Lightning 2005 draft evaluation

By Ben Bebernitz

The Lightning were one team that did not select a regular NHL player at the 2005 draft. It was not for a lack of effort as they made nine selections on those last two days of July. There have been players who suited up in a Lightning jersey, but not as regulars. But none have played in a full NHL season in total.

One big trade the Lightning made prior to this draft was re-acquiring Vaclav Prospal from Anaheim for their second-round pick. Prospal did make an impact every other year with the team, but never could not help them get back into the further stages of the playoffs. This draft pick turned out to be the first pick of the second round due to the snake-like drafting put forth by the NHL this year only. There is no telling who the Lightning would have selected with this pick, but there were picks available (like Paul Stastny and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) that would have been perhaps better for their future.

The Lightning tried to rely on selecting Europeans over North Americans and to this point, it has not worked out. These nine selections, with all of them going to three players, played 60 NHL games so far with a majority of them going to Blair Jones. Most of the players are no longer in the system and the ones who are are depth prospects only at this time.

Vladimir Mihalik, D, Presov II (Slovakia) – 1st round, 30th overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 15

The Lightning wanted to draft a big, hulking rearguard with their first-round pick and that is exactly what they did. Mihalik is quite the specimen at 6’7 and 240 pounds. Unfortunately, Mihalik has struggled using his body at the pro level. The 23-year-old has found a steady home in Norfolk playing for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate. He has essentially maintained the status quo while there.

There has been no big improvement from the Slovak, but the Lightning are still giving him time to develop, considering their shallow prospect pool. Mihalik has received two extended regular -season tryouts for the big club when they were eliminated from playoff contention. In 2008-09, he played 11 games while notching three assists. This past season, he played in four scoreless games.

Mihalik may be running low on chances, but due to his size, he will probably get at least one more season.

Radek Smolenak, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – 3rd round, 73rd overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 7

Unlike Mihalik, Smolenak is a player who may have run out of chances with the Lightning organization. After putting up good numbers for Kingston, Smolenak did have one decent scoring season in 2008-09 for Norfolk. Ultimately though, he has not shown the same scoring prowess.

The Czech winger, 23, has bounced around since his pro career started. He has gone back and forth from the ECHL and AHL affiliates of the Lightning, to the Blackhawks and then back, to Abbotsford of the AHL, and finally to HC Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga. His NHL experience consists of one scoreless game with the Blackhawks this season and an assist in six games with the Lightning in 2008-09.

Rumored discipline problems with Norfolk coach, Jim Johnson, may have spelled his doom with the team. They will have to decide if they even want to extend their rights to him over the summer while he is in the Czech Republic.

Chris Lawrence, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) – 3rd round, 89th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Lawrence, 23, stayed in juniors for an extra two years after his drafting in order to hone his game. He made his pro debut in the 2007-08 season. Since joining the Admirals that season, Lawrence’s point-per-game totals have decreased steadily since then. He has become more of a checking forward and grinder with the team. This season, he appeared in 72 games and collected seven assists in those games.

While his hopes of making the Lightning permanently may be slim, his only chance of being a regular will probably be as a plugger on the fourth line.

Marek Bartanus, RW, HC Kosice (Slovakia) – 4th round, 92nd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The first pick of the fourth round is the first bust the team selected in this draft. Bartanus, 23, came over from Slovakia to play two very unspectacular seasons with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. After barely breaking 20 points in second and last season in the OHL, Bartanus returned to Slovakia after the Lightning did not offer him a contract.

Bartanus has played in Slovakia ever since and there is no indication that he will get another NHL chance anytime soon.

Blair Jones, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) – 4th round, 102nd overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 38

The 23-year-old Jones is the player in this draft that the Lightning have offered the most games to in his career. Until this past season when he was getting shuffled between Norfolk and Tampa often, Jones has steadily improved his game in the AHL. The playmaking center had his best pro season in 2008-09 when he collected 20 goals and 54 points in 80 games in the AHL.

He has played 38 games for the Lightning spread over three seasons. He has a goal and two assists in those games for the team. Considering the team had their two scoring lines full, Jones has played more of a grinding type role with the team so far.

With another offseason of change in the Lightning organization, the Canadian may get more of a look with the big club next season.

Stanislav Lascek, RW, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL) – 5th round, 133rd overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Lascek was one of the busts the Lightning drafted in this class that actually spent significant time in the Lightning farm system. The 24-year-old Slovak was a prolific scorer in juniors, but could only replicate that success in the ECHL. When he made it to the AHL, he struggled mightily and could not produce.

The past two seasons after the Lightning did not pick up his contract, Lascek has spent time playing for Martin MHC in Slovakia and for Riviere-du-Loup CIMT in the LNAH in Quebec. He performed pretty well in the Quebec pro league and probably hopes this will lead to a NHL tryout.

Marek Kvapil, LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL) – 6th round, 163rd overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Kvapil, 25, is another player who spent quality time with the affiliates of the Lightning. After leaving Saginaw, Kvapil went to play in the AHL with Springfield. He had a pretty good first season with 18 goals and 45 points in 79 games.

But this was his peak in system. After the 2007-08 season, the Lightning did not keep his rights and he left for the Czech Republic. After a struggle in his first season for Vitkovice HC, he has picked up his offensive game with 19 goals and 41 points in 50 games this past season.

Kevin Beech, G, Sudbury Wolves (OHL) – 6th round, 165th overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Lightning selected the 23-year-old Brantford, Ontario native in hopes they could strike gold with a late-round goalie selection. Needless to say, they did not. Beech played in the OHL until he reached the age limit. He went on to play a few games in the AHL, with a tryout contract, appearing in six games.

The Lightning did not offer him a contract after the 2006-07 season and he has bounced around the Central Hockey League since then.

John Wessbecker, D, Blake (USHS) – 7th round, 225th overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Wessbecker, a 23-year-old American, would go on to play for University of Massachusetts at Amherst for four seasons. He was a stay-at-home defenseman in the truest sense as he collected 12 points in 123 games with the Minutemen.

The Lightning passed on signing him after graduation this past summer. Wessbecker was signed by the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, where he did not play. He would later join the Trenton Devils in the ECHL where he would play nine scoreless games.