Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly takes over top spot

By Andrew Sykes

Photo: the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s top pick in 2010, Brett Connolly, takes over as that club’s top prospect (photo courtesy of the WHL)

Brett Connolly, Tampa’s first-round selection in 2010, debuts as the top-ranked Lightning prospect for the fall edition of the top-20. The Bolts boast young guns such as Connolly, Carter Ashton, Dustin Tokarski, Dana Tyrell, and Richard Panik, and Brock Beukeboom who are looking to solidify a place in the organization. While players like Ty Wishart, Matt Lashoff, Vladimir Mihalik, James Wright and Blair Jones will look to build on their NHL experiences. The combination of young players mixed with a handful of guys that have played in the NHL gives the Lightning a very deep prospect pool.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. Brett Connolly– 8.0, D
2. Carter Ashton– 7.5, C
3. Dustin Tokarski– 7.0, C
4. Dana Tyrell– 7.0, C
5. Richard Panik– 7.0, C
6. Ty Wishart– 7.0, C
7. Alex Hutchings– 7.0, C
8. Brock Beukeboom– 7.0, C
9. Matt Lashoff– 7.0, C
10. Vladimir Mihalik– 7.0, C
11. James Wright– 6.5, B
12. Alex Killorn– 7.0, D
13. Johan Harju– 6.5, B
14. Blair Jones– 6.5, C
15. Jaroslav Janus– 6.5, C
16. Mark Barberio– 6.5, C

17. Juraj Simek– 6.5, C
18. Mitch Fadden– 7.0, D
19. Radko Gudas– 6.5, C
20. Adam Janosik– 6.5, C

1. (NR) Brett Connolly, LW, 18
Acquired 1st round, 6th overall, 2010

Despite his well-documented hip injuries, the skill that Brett Connolly showed over the last two seasons was enough to impress new Tampa GM Steve Yzerman, who selected Connolly with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft.

A tremendous offensive talent, the 18-year-old Connolly must now prove his legendary boss right by showing that he has put the injuries behind him. The high-scoring left winger suffered injuries to both hips this past season causing many long-term health concerns. The off-season has allowed Connolly to heal and so far there haven’t been any issues and he heads into camp fully expecting to have a good showing and compete for a roster spot.

The one thing that has never been questioned regarding Brett Connolly is his skill. Many times, a guy might be a great goal-scorer but not a great passer, or vice-versa. Connolly on the other hand has a goal scoring and playmaking ability that can equal each other and he possesses the instincts to know how and when to beat you with either.

It will be interesting to see how Lightning management handles Connolly as the year progresses, but don’t be surprised if he starts the year in Tampa.

2. (1) Carter Ashton, RW, 19
Acquired 1st round, 29th overall, 2009

When his 2009-2010 season in the WHL came to an end, Ashton got his first taste of pro hockey appearing in 11 games for the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL. In those 11 games, Ashton registered just a single goal but gained the invaluable experience of understanding what it will take to play at the next level, especially at a young age.

Prior to his brief stint in Norfolk, Ashton began his campaign with the Lethbridge Hurricanes before a mid-season trade saw him finish his junior career with the Regina Pats. The 19-year-old was equally productive with both teams, scoring a combined 24 goals and a career-high 51 points in 68 games.

At 6’3, 200 lbs, Ashton already has the size and tools to be a productive power forward, but like most players at such a young age, continued improvement in all areas of the game is certain to serve him well.

3. (2) Dustin Tokarski, G, 20
Acquired 5th round, 122nd overall, 2008

Having won a Memorial Cup and World Junior gold, Dustin Tokarski has been a winner wherever he has played and that trend continued into his first season as a goaltender at the professional level. Despite playing for a Norfolk team that missed out on the playoffs and struggled to score goals, Tokarski still managed to post a winning record of 27-25-3 along with a solid 2.51 GAA and a .915 save percentage. He also got his first taste of the NHL, making two relief appearances for the Lightning.

At the recent Tampa Bay Lightning Young Guns Game, Tokarski put on a show in what was supposed to be a high-scoring affair. The 20-year-old stopped all 20 shots he faced including several point-blank chances and a handful of breakaways.

With one impressive campaign under his belt, Tokarski has given himself a chance to crack the Lightning for the upcoming season, but he will be in tough as he will have to battle with Mike Smith and the recently acquired Dan Ellis.

Brett Connolly, Tampa’s first-round selection in 2010, debuts as the top-ranked Lightning prospect for the fall edition of the top-20. The Bolts boast young guns such as Connolly, Carter Ashton, Dustin Tokarski, Dana Tyrell, and Richard Panik, and Brock Beukeboom who are looking to solidify a place in the organization. While players like Ty Wishart, Matt Lashoff, Vladimir Mihalik, James Wright and Blair Jones will look to build on their NHL experiences. The combination of young players mixed with a handful of guys that have played in the NHL gives the Lightning a very deep prospect pool.

4. (4) Dana Tyrell, C, 21
Acquired 2nd round, 47th overall, 2007

Much like Connolly, Dana Tyrell was a player who had to overcome a major injury before settling into his first pro season. Tyrell suffered a torn ACL and a partially torn MCL in a World Junior exhibition in 2009 and had to watch as his Canadian teammates won the gold medal. The injury forced him to miss the remainder of his final junior season and was a major reason for a slow start to his 2009-2010 campaign with the Norfolk Admirals.

In his first 36 games in Norfolk, Tyrell registered just nine assists but turned it on in the second half scoring nine goals and dishing out 16 assists in the final 38 games of the season.

Injury free to start the season, Tyrell has already turned in an impressive performance at the Lightning prospects came where he was considered to perhaps have had the best camp of anyone. With a spot in the AHL cemented, Tyrell will look to carry his momentum into the club’s main camp where he will hope to further impress Lightning management.

5. (3) Richard Panik, RW, 19
Acquired 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2009

Still just 19 years old, Panik already boasts a boat load of experience at many different levels. Having played two seasons in the Czech league, a season in the OHL with two different teams and numerous international tournaments, Panik has been a solid performer wherever he has played. The big Slovak began the past season with the loaded Windsor Spitfires and although playing time was tough to come by, Panik racked up a respectable 18 points in 33 games. He was then dealt to the much weaker Belleville Bulls where his ice time increased dramatically and so did the results. Panik potted 12 goals and added 11 assists for 23 points in 27 games for the Bulls. He then wrapped up his season on an amateur tryout contract with Norfolk appearing in five games and collecting one assist.

Panik is a big winger with great speed and skill. He excels off the rush using a combination of strength, speed and skill to get to the net where he also demonstrates the soft hands needed to finish the play. For the upcoming season, Panik will look to improve his playmaking skills. If he returns to Belleville, expect him to see a large amount of powerplay time and a jump in his offensive numbers.

6. (5) Ty Wishart, D, 22
Acquired via trade with San Jose, 2008

A former first-round selection of the San Jose Sharks in 2006, Wishart has given himself a good chance of cracking the Lightning’s blue-line heading into the new season. Last year, Wishart led the Admirals in scoring amongst defensemen with 32 points in 76 games which may have been a pleasant surprise since his career-best in junior was only 49 points.

At 6’5 and 215 lbs, Wishart was looked at as more of a defensive defenseman when he was drafted so the fact that his offensive game has translated at the next level is definitely a good sign. With good mobility for his size, a powerful point-shot and an overall good hockey sense, Wishart is a strong candidate to make the jump to the big club this year.

7. (11) Alex Hutchings, LW, 19
Acquired 4th round, 93rd overall, 2009

Hutchings has been a big scorer in each full season he played in Barrie. In 2009-2010 he racked up 47 goals and 81 points and was one of the top guns offensively for the high-flying Colts. A smallish winger at 5’10 and a generous 180 lbs, the 19-year-old makes up for his lack of size with exceptional speed and elusiveness. He is very quick on the puck and is unafraid to stick his nose into traffic in order to make a play.

Hutchings suffered a sports hernia and was unable to participate in the prospects camp but he should be able to move on from the junior ranks and get his professional career under way with the Norfolk Admirals.

8. (NR) Brock Beukeboom, D, 18
Acquired 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2010

A big physical rear-guard, Brock is the son of former NHL defenseman Jeff Beukeboom who brings the same nasty game as his father but with more skill. He is an adept skater who is able to skate himself out of difficult situations with ease and while he tends to concentrate mostly on his defensive responsibilities, Beukeboom has the ability to jump into the play to create odd man rushes and chip in offensively. Considered to be a future leader, Brock, like many sons of former NHLer’s brings a great attitude on and off the ice and understands what it takes to be a solid contributor in any fashion of the game.

Beukeboom is likely to be given another year or two in junior but he already fits the mold of a solid shut-down type player on the back-end.

9. (6) Matt Lashoff, D, 23
Acquired via trade with Boston, 2009

Now with his second organization, the 23-year-old Lashoff is hoping that the hot Tampa sun is a place that he can stick with for a little while. Originally drafted by the Bruins as a first-rounder in 2005, Lashoff played in parts of three seasons with the B’s before being dealt to the Bolts in 2009. In two seasons with the club he has managed to get into just 17 games, seeing most of his time on the farm in Norfolk where he has struggled at times and was a team worst -18 this past season.

While he probably hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a first round pick, Lashoff is still a good young player with a lot of upside. However, his defensive awareness and positioning are two areas Lashoff must improve if he wants to become a full time player in the NHL. The opportunity is there for him to start the season with the Lightning, but it will take a strong training camp.

10. (7) Vladimir Mihalik, D, 23
Acquired 1st round, 30th overall, 2005

The club’s first round pick in 2005, the towering blueliner has played 15 games for the Lightning over the past two seasons and performed admirably despite some shortcomings in his skating and lack of physical play for his size. For Norfolk, he has been one of the Admirals most consistent defensemen and his strong play recently earned him a new contract that will see him play in Tampa for at least one more year.

At 6’7, 240 lbs, Mihalik’s size is certainly something that the Lightning covet and will always be to his advantage in terms of catching the eye of an employer. He is likely to start the season in the AHL but with injuries inevitably on the horizon, look for Mihalik to get his fair share of time with the Lightning this year.

11. (8) James Wright, C, 20
Acquired 4th round, 117th overall, 2008

Considered to be a checking forward with good size and an improving offensive game, Wright surprised everyone when he made the Lightning out of training camp as a 19-year-old. After playing in 48 games, he was sent back to the Vancouver Giants of the WHL as he was too young to play in the AHL.

In Tampa he recorded 2 goals and 5 points in his 48 games and after his return to Vancouver he was one of the club’s top performers in the playoffs. In 16 playoff games with the Giants he posted 16 points in 16 games.

With a new head coach and a new general manager, it will be interesting to see what the new management team thinks of Wright. It probably doesn’t bode well for Wright that new coach Guy Boucher is more offensively minded than former coach Rick Tocchet, but he teams always need checking forwards so he should at least be in the mix.

12. (13) Alex Killorn, LW, 20
Acquired 3rd round, 77th overall, 2007

Killorn, a left-winger out of Harvard University, isn’t spectacular in any one area but brings a solid all-around game to the table. Despite a slight 170 pound frame, Killorn has a very high compete level and loves to play a nasty, in-your-face type of style. Aside from his strong work ethic, Killorn sees the ice well and has good vision with the puck. He is defensively responsible and rarely caught out of position.

The soon to be 21-year-old is the kind of player who you always know what you can expect to see out on the ice; a hard-working, steady offensive player who is also very responsible in his own zone.

13. (10) Johan Harju, LW, 24
Acquired 6th round, 167th overall, 2007

A 24-year-old Swede, Harju was Tampa’s sixth round pick back in 2007 and is yet to play a game in North America. After playing five impressive seasons for Lulea in the SEL, Harju spent the past season with legendary Moscow Dynamo in the KHL. Despite only scoring 18 points in 55 games, Harju played well enough to earn himself a new contract with the Lightning.

Haruj is a powerful skater with good balance and strong lower-body strength. He also has a good hockey sense with excellent vision and anticipation. If there is a comparison for Harju at this point, the player that quickly comes to mind is Mikael Samuelsson. Like the sniping Canucks forward, Harju is a dangerous scorer anywhere in the offensive zone and can score at close range or from a distance.

Expect Harju to get a good chance to make the NHL roster out of training camp as he is already physically mature and can play a variety of different roles.

14. (9) Blair Jones, C, 23
Acquired 4th round, 102nd overall, 2005

Jones is another Tampa prospect that is getting up there in age and entering the phase of either being able to stick in the NHL, or face a long career in the minor league system. Now with four pro seasons to his credit, Jones has played in parts of three different seasons with the Lightning. In 2007 he saw 20 games, four in 2008 and 14 more games last season. In his 38 career NHL games, Jones hasn’t shown much of an offensive ability, registering just two goals and three assists.

Jones is not the most offensively inclined prospect in the pool, but he is a strong two way center who concentrates mostly on shutting down the opposition. At 6’3, 210 lbs he has the size and strength to play a shut-down role against skilled players and that ability alone should give him a good chance to see more action for the Bolts in the upcoming season.

15. (14) Jaroslav Janus, G, 20
Acquired 6th round, 162nd overall, 2009

Janus is a goaltender who made a name for himself playing for Slovakia a couple of years ago at the World Juniors but is yet to really prove that he can be a number one guy at any level. Last year Janus split time with the Erie Otters in the OHL and Norfolk appearing in 13 games for each team. He actually performed better with the Admirals compiling a 7-6 record, along with an excellent 2.07 GAA and a .922 save percentage.

Janus is a small goaltender who makes up for his lack of size with tremendous athleticism and marvelous elasticity. While he is not able to cover the like larger goalies can, his quickness and reflexes enables him to make saves that he has no business making.

Janus will likely start the season in a backup role with Norfolk where he will have to prove himself to be a durable and consistent performer capable of handling himself over a greater number of games and minutes.

16. (16) Mark Barberio, D, 20
Acquired 6th round, 152nd overall, 2007

Drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 draft, the Bolts seem to have acquired a steal in young defenseman Mark Barberio. The 20-year-old played his junior hockey with the Moncton Wildcats and in 2009 he enjoyed his finest season. Barberio reached career-highs in goals with 17, assists with 43 and 60 points which ranked him third on the team in scoring, but most impressively perhaps was his +39 rating which led the club.

A team that featured the likes of highly touted blueliners such as Brandon Gormley and David Savard, Barberio thrived both offensively and defensively playing for a team that would go on to win the QMJHL title.

Barberio is an offensive defenseman who is very adept at leading the rush and quarterbacking a power play. Known to be somewhat of a sloppy defender early in his career, he has worked to improve his in-zone coverage and trying to keep things simple with and without the puck.

17. (17) Juraj Simek, LW, 22
Acquired via trade with Vancouver, 2008

Like Barberio, Juraj Simek is another late pick the Lightning might have found something in. Originally a draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, Juraj was dealt to the Bolts in 2008 and had made an excellent transition to the North American game. Last year the 22-year-old scored 21 goals in Norfolk which was the second-highest total on the team.

Before his professional career began, Simek came to Canada and played a season with the Brandon Wheat Kings and that experience has clearly helped him to handle not only the skill aspect of the game but also the physical side.

The only question right now is whether or not Simek will continue to pursue a career in the NHL. He still is unsigned by the Lightning and was on a tryout to play in Europe.

18. (15) Mitch Fadden, C, 22
Acquired 4th round, 107th overall, 2007

A high-scorer in junior, Fadden had some injury problems in the early going of his first professional season. The 22-year-old suited up in 53 games for the Admirals scoring 7 goals and adding 12 assists.

A gifted all-around offensive threat, Fadden has the ability to produce much more than he showed in his first season in Norfolk. Having scored 30+ goals on three different occasions in junior, the young forward will look to rediscover his offense at the AHL level. Heading into his second season, Fadden should see added playing time and responsibility and that opportunity is something that he will hope to take advantage of.

19. (NR) Radko Gudas, D, 20
Acquired 3rd round, 66th overall, 2010

Gudas is a tough as nails defenseman who last season came from his native Czech Republic to play with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. Canadian major junior is not always an easy adjustment for a European player to get used to but Gudas was one player that thrived in the rough and tumble league. The 20-year-old was among the league leaders in penalty minutes with 151.

Gudas is only 5’11 but he is a rock solid 192 pounds and has no fear when it comes to mixing it up and dropping the gloves, something he proved to opponents in the WHL on many occasions last year.

20. (NR) Adam Janosik, D, 17
Acquired 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2010

Defensemen from the QMJHL tend to be labeled as mainly offensive players who lack physical play and toughness. Young Adam Janosik certainly does not fit that stereotype. Janosik, who won’t turn 18 until September, is a punishing body-checker who seems to have a knack for delivering solid open ice hits. At 5’11, 176lbs, he doesn’t have the stature of a typical big-hitting blueliner but what he lacks in height and weight, he makes up for with tremendous balance and lower-body strength.

A player who hits as often as Janosik does will often have to defend himself by dropping the gloves, and that is a part of the game he doesn’t shy away from. Aside from his physicality, Janosik can also chip in offensively as he registered a respectable 35 points in his rookie season with the Gatineau Olympiques.