is on a one-year contract, could very well spend the
entire season in Hamilton learning and improving his North American game.

G Brian EklundW-L-TGAASv%SO
2002-2003 Pensacola (ECHL)10-6-03.660.8960
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)

2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)6-3-03.060.9160

Stock: Steady

After serving most of last season as the backup netminder
for Pensacola, Brian Eklund returns this season as the de facto No. 1 goaltender on the team. Surprisingly, his competition will be none other
than fellow Bolt prospect Evgeny Konstantinov, who was slated to play
in Russia this season. Eklund has received some invaluable teaching from Tampa
goalie coach Jeff Reese, and the improvements in his were visible
during training camp. With Konstantinov having a poor reputation in Pensacola,
Eklund will likely receive every opportunity to maintain his job as the team’s
primary netminder.

Eklund got the first eight starts of the season for the
Ice Pilots while the team waited for Konstantinov to arrive in North America from
Russia. Eklund’s play was solid, helping the Ice Pilots get off to one of the
best starts in the history of the organization at 5-1. Eklund is currently fifth in
the ECHL in wins, and ranks third in saves.

D Andreas HolmqvistGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Linkopings (SEL)43491328NA
2003-2004 Hamilton (AHL)40000(+1)
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)20002(-1)

Stock: Falling Slightly

Truly one of the biggest stories of the 2003-2004 season for the Lightning
has to be the disappointment in the North American debut of the organization’s
top prospect. As Andreas Holmqvist arrived in North America from Sweden in early September
for the Traverse City Rookie Camp, it was expected that he would compete with
Trepanier, Darren Rumble, and Laukkanen for a roster spot with the Bolts. As
it turned out, Holmqvist was completely unprepared to play in the prospects
tournament, and subsequently continued his disappointing play later during Tampa’s
training camp. Assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs as one of the organization’s
first roster cuts, it was expected that the talented blueliner
would quickly develop once the AHL season began. Unfortunately, the continued
poor play of this lanky 6’4″ former 2001 second round selection lead to Holmqvist
being a healthy scratch in all but four of Hamilton’s first fourteen games.

In an attempt to salvage the development of this young
and promising offensive defenseman, the Bolts recently reassigned
him to Pensacola. With his one-way, $500,000 contract, Holmqvist is very highly paid for the ECHL, and the Lightning is counting on him to dominate
play in this league. With Hamilton loaded with solid defensemen, the opportunity
exists for Holmqvist to get a fresh start in the AHL with the Hershey Bears,
provided he can demonstrate that he deserves to play at that level.

In his third game with the Ice Pilots, Holmqvist finally
tallied his first professional point. He earned a primary assist while playing
on one of the top pairings with fellow Bolt prospect Jeremy Van Hoof.

G Evgeny KonstantinovW-L-TGAASv%SO
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)13-23-13.240.8891
2002-2003 Tampa Bay (NHL)0-0-03.000.8330
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)0-2-0-14.740.8600

Stock: Falling

Evgeny Konstantinov’s development has taken a step backwards
after an inconsistent season in the AHL last year. Konstantinov was not invited
to this year’s Lightning training camp, but instead loaned to the Russian Super
League. After failing to get a single start in Russia after a month into the
RSL season, Feaster reassigned Konstantinov to Pensacola.
Konstantinov continues to be enigmatic, as he has sufficient raw physical tools
that lead some to believe he could be a starting goalie in the NHL. However,
his lack of consistency, work ethic, and passion continues to prevent him from progressing
beyond his raw talent. In a contract year, Konstantinov must not only secure
the starting job in Pensacola, but show evidence of domination at this level
of hockey. If he cannot do that, then his career in the Lightning organization
may be setting like the desert sun.

C Jean-Francois Soucy GPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Montreal (QMJHL)64243155168
2002-2003 Montreal (Playoffs)702224
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)1112345(+1)

Stock: Steady

With a spectacular final junior season for the Montreal
Rocket, Jean-Francois Soucy earned a rookie contract this past spring from
the Lightning. Soucy’s training camp in Tampa was equally solid, as this quick
and physical power forward continued to impress the Lightning staff with his
development. In Pensacola, Soucy has quickly become one of the most hated players
in the ECHL, as the opposing team consistently hunts this Quebecois agitator
like a wanted criminal. While playing on the Ice Pilots third line, Soucy fulfills
the agitator role to perfection, often goading the opposition into penalty situations.
Soucy leads all ECHL rookies in minor penalties, and is third among ECHL rookies
in overall penalty minutes. Even though Soucy’s direct contribution on the scoresheet
has been limited thus far, his indirect contribution resulting from getting under
the skin of the opposition is yet another factor in Pensacola’s early success.

D Jeremy Van HoofGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Pensacola (ECHL)6645951
2002-2003 Pensacola (Playoffs)40114
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)

2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)10000(+1)
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)1102212(-1)

Stock: Steady

After starting the first four games in Pensacola
with two assists and a +2 rating, Jeremy Van Hoof was rewarded with a single
game emergency call-up to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Since returning to the Ice
Pilots, this solid stay-at-home defenseman has a seven game scoreless streak
and a -3 rating. While no one expects Van Hoof to be a scoring leader, it is
expected that he should continue to play his solid stay-at-home
defensive style. Even though he had a solid camp with Tampa this season and
remains a Bolt prospect, so far his play this season is not on pace with last

Hockey League

D Henrik BergforsGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Sodertalje SK (SEL)80000NA
2003-2004 Wichita (CHL)00000

Stock: Injured

This big, gritty Swedish blueliner injured his shoulder
during a preseason game, and underwent season-ending surgery. It is not expected
that Henrik Bergfors with suit up for the Thunder this season, and his
plans for next season remain unknown.

Note: Lightning defenseman Darren Rumble was assigned to Hershey November 17 for a two game conditioning assignment. The Lightning’s seventh defenseman will re-join the Bolts on Saturday, November 22 for their game against Buffalo.

*Stats as of November 16, 2003.