1.RW Alexander Polushin – CSKA, RSL
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-3, 200 lbs.
2003-04 CSKA, RSL; 13 GP, 5-2-7, 4 PIM.
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 could challenge for a roster spot as soon as next season. After putting up admirable numbers in Russia’s highest league to start the year, Polushin suffered a knee injury and hasn’t played since. According to Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster, Polushin’s injury isn’t a major setback in his development or signability.
2.LW Adam Henrich – Brampton Battalion, OHL
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-4, 220 lbs.
2003-04 Brampton, OHL: 38 GP, 16-20-36, 88 PIM, -10.
Jay Feaster’s first ever draft choice moves into the top two thanks to a strong first half of the season. Henrich survived the first cuts after being a surprise invite to Canada’s World Junior Championship camp in December before ultimately being sent back to Brampton. A big, strong forward with excellent stickhandling ability, Henrich’s production has tapered off since Christmas, but he remains a big part of the Lightning’s future. He has already surpassed last year’s penalty minute totals in half as many games.
3.D Andreas Holmqvist – Pensacola Ice Pilots, ECHL
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-4, 195 lbs.
2003-04 Hamilton, AHL: 4 GP, 0-0-0, 0 PIM, +1.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 26 GP, 3-13-16, 8 PIM, +2.
Holmqvist’s highly anticipated North America debut turned out to be nothing to write home to Sweden about for Andreas. After being an early cut from Lightning camp in September, Holmqvist failed to gain a regular spot with Hamilton of the AHL and was sent to the Lightning’s ECHL affiliate in Pensacola. A big defensemen with great skating ability, strong puck skills, and an above-average physical game, Holmqvist is a high-end prospect who, like many Europeans, is adjusting to North American life and hockey very slowly. The Lightning securing a full AHL affiliate is a must for developing prospects like Holmqvist.
4.RW Dmitry Afanasenkov – Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL
Drafted: 3rd Round, 1998
Vitals: 6-2, 200 lbs.
2003-04 Tampa Bay, NHL: 33 GP, 3-5-8, 4 PIM, -1.
After falling out of our summer prospect rankings, Afanasenkov has jumped all the way to the top five. He was written off the former Sherbrooke sniper after he fell out of the AHL, failed to impress in the Swiss leagues, and was a long shot to even get a one-year qualifying offer from the Lightning in the summer. Who knew he’d make the team out of camp and play so well in all three zones? After taking absolutely everyone by surprise except himself, Afanasenkov is now concentrating on developing his finishing skills in the world’s best hockey league. He’s already adept at getting himself into scoring position and playing responsibly defensively. If he’s not on a scoring line in Tampa, you can find him succeeding in a checking role, something unheard of for Afanasenkov prior to this season.
5.D Mike Egener – Calgary Hitmen, WHL
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-3, 195 lbs.
2003-04 Calgary, WHL; 37 GP, 1-11-12, 140 PIM, +18.
The Lightning’s first pick in the 2003 draft is having a solid year defensively for the Hitmen and was among the final cuts from Canada’s WJC squad in December. To say Egener is playing with an edge or mean streak this season is a severe understatement. Forwards always know where the physical, slick skating Egener is on the ice and that kind of reputation will be welcomed in Tampa in the coming years. What will not be welcomed, however, is his reputation for undisciplined play and misconducts for obscene gestures on the jumbotron. With some strong development and maturation from Egener, the Lightning is looking at having another Cory Sarich-type defenseman to throw out against opponents’ best forwards.
6.D Gerard Dicaire – Utah Grizzlies, AHL
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2000 (Buffalo); 5th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 210 lbs.
2003-04 Utah, AHL: 26 GP, 1-3-4, 12 PIM, -9.
Dicaire entered Tampa Bay’s 2003 training camp with little chance of making the club and left almost earning an NHL roster spot. Dicaire had a fantastic preseason for the Lightning, scoring a power play goal against Carolina and showing remarkable poise for a prospect seeing his first NHL action. A puck mover with excellent puck skills and a developing physical game, Dicaire’s positioning continues to improve. Because of the package he offers, Feaster and Tortorella considered keeping him in Tampa to start the year before ultimately sending him to the minors. That’s where the problems began. The Lightning was not able to find room for him in either Hamilton or Hershey, their dual affiliates which are controlled by other NHL teams, so Feaster worked the phones and finally found a spot for Dicaire with Dallas’ farm club in Salt Lake City. Since going to Utah, Dicaire has battled the Stars’ prospects for playing time.
7.Evgeni Artukhin – Hershey Bears, AHL
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-5, 245 lbs.
2003-04 Hershey, AHL: 25 GP, 2-2-4, 57 PIM, -1.
The Lightning’s poster-boy for the “size and speed” drafting preference, Artukhin failed to impress in training camp this season and has since been alternating getting fourth line duty and sitting in the press box for AHL Hershey. When he does play, Artukhin has shown flashes of offensive ability and a strong physical game. What he hasn’t shown is an understanding of his role within the professional game and how to give 100 percent effort consistently. Hershey coach Paul Fixter, a fan of Artukhin, has gone to bat for Artukhin against the league, speaking out against penalties given to the mammoth winger after a loud hit is delivered. Fixter maintains the majority of Artukhin’s hits are clean, and that “the league isn’t used to 6’5″, 245 pound forwards hitting with force.”
8.D Matt Smaby – University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-5, 205 lbs.
2003-04 North Dakota, NCAA: 18GP, 1-2-3, 10 PIM, +10.
Tampa’s second of two second round selections in the 2003 draft is playing a regular defensive shift for the Fighting Sioux as a true freshmen. Smaby was recently mentioned in The Hockey News as proof No. 1 UND’s prized 2003 recruiting class is playing up to expectations. Smaby is a strong skater with good size who loves to hit. He doesn’t have the heavy shot that Egener has, but will develop in the same defensive mold. Smaby helps give Tampa a nice stable of big, physical defensemen who can skate.
9.C Martin Cibak – Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL
Drafted: 9th Round, 1998
Vitals: 6-1, 195 lbs.
2003-04 Tampa Bay, NHL: 25 GP, 1-3-4, 14 PIM, Even.
2003-04 Hershey, AHL: 1 GP, 0-0-0, 2 PIM, -1.
Cibak made the Lightning out of camp before briefly returning to the AHL for one game. After an injury to Lightning forward Andre Roy, Cibak was recalled from Hershey and has now earned himself a regular spot on the fourth line. Cibak fulfills the “grinder” role well in Tampa, showing a strong two-way game and the ability to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. An underrated playmaker, with a little more NHL experience and confidence, Cibak’s offensive game has the ability to grow.
10. LW Anton But – Yaroslavl, RSL
Drafted: 5th Round, 1998 (New Jersey)
Vitals: 6-0, 180 lbs.
2003-04 Yaroslavl, RSL: 31 GP, 8-7-15, 16 PIM.
Many expected But to get his shot in Tampa this year, but the fast, skilled winger went 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 North America doesn’t bode well for those expecting to see him in a Tampa uniform any time soon. But continues to produce consistently within the RSL though his club isn’t experiencing the success it has in the past few years. But’s overall game warrants him a higher ranking, but his contract situation keeps the 23-year-old out of the top five.
11. C Ryan Craig – Hershey Bears, AHL
Drafted: 8th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 205 lbs.
2003-04 Hershey, AHL: 35 GP, 2-6-8, 8 PIM, -1.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 5 GP, 3-5-8, 0 PIM, +4.
The former Brandon Wheat King had a solid camp for the Lightning before being assigned to the minors. With no room in either Hershey or Hamilton for Craig, the savvy two-way forward was sent to ECHL Pensacola. All Craig did in his short stint in Pensacola was score eight points in five games, win ECHL Player of the Week honors and earn a promotion to Hershey when injuries to their primary affiliate, the Colorado Avalanche, created a roster spot with the Bears. A natural leader on the ice, Craig has secured a regular shift with the Bears and for the first half of the season was one-third of a highly productive Lightning line with fellow Bolt minor leaguers Eric Perrin and Shane Willis.
12.C Dmitri Kazionov – Lada Togliatti, RSL
Drafted: 4th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-3, 185 lbs.
2003-04 Lada, RSL: 30 GP, 5-5-10, 28 PIM.
After a strong start to the season with Lada, Kazionov’s production diminished though he continued to earn a regular shift. The Lightning’s lone representative in the WJCs this year, Kazionov finished the tournament with a goal and an assist in six games for Russia. A big, strong skating center with creative playmaking skills, Kazionov will likely spend another full season in the RSL before a possible move to North America.
13. C/W J. F. Soucy – Hershey Bears, AHL
Drafted: 8th Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-3, 207 lbs.
2003-04 Hershey, AHL: 3 GP, 0-2-2, 6 PIM, +2.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 32 GP, 6-7-13, 96 PIM, -4.
Soucy was signed by Tampa after a breakout season for Montreal of the QMJHL and confirmed he was worth the signing with an impressive training camp for the Lightning. Soucy plays the agitator role almost to perfection, delivering hard hits and getting under the skin of his opponents. Soucy was recently called up to Hershey of the AHL where the lanky speedster has continued to play his physical game. Soucy has enough offensive skill, speed, and size to one day earn a regular shift with the Lightning.
14. G Brian Eklund – Pensacola Ice Pilots, ECHL
Drafted: 7th Round, 2000
Vitals: 6-4, 200 lbs.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 17W-8L-3 SOL, 3.00gaa, .921 SP, 0 SO.
A former seventh round pick, Eklund played well, but sparingly for Pensacola last year in his first pro season out of Brown University. Eklund, currently serving as the Lightning’s emergency No. 3 goaltender, gained valuable experience last year spending the spring practicing with the Lightning and working under Lightning Goalie Coach Jeff Reese. The lanky Eklund has taken that experience back to the ECHL where has secured the Ice Pilot’s No. 1 goaltender position and has played exceptionally well for Pensacola, facing upwards of 45 shots a night. Eklund has taken the lead from Evgeny Konstantinov in the race to be the Lightning’s goaltender of the future and will play in the AHL next season.
15. D Paul Ranger –Oshawa Generals, OHL
Drafted: 6th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 200 lbs.
2003-04 Oshawa, OHL: 36 GP, 9-15-24, 42 PIM, -5.
The smooth skating Ranger has continued to produce offensively this season, though his plus/minus has fallen. Some of the blame for the fall can be attributed to the Generals’ fall in the standings from last year to this. An attendee for Canada’s WJC summer camp, Ranger was not invited to their December camp in Kitchener. Ranger will likely be the Generals’ nomination for best OHL defenseman again this season.
16. Dennis Packard – Harvard University Crimson
Drafted: 7th Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-6, 225 lbs.
2003-04 Harvard, NCAA: 19 GP, 6-5-11, 10 PIM.
Coming off a somewhat underachieving and oft-injured junior season, Packard entered his senior season as one of the leaders for the Crimson both on and off the ice. Packard has earned top line, top power play unit, and top penalty kill unit duties and despite average numbers, is playing well. A gargantuan forward with good skating ability, Packard can always be seen getting back on defense or planting himself in front of the opposition’s net in true Dave Andreychuk fashion. Packard is a strong candidate for an NHL contract this summer.
17.D Doug O’Brien – Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL
Drafted: 6th Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-0, 195 lbs.
2003-04 Gatineau, QMJHL: 41 GP, 11-24-35, 78 PIM, +28.
O’Brien is one of the top defensemen for one of the top teams in Canadian juniors, the Gatineau Olympiques. O’Brien is at the top of the league among defensemen in nearly every offensive category. An invite to Canada’s WJC summer camp, and though he excelled in the CHL/Russia RE/MAX Challenge, O’Brien was left off the invitation list for the December camp in Kitchener. O’Brien’s plus/minus rating remains among team leaders and continues to rise. He averages nearly six shots per game and is a mainstay on the power play.
18. RW Darren Reid – Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL
Drafted: 8th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 195 lbs.
2003-04 Medicine Hat, WHL: 38 GP, 22-26-48, 114 PIM, +16.
An overager for the Tigers, the 20-year-old Reid impressed Lightning coaches at the Traverse City, Michigan summer prospects tourney and earned an invitation to the Lightning’s main camp. There, Reid got in one preseason game, where he displayed his strong two-way and physical games. Since returning to Medicine Hat, Reid has taken off offensively while being one of Medicine Hat’s leaders on and off the ice. Developing into an effective power forward at the junior level, Reid can do whatever the coaches ask of him, including scoring a key goal or dropping the mitts. An average skater, Reid is warranting strong consideration for an NHL contract at season’s end and could be an impact player at the AHL level next season. It will be interesting to see if Reid is simply a late bloomer or an overachieving overager.
19.G Jonathan Boutin – P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-1, 195 lbs.
2003-04 P.E.I., QMJHL: 1W-0L-0T, 0.00 gaa, 1.000 sv%, 1 SO.
2003-04 Halifax, QMJHL: 2-8-1, 3.98 gaa, .873 sv%, 0 SO.
Boutin, the first French-Canadian goalie drafted by Tampa, returned to Halifax of the QMJHL after a strong training camp only to lose his confidence and ultimately his starting job for the Mooseheads. After finally getting off the bench in mid-autumn, Boutin suffered a concussion and missed several games. After returning from injury, Boutin won his first two games of the year for last-place Halifax, but was soon traded to P.E.I., a club partially owned by Lightning center Brad Richards, where he promptly thanked the Rocket for the opportunity by making 29 saves and shutting out Acadie-Bathurst. Boutin still must earn the No. 1 position with P.E.I., but he’s off to a good start.
20. G Gerald Coleman – London Knights, OHL
Drafted: 7th Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-4, 190 lbs.
2003-04 London, OHL: 13W-7L-0T, 2.70 gaa, .913 sv%, 1 SO.
A late round pick in 2003, Coleman is a big goaltender who plays his angles well and uses his size to his advantage. A battler, Coleman is currently in a fight for playing time with Knights goalie Ryan MacDonald for the team’s No. 1 position. Coleman has vowed in the London press to win the job, though just when it appears he’s won the position, MacDonald goes on another hot streak and MacDonald’s league-leading numbers speak for themselves. The Knights are a strong Memorial Cup contender, however, so the goaltender battle will be secondary to London going deep into the playoffs.
Also receiving votes:
D Jeremy Van Hoof – Pensacola Ice Pilots, ECHL
G Evgeny Konstantinov – Pensacola Ice Pilots, ECHL
G Vasily Koshechkin – Lada Togliatti, RSL
C Nick Tarnasky – Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL
G Joe Pearce – Boston College Eagles, NCAA
*Rankings compiled by Pete Choquette, Timothy Bennett, and Chad Schnarr.