Lightning AHL and ECHL prospect report

By Timothy Bennett



The recent trade of Alexander Svitov
for veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor was good news to the Lightning blueline,
but it was bad news to the Bolts in terms having a top line center prospect
in the system. However, Bolt prospect Martin Cibak should be breathing
a sigh of relief, as the trade of Svitov reveals that his hard work has essentially
earned him a lock for the fourth line center position in Tampa. Cibak’s play
along with the AHL All-Star performance this season by free agent signee Eric
Perrin, and the emergence of Ryan Craig and Jean-François Soucy
as legitimate future NHL prospects, the Bolts regarded Svitov as one of
the few blue-chip assets the organization could afford to part with in order
to obtain a Top 4 NHL defenseman needed to make a run at the 2004 Stanley Cup.
This report will cover all the Bolt prospects playing in North
America with a pro contract, providing a statistical update up to and including
January 25, 2004.


Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)

W Dmitry AfanasenkovGPGAign=”center” width=”25″>PPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)41491325(-20)
2003-2004 Tampa Bay (NHL)

394594(-1)

Stock: Rising
Since Last Report: 28gp, 3G-3A-3P, 4 PIMs, -4
Ranking: 4

It’s very surprising that
Dmitry Afanasenkov has played over 40 games for the Lightning
by the All-Star break, grinding it out strong on the boards on a lower line,
outworking opponents in the corners, filling in on a scoring line, and playing
in all game situations. He continues to prove those who had given up on him
a year ago completely wrong. Ranked outside of HF’s Top 20 Bolt prospects just
last summer, this 1998 third rounder has reemerged as a Top 5 prospect. Afanasenkov’s
strength on the puck and the boards continues to create opportunities in the
offensive zone. He has an explosive first step, and combined with agile moves
with the puck, has embarrassed more than few hapless defensemen. Afanasenkov
possesses natural goal-scoring talent that seems to have been snake-bitten for
the better part of the season. At times Afanasenkov resembles Martin St. Louis
about three seasons ago, including his energy, work ethic, offensive creativity
and even the part about struggling to put the puck in the net. If he follows
the lead of St. Louis, then Afanasenkov could become a fixture on a second scoring
line in Tampa.

C Martin CibakGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)625152078(-6)
2002-2003 Springfield(Playoffs)61234(-1)
2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)

10002(-1)
2003-2004 Tampa Bay (NHL)

3115616(+1)

Stock: Rising
Slightly

Since Last Report (AHL): 1gp, 0G-0A-0P, 2 PIMs,
-1
Since Last Report (TBL): 21gp, 0G-3A-3P, 4 PIMs, -2
Ranking: 9

Hailed by the organization for his hard work, Martin Cibak has been the Lightning’s
choice for the better part of the season to center the team’s fourth line. Paired
with tough guy Chris Dingman and ex-Detroit Viper linemate Dmitry Afanasenkov,
this line has the mandate from the coaches to provide an energy injection by
working hard, controlling the puck, hemming in the opposition, and creating
scoring opportunities. Battling and working hard every shift keeps Cibak off
the scratch list and keeps him in Tampa. And this former 1998 ninth round pick
has been doing that quite well as of late. In fact, Cibak’s hard work and strong
play for the better part of the season has so impressed the coaching staff that
Svitov was hard pressed to get into the lineup, and was effectively rendered
an expendable commodity to the organization.


Hershey Bears (AHL)

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
Since
Last Report: 0gp, 0G-0A-0P, 0 PIMs, NA
Ranking: Graduated

Nikita Alexeev had shoulder surgery in November to repair his left shoulder
injured during a fall while taking a faceoff.
Alexeev’s rehab is proceeding according to schedule, but the Lightning say there
is no time table right now for his return. The organization appears to be taking
the situation slowly in order to see how things progress. Considering the forward
depth that Bolts currently have in Hershey and Hamilton, there is absolutely
no need to rush this former 2000 first round pick into action prematurely.

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

53580(+4)
2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)

4226812(-2)

Stock: Rising
Since Last Report (AHL):
34gp, 0G-6A-6P, 6 PIMs, Even
Ranking: 11

In the last report, Ryan Craig had only played eight games with Hershey after
a early season recall from the ECHL. While initial reactions at the time from
the Hershey coaching staff were very positive regarding Craig’s play, it remained
to be seen whether his tenure with the Bears would be a permanent or temporary
affair. Bears coach Paul Fixter cited that Craig was a player that definitely
belonged in the AHL, but it was obvious earlier in the season that he had
opportunity to play given the rash of injuries experience by the Colorado Avalanche
both on their NHL roster and among their prospects in Hershey. The question
was if there would be room from Craig on the roster as the Avalanche organization
became healthier. Thirty-four games later without a scratch to show, this former
Brandon Wheat Kings captain continues to show the heart and soul that is enabling
him find a way to play a level a little higher than perhaps his current skill
and development would seem to dictate. While not very prolific offensively for
the Bears, he continues to exhibit great team skills and a commitment to defense.
While other Bear notables have seen their plus/minus ratings take a nosedive
during a rough December skid, Craig’s play has proved steady and predicable.
The Lightning organization believes that this former 2002 eighth round pick
will someday play in the NHL because his determination and persistence finds
a way. Look for this natural leader to wear a letter next season if Tampa secures
its own AHL affiliate.

W Sheldon Keefe

GPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)3316153128(+6)
2002-2003 Springfield (Playoffs)

60004(-4)
2002-2003 Tampa Bay (NHL)

3725724(-1)
2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)

4310132340(-5)

Stock: Steady
Since
Last Report: 33gp, 9G-9A-18P, 38 PIMs, -5
Ranking: Graduated

After a slow offensive start on the season after being reacquired by the Bolts
from the New York Ranger organization, Sheldon Keefe began finding the
back of the net in a fashion indicative of the play that earned this 1999 second
round pick the OHL scoring crown, including a hat trick on November 22 that
sparked a four-goal third period rally against Lowell. Cited by Hershey coach
Paul Fixter as the hardest working Bear, Keefe continues to play each shift
with 110 percent effort which earns him and his linemates scoring opportunity after
opportunity, as noted by ranking second on the team in shots on goal. Ranked
fifth on the Bears team in assists and points, and ranked fourth in goals, Keefe
remains an important offensive cog in Hershey’s successful season to date, while
waiting for another chance to prove he can make a difference at the NHL level.

C Jean-François SoucyGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Montreal (QMJHL)64243155168 
2002-2003 Montreal (Playoffs)702224 
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)

32671396(-4)
2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)

802212(+1)

Stock: Rising Slightly
Since Last Report (ECHL):
21gp, 5G-5A-10P, 51 PIMs, -5
Since Last Report (AHL): 8gp, 0G-2A-2P, 12 PIMs, +1
Ranking: 13

At the time of his beginning of January recall to the Hershey Bears, this Quebeçois
agitator was leading all ECHL rookies in penalty minutes, and it seems that
Soucy is bringing that same game north to Chocolatetown. Early reports out of
Hershey indicate that Soucy isn’t winning any popularity contests among his
new AHL opponents, either. His play thus far for the Bears have been very solid
in both ends, and while not a offensive threat every time he is on the ice,
he certainly makes his presence known by poking his nose into every possible
scrum. Like Craig earlier in the season, Soucy’s recall to the Bears was initially
due to continued injuries within the Colorado Avalanche organization. And like
Craig, speculation surrounded whether Soucy would stick permanently on the Bear’s
roster. However, concurrent with Soucy’s recall, fellow Bolt prospect Evgeni
Artukhin
became a regular healthy scratch and has ultimately resulted in
an assignment to Pensacola. With Artukhin’s demotion, it seems Soucy has secured
that AHL roster spot for now.

As far as the Lightning organization is concerned, Soucy is doing exactly what
Feaster wants him to do. He needs to continue to develop his defensive game
and also look to contribute offensively. A much like player within the organization,
the Bolts are very pleased that he is a player other teams hate playing against.


Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)

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

44671328(-1)

Stock: Steady
Since
Last Report: 30gp, 5G-4A-9P, 20 PIMs, +1
Ranking: Graduated

This 1999 third round selection is quietly putting together a mirror image
of the 2000-2001 SEL season for Djurgardens in which this Swedish speedster
notched seven goals and eight assists in fifty regular season games enroute
to signing his first pro contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. A fixture on
the Bulldogs penalty kill unit, Jimmie Ölvestad is a shorthanded
threat, as he shares the team lead with Canadiens prospects Jozef Belaj
and Tomas Plekanec for goals scored shorthanded. Continuing his role
as a fierce third-line forechecker, Ölvestad’s play remains steady awaiting
an opportunity to rejoin a Tampa club that has enjoyed an almost supernatural
injury-free run on the NHL roster.

W Eero Somervuori

GPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Hameenlinna (FNL)5621244542NA
2003-2004 Hamilton (AHL)

4577148(+6)

Stock: Steady
Since
Last Report: 29gp, 5G-3A-8P, 6 PIMs, +4
Ranking: Graduated

After all the preseason hype regarding the long-awaited North American debut of this 1997
seventh round selection, which included Calder Trophy prognostications and predictions
of playing alongside Vincent Lecavalier, offensive numbers that look like they
were lifted out of Jimmie Ölvestad’s career stat sheet couldn’t be what
Lightning GM Jay Feaster was thinking we he signed him to a one year contract
last summer. But, Eero Somervuori has two obstacles he’s faced this season
as a North American rookie. The first is common obstacle shared by many prolific
European stars and that is the adjustment to the North American game. A quick
look at this season’s statistics of this potent Hameenlinna linemates Tommi
Santala (Atlanta Thrashers/Chicago Wolves) and Anti Miettinen (Dallas
Stars/Utah Grizzlies) paints a similar picture. Somervuori’s other obstacle
is the Lightning’s dysfunctional minor league system, in which he finds himself
one of two or three Bolts players on a team heavy with Montreal Canadien prospects in Hamilton. Doug Jarvis has a plethora of
blue-chip forwards (and defensemen) with which to fill out a pair of scoring
lines. Somervuori finds himself waiting his turn, as he learns the North American game.

In all actuality, his situation with Hamilton may be a blessing in disguise.
Somervuori is certainly getting the opportunity to round out his game, and is
being used by Jarvis in all kinds of defensive situations, including the penalty
kill, checking lines, and in the last minute of a one goal game. Under Lightning
coach John Tortorella’s offensive-minded system, every player is held to a high
standard of defensive responsibility. The lesson learned by Somervuori this
season may very well go a long way in preparing him for the future in the Bolts
organization.

Does Eero’s one year contract coupled with a disappointing offensive season
result in the shorten Somervuori experiment for the Bolts? Absolutely not. Somervuori
remains in the Lightning future. Would the Bolts like to see him score more?
Absolutely. Are they pleased with his progress to date? Yes, and the organization
believes that his progress will continue.


Utah Grizzlies (AHL)

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

2913414(-11)

Stock: Rising
Since
Last Report: 22gp, 0G-1A-2P, 12 PIMs, -7
Ranking: 6

If there is one player in the organization whose statistics paint a false story,
it is those of Gerard Dicaire, a former second round pick in 2000 by
the Buffalo Sabres. After arguably one of the best training camps of any Bolt
prospect in the organization in which Dicaire nearly won a roster spot in Tampa,
the Bolts have subsequently done him no favors with regard to his development.
With no room for him on Tampa’s two partial affiliations in Hershey and Hamilton,
GM Jay Feaster found a spot for him in Utah as a loaner. As the only Tampa guy
in Salt Lake City, Dicaire has exhibited great mental toughness. Battling for
playing time as the odd man out has not been easy, but as the season has progressed,
Dicaire has established himself as a fixture on the regular defensive rotation
and is seeing ample time on the power play. Dicaire’s coolness under pressure,
excellent puck moving and passing skills, and offensive instincts are sure to
land him on the Tampa roster in the near future. There is no player in the organization
that has suffered more at the hands of Tampa’s dysfunctional AHL affiliation
situation than Dicaire, and this situation has slowed his progress rather than
accelerated it. But Tampa fans should rest easy knowing that despite Dicaire’s
disappointing season, he is still a very important part of Tampa’s future, and
that the Lightning brass have sent every organizational ambassador to Salt Lake
to assure him of this situation.

Work hard, Gerard. This too shall pass.


Pensacola Ice Pilots (ECHL)

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

2622459(-1)
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)

20002E

Stock: Falling Slightly
Since
Last Report (AHL): 18gp, 1G-1A-2P, 42 PIMs, -3
Since
Last Report (ECHL): 2gp, 0G-0A-0P, 2 PIMs, Even
Ranking:
7

At the time of the writing of this report, the Tampa organization and fans are
collectively breathing a sigh of relief because Artukhin reported to his ECHL
assignment in Pensacola. In the recent months, Artukhin had been receiving quite
a bit of external pressure to forego his developmental assignment in the AHL
for a more attractive role in the Russian professional leagues. As such, there
was some concern that a demotion to the ECHL might trigger a defection back
to Russia for this mammoth 2001 third round selection. At the request of GM
Jay Feaster, both Bill Barber and Jake Goertzen went to Hershey and met with
Artukhin in order to assure him that a reassignment to Hershey was in his best
interest and that the organization believes he’ll play for a long time in Tampa.
But right now, he needs to break some bad habits and get him some playing time.

In Hershey, Artukhin was having a hard time staying in the lineup despite an
injury-depleted Bears roster. When he did play, there were too many invisible
shifts, defensive-zone coverage breakdowns and an overall inability to produce
offensively. He needs to learn to read the game better and be smarter both with
and without the puck. He needs to learn, as Bill Barber has said, to “skate
his lanes.” Up and down his wing, not drifting from one side of the ice to the
other blindly chasing the puck. The problem with his situation in Hershey was
that he continued to make the same mistakes the coaching staff had tried to
change.

He is a monster of a young man, and still developing and growing physically.
When he hits you he hurts you, and the Lightning absolutely love combination
of size, skill, and skating that Artukhin brings. The sole issue with Artukhin
is that the organization wants him playing. In Hershey, he was the odd man out
with the recent arrival and solid play from Soucy. In Pensacola, he should loads
of opportunity to play given their lack of skaters and general overall toughness.
Ice Pilots head coach Todd Gordon intends to give Artukhin ample power play
time, and so the organization expects him to rebuild his confidence and his
game, just as Pensacola has provided that service to Andreas Holmqvist,
another struggling Bolt prospect.

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

1-0-01.000.9740
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)

19-11-43.060.9200

Stock: Rising
Slightly

Since
Last Report: 13-8-4, 3.06GAA, 0.924SV%, 0 SO
Ranking: 14

The Lightning are very excited about the progress of Brian Eklund so
far this year, as he met Tampa’s goal of him winning the starting job in Pensacola
hands down. Eklund leads the ECHL in saves, ranks second in minutes played,
and third in wins. He was named the ECHL’s Saver of the Week for the week of
November 24, 2003 by finished the week with a record of 3-0, a 1.96 goals against
average, and .953 save percentage. Eklund made 30 saves in a 4-3 win against
Mississippi, made 50 saves and stopped all six shooters in a 2-1 shootout win
vs. Louisiana, and made 44 saves in a 3-2 win vs. Mississippi. He followed up
the next week by be named the ECHL’s runner-up Saver of the Week. A recent poll
on the Ice Pilot web site had fans voting Eklund as the team’s MVP so far this
season.

While accolades flow for Tampa’s 2000 seventh round pick as he flourishes under
the guidance of Bolt goalie coach Jeff Reese, Eklund’s workload in Pensacola is a concern. Seeing action in 34 of Pensacola’s
40 games so far this season, Eklund’s recent performance may be an indication
that this former Brown University netminder is beginning to wear thin with practically
being the Ice Pilots only goaltender. It would seem that if Ice Pilot head coach
Todd Gordon won’t play Bolt prospect Evgeny Konstantinov, then Jay Feaster
needs to make some sort of move to ensure Eklund can get some relief before
fatigue ushers in some sort of injury.

In terms of next season, the Lightning anticipate the acquisition of a veteran
netminder who can be a legitimate third goalie for the Bolts while sharing AHL
duty with Eklund. Whether that veteran netminder turns out to be the Lightning’s
over-aged 2002 seventh rounder Fredrik Norrena remains to be seen.

D Andreas HolmqvistGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Linkopings (SEL)43491328NA
2003-2004 Hamilton (AHL)

40000(+1)
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)

31315188(+2)

Stock: Falling Slightly

Since
Last Report (ECHL): 29gp, 3G-15A-18P, 6PIMs, +3
Ranking:
3


Holmqvist seems to be regaining his confidence and rediscovering his game that
made him the Bolt’s premier blueline prospect. After a shaky debut on North
American ice in the AHL, Holmqvist has once again been exhibiting those skills
as a offensive-minded, puck moving defensemen that lead to his first NHL pro
contract last summer. Holmqvist has been very solid at both ends of the ice
for Pensacola this season. Half of his points have come on the power play, which
is one of the major reasons that Tampa made this Swedish league standout their
2001 second round selection. If Holmqvist continues this level of play in Pensacola,
it may not be a matter of if, but when, he gets a second shot in the AHL. Only
Tampa’s challenged AHL affiliate situation would prevent this.

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)

1-4-14.230.8730

Stock: Falling

Since
Last Report: 1-2-0, 3.69GAA, 0.888SV%, 0 SO
Ranking: Not Ranked

To say that the Lightning organization are disappointed with the development
of Konstantinov would be an understatement. After only seeing action in seven
games for the Ice Pilots as the midpoint of the season approaches in a contract
year, it appears that Konstantinov’s future as a Lightning prospect are fading.
All this from a goalie who play over 2,100 minutes for the Springfield Falcons
in the AHL last season.

D Jeremy Van HoofGPGAPPIM+/-
2002-2003 Pensacola (ECHL)6645951(+17)
2002-2003 Pensacola (Playoffs)40114E
2002-2003 Springfield (AHL)

40006(-1)
2003-2004 Hershey (AHL)

10000(+1)
2003-2004 Pensacola (ECHL)

3706618(-5)

Stock: Steady

Since
Last Report (ECHL): 26gp, 0G-4A-4P, 6PIMs, -4
Ranking:
Not Ranked

About the only bright spot for Jeremy Van Hoof this season is that he
was named the Ice Pilot’s captain. The reality is that this former 1999 second
round selection by the Pittsburgh Penguins he shouldn’t be playing at the ECHL
level this year. He’s been there for three seasons and deserves a shot at the
AHL. But there
is no room for him with the partial affiliations in place. All things being
equal, despite his disappointing season statistically, the Bolts intend to keep
Van Hoof in their plans for next, and with a sole affiliation in place, see
how he handles the step up.


Affiliation Progress

Securing a full-time AHL affiliation for the 2004-2005
season for the Tampa Bay Lightning remains the paramount objective for GM Jay
Feaster. In an interview with Hockey’s Future, Feaster refused to share specific
details citing a need to maintain confidentiality, but did say, “I can
tell you that we are working on three different scenarios at this time and are
still planning to have our own affiliate in the AHL for the 2004-05 season.
I work on this in one fashion or another almost daily and won’t rest until we
get it done.”

Other notes

After spending a month and a half with Tampa Bay, Shane Willis was recently
returned to the Hershey Bears by Tampa where he has scored 5 goals in 4 games.
In 30 games played for the Bears, Willis has 15 goals, 12 assists for 27 points and a +10 rating.

Eric Perrin, former linemate of NHL All-Star Martin St. Louis at the University
of Vermont, is the Hershey’s one representative in upcoming AHL All-Star game.
In 47 games played, Perrin has 17 goals 30 assists for 47 points and a +3 rating, while leading the
Bears in almost every offensive statistical category. He has yet to be recalled
to the virtually injury-free Tampa roster this season.