Prospects Impress at Lightning Camp

By Chad Schnarr

The Tampa Bay Lightning recently sent 12 of their minor leaguers and prospects to their respective CHL and AHL clubs, but not without a wink and a smile.

Within the last 10 days, Gordie Dwyer, Evgeny Konstantinov, Dmitry Afanasenkov, Matheiu Biron, Kristian Kudroc, Brian Eklund, Matt Elich, Ryan Tobler and Harlan Pratt were all sent to AHL-Springfield’s training camp. Junior prospects Evgeni Artukhin (Moncton of the QMJHL), Jean-François Soucy (Montreal of the QMJHL) and Aaron Lobb (Guelph of the OHL) were all sent to their respective CHL teams. All impressed Lightning coaches, management and scouts on some level, though the greatest impression in terms of production may have come from the most unlikely source — Jean-François Soucy.

A 2001 eighth-round draft pick, Soucy dressed on Tampa’s fourth line with Elich and Dwyer for the Lightning’s first exhibition game in Atlanta, an 8-1 blowout. The speedy center proceeded to net himself an NHL hat-trick against Thrasher goalies Milan Hnilicka (two goals) and Frederic Cassivi (one goal). It wasn’t the prettiest of hatters, as his first was a rebound goal, second a shot that Hnilicka stopped but momentum carried him and the puck over the line, and the third deflected in off a Thrasher defenseman late in the third, but you don’t get extra points for pretty.

The performance caught the eye of head scout Jake Goertzen, who said, in regards to Soucy’s talent, putting things in perspective somewhat, "There’s nothing glaring missing, but I don’t think there’s anything that jumps out at you either." After scoring only eight goals in the high-scoring QMJHL last year with Montreal, perhaps this is a sign of good things to come from the 19-year-old Soucy.

The Lightning originally stated they would not invite junior level or Europe-based prospects to training camp this year, but after a positive showing during August’s prospect workouts, Soucy, Lobb, and Eklund were asked to show their talents in neighboring Brandon with the big club. Artukhin did not participate in the prospect workouts, but was asked to attend camp after moving to North America from Russia to play for Moncton. Decisions to sign Soucy, Lobb and Artukhin to professional contracts must be made before a June 1 deadline, and Tampa GM Jay Feaster wanted to further evaluate the prospects in training camp.

Swedish defenseman Andreas Holmqvist, whom the Lightning considered the most ready to make an impact on the NHL level, was also invited, but did not attend. He was preparing to make his S.E.L. debut with Linkoping, and it paid off as he scored in his first game.

Top-prospect Alexander Svitov remains in camp with the Lightning and will play in each of the Bolts’ five remaining preseason games. He notched two goals in the opener against Atlanta and has showed off his impressive defensive skills, hockey sense and physical game. He was criticized for a low hip-check on the Hurricanes’ Bret Hedican, but according to Carolina coaches on ice-level, Hedican jumped to avoid the hit, resulting in his knee colliding with Svitov’s hip. Hedican suffered a hyper-extended knee on the play. Arriving in Tampa already with a bad-boy reputation, Svitov will be under constant scrutiny this season from media and opposing players alike.

Nikita Alexeev, Martin Cibak and Sheldon Keefe remain in Tampa, also. Alexeev and Keefe continue to be the talk of camp with their improved play, solid work ethic and production. Svitov, Alexeev, Cibak, Keefe and Jimmie Olvestad are all battling for what amounts to two roster spots. Because all are on two-way contracts, they are likely to lose a spot to a veteran who would have to pass through waivers to go to Springfield. Cibak will likely be demoted within a week, leaving an out-and-out dogfight for the final spots, as well as the possibility of a trade or two.

Individual Prospect Reports:

Evgeny Konstantinov, G: “Georgie” saw limited action in three exhibition games, saving 29 of 33 shots and going 0-1-1. He went 2-4-0 with a 3.50 gaa and a .876 save percentage in scrimmages. He struggled with consistency, but showed flashes of his quick reflexes and impressive lateral movement. Assigned to Springfield.

Dmitry Afanasenkov, LW: Afanasenkov had an impressive camp, showing more desire, a solid wrister and better play in all three zones – a good sign considering his rookie contract ends this year. He went scoreless in two exhibition games, ringing a late third period shot against Columbus off the crossbar that would have tied the game, and netted 3-5-8 in six scrimmage games. Assigned to Springfield.

Kristian Kudroc, D: “The Rock” continued to show his physical side during scrimmages and exhibition games, as well as patient play with the puck. He is still struggling with positioning and balance, but is looking forward to a fresh start in Springfield, with new coach Marty McSorley. He had two assists in six scrimmage games. Assigned to Springfield.

Evgeni Artukhin, RW: Artukhin dressed in the exhibition loss to Columbus, showing off his speed and gritty play along the boards and in traffic. He returned to Moncton in time to notch a power play goal in the first period of his first game in North America — a top-shelf wrister. He also landed several big checks. He had three goals and four points in scrimmages. Returned to Moncton.

Brian Eklund, G: The former Brown University goaltender did not dress for any exhibition games, but was impressive during scrimmages, though his numbers (.801 sp%, 4.83 gaa, 2-4-0) don’t reflect it. He will battle with Konstantinov to be the Lightning’s goaltending representative in Springfield, but will likely end up with Tampa’s ECHL affiliate in Pensacola. Assigned to Springfield.

Aaron Lobb, RW: Lobb dressed in the loss to Columbus, skating on a line with Dwyer and Artukhin. He played eight minutes and registered one shot on goal. Lobb was impressive during scrimmages leading all junior-aged prospects in scoring (2-4-6), but may be best remembered for dumping the six-foot-six Kudroc into his bench with a monstrous check. Returned to Guelph.

Jean-François Soucy, C: As was mentioned, his hatter may be the biggest surprise of training camp so far and don’t think Jay Feaster won’t remember it come time to talk contract. Soucy had three goals and five points in scrimmages. Returned to Montreal.