Lightning NCAA prospects update

By Phil Laugher

Five prospects in the Tampa Bay Lightning system currently play in the NCAA. Three of these players are defensemen – Mike Lundin, Art Femenella, and John Wessbecker. All three defensemen currently play in New England’s Hockey East conference. Also on a Hockey East roster, but barely playing, is netminder Joseph Pearce, with Boston College. The fifth, senior forward Dusty Collins, currently plays in the CCHA.

With four of their five college-aged players ready to graduate at season’s end, and with only one player committed to the NCAA in next year, the Lightning will have a dearth of collegiate players in their system over the next couple of seasons.

Dusty Collins, F — Northern Michigan Wildcats (CCHA)span>

Senior; Height: 6’3; Weight: 215 lbs.

Drafted 5th round, 163rd overall, 2004

Collins is currently in his senior season with Northern Michigan. While he will never be counted on as a key scorer, Collins has still been an important contributor for the Wildcats this season. He has reassumed the role that he has excelled in during much of his stay with Northern Michigan: shutdown centerman. Regularly counted on to square off against the opposition’s top lines, the gritty pivot has gotten by through hard work and tenacious defensive play thus far in his collegiate career.

His tireless work ethic has been an integral part of his rise from playing sporadically in his first year to being a checking line fixture in his senior season. This aspect of his game will be a very useful part of his arsenal if he decides to make the jump to professional hockey next season. Collins currently sits with two goals and two assists in 30 games, with a minus-9 rating.

Art Femenella, D —  Vermont Catamounts (HE)

Senior; Height: 6’7; Weight: 255 lbs.

Drafted 6th round, 188th overall, 2001

In comparison with his offensive output over the course of his previous three years at Vermont, Femenella’s offensive numbers could be considered quite the breakout. Entering his senior year, the hulking, versatile Catamount had posted one point through 56 career games. He currently sits with one goal and two assists through 12 games. Scoring is not Femenella’s forte, though, as the 6’7 USHL product relies largely on using his brute strength and physicality to wreak havoc in his own end.

Femenella has been once again hobbled by injuries. In his junior season, he was limited to only eight games as a result of both a chronic back ailment and occasional time spent as a healthy scratch. It was hoped that he would be back in the line-up on a full-time basis, and healthy at that. Unfortunately for him, he has not been able to warrant regular duty, as he has been limited by minor injury and continued stagnation in his skill development. He does bring plenty of physicality, as well as a solid work ethic, however his limited skill set and poor foot speed will likely be a serious detriment if he has any ambitions in professional hockey.

Mike Lundin, D — Maine Black Bears (HE)

Senior; Height: 6’1; Weight: 175lbs.

Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2004

The Maine senior has perhaps the most professional upside among the Lightning’s four NCAA prospects. Lundin brings great defensive responsibility, along with strong puck-moving ability to the table. He currently sits with four goals and nine assists through 25 games, good enough for eighth on the team in points, and second among defensemen. What Lundin lacks in physicality, he makes up for in hard work and strong two-way ability. His defensive game has steadily developed, and he has shown a willingness in the past to sacrifice his body in his own end to break up plays.

Lundin has been logging big minutes for the Black Bears, playing in all situations. He has been a fixture on the point for Maine’s power play since his freshman year, and now, playing on the top unit, he has added three markers with the man advantage. It is likely that Lundin will be in consideration for a contract at season’s end. While roster limitations may prevent Tampa from giving the Apple Valley product an NHL contract, he may yet warrant a minor-league deal in the style of that given to Minnesota graduate PJ Atherton at the end of last season, so that the Lightning can still closely monitor his development in the minors.

Joseph Pearce, G –Boston College Eagles (HE)

Senior; Height: 6’4, Weight: 205 lbs.

Drafted 5th round, 135th overall, 2002

Pearce has only seen action in one game thus far this season, playing only six minutes, and stopping one of the two shots he faced. For the second consecutive season, Pearce has had to play second fiddle to dominant junior Cory Schneider (VAN) with the Eagles.

After entering the NCAA on a relatively high note, coming off a dominant performance in the EJHL that saw his junior team win the league’s championship, followed by a strong year in the USHL, his collegiate career has been a disappointment. This frustration has stemmed largely from having the misfortune of playing behind two strong goaltenders during his stay with Boston College (first, behind Finnish goaltender Matti Kaltiainen, then behind Schneider), rather than poor play.

John Wessbecker, D — Univ. of Massachusetts Minutemen (HE)

Sophomore; Height: 6’2; Weight: 185lbs.

Drafted 7th round, 225th overall, 2005

Wessbecker entered his sophomore season coming off a solid freshman campaign with U-Mass Amherst. He picked up three assists in 36 games, and was named to the Hockey East All-Academic Team. Wessbecker has been pointless thus far this season through 23 games.

He has continued to work on what made him quietly successful last season — playing a safe, responsible, poised game in his own end, not trying to do too much. He brings decent physicality to the table, but he is able to do so playing a disciplined game. He has the potential to be a very adequate stay-at-home option in the near future, but still has plenty of time to work on his offensive game. He showed flashes of offensive touch in his pre-college days, and perhaps given more flexibility in subsequent seasons, the steady defenseman may get the chance to produce more.

Notes

2006 fourth round draft pick Kevin Quick committed to play for the Michigan Wolverines back in November. He will start suiting up for the maize and blue in 2007. The defenseman is currently playing prep school hockey for Salisbury, and has posted six assists and a plus-12 rating thus far this season.

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