Lightning 2004 draft review

By Chad Schnarr

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2004 NHL Entry Draft with a different perspective than in previous years. The Lightning said goodbye to the days of sitting in the front row at the draft – reserved for the teams at the bottom of the NHL standings – and hello to the last table on the last row – reserved for the Stanley Cup champion. Earning the right to sit there, however, also meant a long wait to pick. Fortunately for Tampa, they had no pressing needs that required immediate attention in this draft.

Though a sure-fire goaltender of the future was on the shopping list, and the next wave of skill on scoring lines seems only like a ripple, Feaster wasn’t happy with what was available in these areas when the Lightning came to pick and instead took the conservative route. Drafting cautiously, Feaster chose a handful of prospects in which most, due to their raw skills, skating and character, should become NHLers someday.

Tampa’s 2004 draft reflects its existing pool of prospects. If you’re looking for an Adventure Island type water park, you may want to look elsewhere. This is the county pool. No frills, just what’s necessary – and often underappreciated.

Andy Rogers

Defense, Calgary (WHL) 6’5” 206
1st round, 30th overall

In 2003, Feaster approached the draft with an almost single-minded approach to improve Tampa’s defensive depth. He took two defensemen in the second round that were big, physical and above-average skaters. Mike Egener and Matt Smaby were safe picks. Both will be in the NHL someday. While most thought that hole was filled, Feaster kept piling on and chose towering Calgary Hitmen defenseman Andy Rogers, a teammate of Egener’s. Think of the pick like a football team picking extra offensive linemen. The fans don’t get overly excited, but management and coaches are ecstatic.

A native of Calgary, Rogers finished 10th among defensemen in the Central Scouting (CSS) rankings and had an overall ranking of 24th among all North American skaters. The 30th overall pick, he was the ninth defenseman taken in the first round.

One of the accolades Rogers received this year was an invitation to attend the 2004 Top Prospects Game. In the event’s skills competition, Rogers recorded the hardest shot, registering a blistering slapshot clocked at 96.8 mph.

Finding the combined size and skating ability that Rogers possesses is rare, especially in defensemen. He is far from a “Neanderthal pick,” chosen just for his massive size (6’5” 206). Rogers was among the fastest skaters in the skills competition, finishing fourth overall and first among defensemen in both the 60-yard dash (2.994 seconds) and 150-yard dash (5.91 seconds).

Despite his skating, Rogers possesses very limited offensive potential, and although signs of improvement began to show near the end of the season resulting in more time on the power play unit, one should never confuse Rogers with a power play specialist. Rogers’ puckhandling skills are average at best, and his ability to find his teammates in the offensive end is almost non-existent, highlighted by his three assists in 64 games played for the Hitmen.

Rogers’ forte is his play in the defensive end. A very physical defender, Rogers is able to intimidate a lot of opposing forwards with punishing checks, both against the boards and in open ice. Rogers stands up opposing forwards regularly at the blueline, and in the rare occasion he is caught out of position or beat, Rogers has enough speed to make up for his mental lapse, which in itself is rare in the defensive end.

A member of the silver medal winning Canadian National Under-18 Team in 2004, Rogers has also been invited to this summer’s Development Camp for Canada in preparation for the 2005 World Junior Championships.

Projection: Top-four defenseman

Mark Tobin

Left Wing, Rimouski (QMJHL) 6’3” 204
2nd round, 65th overall

If the Lightning and Flames taught the NHL world anything during the 2004 playoffs, it was the importance of grit, hard work, and a team-first attitude. Feaster was not about to choose someone, even superiorly skilled, that didn’t fit that ideal. Now more than ever, Feaster is building the club with a two-month playoff grind in mind. Therefore, he went to the junior hockey alma mater of Lightning stars Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards and chose 6’3” Newfoundlander Mark Tobin.

An eighth overall selection by Rimouski in the 2002 QMHJL draft, the St John’s native might not be blessed with scoring ability, but he can definitely be labeled as a warrior. He gives everything on the ice shift after shift. He is good defensively and has adequate hockey sense that makes him a valuable player on the penalty killing unit. Essentially, Tobin is the type of player needed to win a Stanley Cup.

As Tobin continues to develop next to Sidney Crosby in Rimouski, he’ll be given every opportunity to advance his offensive game. If he works on his shot, Tobin has the potential to develop in the mold of fellow Bolt Ruslan Fedotenko, a grinding second liner who does the little things to help his line produce and team win.

Projection: Second/third liner

Mike Lundin

Defense, University of Maine (H-East) 6’2” 180
4th round, 102nd overall

Though Feaster has concentrated on defensive defensemen over the last two years, he is not ignoring the need for skill from the backline. If any of Tampa’s 2004 picks could be considered “steals,” it is their fourth rounder, Mike Lundin, obtained with a pick involved in the Darryl Sydor-Alexander Svitov trade.

Lundin, whom the Lightning unsuccessfully tried to convince to opt into the draft last year, was expecting to be taken as high as the second round in 2004, but lasted until the early fourth. Ranked 54th among North American skaters on the CSS’s final rankings, Lundin just completed his rookie season at the University of Maine where he amassed 19 points (3 goals, 16 assists) playing in all 44 games. His 19 points ranked second among all defensemen on the team. He earned Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors for the week of November 3rd after posting three points that weekend, including his first collegiate goal.

The former Associated Press Minnesota Hockey and Minneapolis Star-Tribune Metro Player of the Year is a skilled defenseman who possesses exceptional playmaking abilities and athleticism. He is an excellent skater with good acceleration and shows tremendous confidence with the puck. He can be utilized in every type of situation, including quarterbacking the power play. He possesses very good vision and hockey sense. He is positionally solid and boasts a good, hard shot. He makes excellent outlet passes, has the ability to both jump up into plays and lead the rush up the ice. Known for his great attitude and seemingly tireless work ethic, Lundin, who plans to play all four years at Maine, must continue to add weight and gain experience before he gets his chance at the NHL. He is also one of at least eight defensemen in the Lightning system with a better than average shot of seeing NHL time in the future, so he will have to force his way onto the roster.

Potential: Top-four defenseman

Brandon Elliott

Defense, Mississauga (OHL) 6’4” 225
5th round, 158th overall

Feaster traded a 2005 third round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2004 fifth round pick and two 2004 sixth round picks. Armed with only three picks on the second day, Feaster immediately doubled his options with this trade, though at a high price. Elliott was the first to be chosen by the Bolts with picks obtained from the Flyers.

The Lightning is aiming to develop its own enforcer and chose Brandon Elliott from Mississauga of the OHL to groom for this role. Listed as a defenseman, Elliott was called a late bloomer by Lightning Head Scout Jake Goertzen.

Though the Lightning may be high on 6’4” 225-pound Elliott, Mississauga may not. Elliott is an overager this year and is a longshot to return to the Ice Dogs to fill one of their allotted overager spots. It’s puzzling as to why the Lightning spent a fifth round pick on the 20-year-old when he was unlikely to even be drafted. Elliott’s best chance to reach the NHL is to work on his skating and literally fight his way through the minor leagues and be ready to play either forward or defense. If Elliott can’t find an OHL job this year, there’s an outside chance he could be signed and placed in Pensacola of the ECHL.

Potential: A minor league pugilist who may earn some NHL time

Dustin Collins

Left Wing, University of Northern Michigan (CCHA) 6’3” 196
5th round, 163rd overall

The Lightning made Collins, who went undrafted in 2003, the first unranked (CSS) collegian taken in the 2004 draft. The Lightning liked his work ethic, physical game and size and made the Arizona native their second choice of the fifth round. Collins, who can play both center and wing, scored only one goal and added six assists in his freshman season at Northern Michigan. Collins must develop his hockey sense and offensive skills if he is to make the NHL.

Potential: A physical fourth line energy player

Jan Zapletal

Defense, Vsetin Jr. (Czech Jr.) 6’3” 187

Round Six, 188th overall

Since taking Pavel Kubina in the seventh round of the 1996 draft, the Lightning has drafted only two defensemen from the Czech Republic. Considering the success they’ve had with Kubina, this comes as a surprise. One of those defensemen is Karel Betik, taken in 1997, who is now in the QSMHL. The other is a converted winger from Vsetin Jr. taken this year, Jan Zapletal. Zapletal is an intriguing prospect who possesses good skating ability, adequate hockey sense, good size, and a willingness to compete. All Zapletal has to do is learn to play the position, which is no small task. He also must learn the physical game. Chosen in the second round of the 2004 CHL Import Draft, Zapletal would benefit from reporting to the Regina Pats of the rugged WHL for next season.

Potential: Sixth/seventh defenseman

Karri Ramo

Goaltender, Pelicans Jr. (Finland Jr.) 6’2” 192
6th Round, 191st overall

Continuing their trend of drafting big, competitive goaltenders in the later rounds, the Lightning selected 6’2” Finnish netminder Karri Ramo with their second pick in the sixth round. Ramo is the second Finnish goaltender taken by Feaster as he took Finnish overager Fredrik Norrena in the seventh round of the 2002 draft.

Ramo has been building a career in the Pelicans organization. A national team goalie since U17, he made the Jr. A team in 2003-04 and managed to secure the backup’s job in the U18 World Championships, where he played one game, stopping 12 of 13 shots as Finland beat Denmark 4-1. As the Pelicans pro team let their starter walk before the end of the season and the backup faltered, Ramo also saw action in the elite league, getting shelled behind the weak team.

Ramo is a fairly quick butterfly goalie with good size, which is a very good foundation for success. However, at this point his technique is lacking. Unlike most butterfly goaltenders, he often struggles to make the second save. He works well with the glove and blocker but should still watch out for giving up rebounds. There is also room for improvement when it comes to coverage and positioning.

Potential: NHL No. 3 goaltender

Justin Keller

Left Wing, Kelowna (WHL) 5’10” 174
8th Round, 245th overall

At least one publication had the diminutive Keller ranked above Tobin, whom the Lightning nabbed in the second round. A smallish winger with a lot of heart, skill, and an above-average shot, Keller was at his best during this past Memorial Cup Final when he scored the Cup winning goal for Kelowna against Gatineau. As a rookie, Keller finished second on the defensive-minded Rockets in regular season scoring with 25 goals and 21 assists. With a new coach in Kelowna next year, expect the Rockets’ offensive focus to increase and expect Keller to be among team leaders on the stats sheet yet again.

Lightning fans will look at Keller and think of Martin St. Louis, which isn’t necessarily fair to Keller, but it gives him a blueprint to follow to make it in the pros. Keller must gain strength in his legs and continue to be willing to go to high traffic areas to score. He must continue to learn the defensive side of the game, especially if he wants to play for Lightning coach John Tortorella. At most, Keller could be a poor man’s Martin St. Louis, at the least; he should be a successful minor league scoring liner.

Potential: NHL utility player, minor league scorer

Aaron Vickers, Eric Forest, D.J. Powers, and Pekka Lampinen contributed to this report.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.