Shallow 2006 draft yielded little for Tampa Bay Lightning

By John Henry Schroeder
Photo: After two unsuccessful seasons at the minor-league level, goaltender and former first-rounder Riku Helenius left North America to play for Sodertalje SK of the SEL. (Photo Courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

Following their pre-lockout Stanley Cup championship, the Lightning were faced with a difficult decision of whether to replace aging and departed pieces or begin rebuilding.

With only four picks in the draft, Lightning brass attempted to patch some of the team’s holes, selecting a goaltender, two defensemen, and only one forward. In retrospect, the Lightning appeared to have passed on several better prospects looking for short-term solutions.

Riku Helenius, G, Ilves Tampere (SM-Liga) – 1st round, 15th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

Following the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin following the lockout, the Lightning resigned themselves to combination of Sean Burke and John Grahame in 2005-06. This made goaltender a priority in the upcoming draft for GM Jay Feaster. The team settled on Helenius with the 15th pick, ahead of some other more highly rate goalies. Helenius was the second goalie selected in the draft behind phenom Jonathan Bernier. Helenius was also selected ahead of current NHLers Semyon Varlamov (WAS), Michael Neuvirth (WAS) and Steve Mason (CLB).

The Lightning tried not to rush Helenius, leaving him in the SM-Liga for the following season, 2006-07 where he nursed a shoulder injury. His first season of North American hockey was in the WHL for the Seattle Thunderbirds. Following a solid but unspectacular debut, Helenius put up encouraging numbers for the Norfolk Admirals in 2008-09, including a .918 save percentage.

However, the emergence of Dustin Tokarski with the Admirals, along with the acquisition of Cedric Desjardins has pushed Helenius down on the goaltending depth chart. For long-term growth, it was great to see Helenius return to Sweden. Nevertheless, given the number of prospects who have passed Helenius in the system, it may be unlikely he is a major factor in the Lightning’s plans.

Kevin Quick, D, Salisbury School (Conn. H.S.) – 3rd round, 78th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 6

A brief college career, due to Michigan head coach Red Berenson dismissing Quick from the team, made for a difficult transition to minor hockey for Quick. Quick was somewhat of a surprise pick in the third-round, ahead of somewhat more heralded Salisbury teammate Alex Biega.

Quick has always been well known for his slick-passing skills and good skating ability for a defenseman. There were some questions swirling around Quick’s attitude and conditioning, considering he struggled to get on the ice for the Admirals until the second half of the 2009-10 season. However, this season, with new head coach Jon Cooper and new management with the Lightning, there was been a renewed focus and dedication seen in Quick. Along with youngster Mark Barberio, Quick has been handling much of the powerplay duties for the Admirals this season.

In 31 games played, Quick has registered 13 assists, his highest point total as a professional. With the departure of stud defenseman Ty Wishart (NYI), Quick should carry a much larger role with the Admirals. While still a long ways away from the NHL, this high-upside player is finally progressing in the right direction.

Dane Crowley, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL) – 6th round, 168th overall
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Crowley, a sturdy stay at home defenseman, was thought by some to be a potential late-bloomer heading into the 2006 draft. However, Crowley never amounted to more than a physical, stay-at-home defenseman at the minor-league level. In his tryout with the Admirals following his junior career, Crowley managed one assist in five games, but did not show management enough to warrant a contract.

In 2008-09 Crowley played the majority of his games for the Phoenix Roadrunners in the ECHL. After a decent season for Phoenix, Crowley was out of professional hockey last year. This season, Crowley has eight points in 14 games for the Manitoba Bisons of the CIS.

Denis Kazionov, LW, Tver MVD HC (Russia) – 7th round, 198th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

In the last round of the draft, there was excitement in landing Kazionov, considered the number 23 European skater by the Central Scouting Service. The younger brother of fellow Lightning draft pick Dimitri Kazionov, unfortunately Denis has shown no indication he ever intends to come to North America to play hockey. Already in his fifth season of professional hockey, Kazionov is currently trying to maintain a role with Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL.

Despite being projected as a scorer entering the draft, it has become clear that Kazionov  is better suited to a depth, checking role despite the fact he has been prolific in some of his stints with lower level Russian teams. Even if he was interested in coming to North America, it is unlikely that Kazionov could be anything more than a borderline AHL player.