Lightning 2002 Draft Survival Guide

By Pete Choquette

Once again the draft lottery fates have passed the Lightning by, leaving them with the
fourth overall selection in the upcoming draft in June. As a team already well stocked with
prospects, General Manager Jay Feaster has already publicly admitted the team may shop
their first round selection for immediate help. Whether a trade does indeed transpire or not
only time will tell. In the mean time, we can speculate what the Lightning might do at the
draft based on the current strengths and weaknesses of their system. The Lightning hold
their first round selection, a fourth, a fifth, two sixths, and two ninth round picks.

Goaltenders: (Evgeny Konstantinov, Michal Lanicek, Brian Eklund)

It seems only fitting to start the article from the goal out, as the Lightning are clearly
thinnest between the pipes. Other than all-world goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin the
Lightning are grossly undermanned at the goaltender position. Former third round pick
Evgeny Konstantinov has the natural gifts to develop into an NHL goaltender, but has
struggled in the transition to North America and has shown a lack of maturity at times in
dealing with his assignment to Pensacola of the ECHL last season. He will likely move up
to Springfield of the AHL next year where the team will hope he can begin to show more
positive development. Lanicek is a quick scrappy goaltender who spent much of last
season as backup with Muskegon of the UHL and could move into the starting role in
Pensacola next season, but his upside may be limited and he is still at least three years
away from Tampa if he makes it. Brian Eklund has regressed in the two seasons since the
Lightning selected him from Brown in the ECAC and lost his starting job to a freshman
this past season. The organization has to decide whether to sign the ample sized
goaltender this summer.

With this in mind, Jokerit goaltender Kari Lehtonen might not be a bad selection with the
fourth overall pick. However there is a high degree of risk in selecting a goaltender so
high, as they usually take longer than any other position to develop, and the team has
other positions of need to address over the next couple of seasons. More likely, the team
will look into finding a solid goaltending prospect with their fourth round selection, and
maybe even look for an even later round gem to further bolster their stock of netminders.


– A sure-fire “goaltender of the future”

– Overall depth at the position

Defensemen: (Holmqvist, Biron, Kudroc, Boumedienne, Goc)

The Lightning are arguably deepest on defense, where they have five solid NHL prospects
with some other potential diamonds in the rough like Jeremy Van Hoof and Henrik
. The common denominator of most of these prospects is their size, as Holmqvist,
Kudroc, and Biron are all 6’4” and above while Sascha Goc is a solid 6’2”. The team also
has an ample supply of right handed shots, with Kudroc and Biron in the AHL and Dan
, Pavel Kubina, and Corey Sarich at the NHL level.

With the recent serious wrist injury to Andreas Holmqvist, who will miss training camp,
the Lightning’s stock of potential left handed defensemen with good offensive upside must
come under scrutiny. Josef Boumedienne, who was acquired from New Jersey in the
Andrei Zyuzin trade, was asked by the organization to work on developing his offensive
game in Springfield, and he was an offensive standout with 7 goals and 32 points in 53
games with the Falcons last year. Still, the team could use a top flight left handed point
prospect, and they could also use one with superior skating and stickhandling ability, as
the size of the current batch of young defensemen is also a curse as they tend to lumber, at
times. One thing the mid-season acquisition of Dan Boyle from the Florida Panthers
proved was how much the team lacked a superior skating and stickhandling defenseman
capable of gaining the zone on the power play on his own.

With all of this in mind, slick skating and stickhandling lefty point man Joni Pitkanen from
Finland might also make an excellent selection for the team. With their other picks, expect
the team to focus more on filling other positions as defenseman really is an overall
organizational strength. The exception may be if the Lightning can target a defenseman
enforcer, as Feaster has made it clear he intends to ice a very physical and nasty hockey
club under his watch.


– A left handed power play point man

– More puckmoving and carrying ability

– Improved speed at the position

Center: (Svitov, Cibak)

As the never-ending saga of Alexander Svitov and his other former Omsk teammates
continues to play itself out in the Russian court system, the team only really has one good
center prospect in North America right now in Martin Cibak. Cibak, who struggled in
Springfield much of the season after a solid rookie season with Detroit of the IHL,
received a late season call up and improved his standing in the organization exponentially.
Cibak has decent size at 6’1″ and 195 lbs, and has shown a propensity to play with slightly
more edge than the average European player and showed good playmaking skills his
rookie season in Detroit. He could make the NHL next year as a fourth liner, or find
himself back in Springfield where hopefully he can use his late season call up as a stepping
stone for a solid 2002-2003 campaign.

With Johan Hagglund struggling mightily in his rookie pro season in the Swedish second
tier league and the continued enigmatic play of J-F Soucy, it might seem like center is a
pressing need for the team. However, with Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards both 21
years old, and Sheldon Keefe playing a healthy amount of center at the end of the season,
the team’s future at the position seems bright. The Lightning could probably stand to use
some of their later round picks just to add some more depth at the position, specifically
some bigger centers who can become role players for the team down the road.


– Overall Depth at the Position

– Third/fourth line role players

Wingers: (But, Afanasenkov, Alexeev, Polushin, Keefe)

The Lightning’s situation at wing is slightly underrated, and may not be quite as pressing a
need as it has been in past drafts. Nikita Alexeev, Sheldon Keefe, and young Swedish
winger Jimmie Olvestad all saw significant time in Tampa last season and look to continue
to contribute for years to come. Alexeev, a work in progress, has monumental size and
blazing speed, and as his offensive game fills out should become a solid second line
contributor. Not since the days of Darcy Tucker have the Lightning had an agitator
capable of stirring things up like Sheldon Keefe. The fact he led the OHL in scoring his
last year in junior shows he too has the upside to possibly play on the top two lines.
Olvestad, who has drawn comparisons to Ottawa winger Magnus Arvedsson, showed
impeccable defensive ability and speed that could help him develop into a top notch
forechecker offensively in the future. The team also holds the rights to Anton But, who
matches Olvestad in speed but has shown offensive upside in Russia that could land him
on a scoring line in the future, as well as overaged draftee Dimitry Bezrukov who some in
the organization believe could play in the NHL right now. Winger Alexander Polushin, a
2001 2nd round pick, shined in the Russian team’s World Junior Championships gold
medal triumph, while Dennis Packard, Aaron Lobb, and Evgeny Artukhin add third and
fourth line role player depth.

A player like slick OHL goalscorer Rick Nash would certainly be a welcome addition to
any team, but he will likely be gone by the time the Lightning pick fourth and winger is
less of a pressing need right now anyway. If the Lightning do go wing in later rounds, it
will most likely be to address the need for an enforcer prospect and to further bolster role
player depth. Check in with Hockeysfuture’s Lightning page for more information as we
move towards the draft over the next month.


– A sure-fire sniper prospect

– An enforcer type

– Third/fourth line role players