Lightning Top 20 prospects

By Chad Schnarr

Russian winger Alexander Polushin remains the top-ranked Lightning prospect entering the 2004-05 season. Though the farm system of the Stanley Cup champions lacks guaranteed high-end talent, General Manager Jay Feaster has concentrated drafting defensemen and character forwards in building a deep group of prospects. Because of their size, mental make-up, and skating ability, most of this group should be capable of one day taking a regular NHL shift.

Factors that determine prospect rankings include potential NHL upside, regular season, playoff and Lightning camp performances, accomplishments, and projected time to reach the NHL.

Lightning Top 20: At A Glance

1. Alexander Polushin, RW
2. Mike Egener , D
3. Andy Rogers, D
4. Gerard Dicaire, D
5. Adam Henrich, LW
6. Matt Smaby, D
7. Andreas Holmqvist, D
8. Doug O’Brien, D
9. Darren Reid, RW
10. Paul Ranger, D
11. Mark Tobin, LW
12. Evgeni Artukhin, RW
13. Mike Lundin, D
14. Brian Eklund, G
15. Ryan Craig, C
16. Jonathan Boutin, G
17. J. F. Soucy, C
18. Dmitri Kazionov, C
19. Gerald Coleman, G
20. Dennis Packard, LW

Key: Current Rank, 2004 Mid-Season Rank, Player, Position, Projected 2004-05 Club.

1. (1) Alexander Polushin, RW CSKA, RSL

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-3, 200 lbs.
Polushin is a solid package of size, skill, poise, and above-average skating ability. After putting up impressive numbers in Russia’s highest league to start the 2003-04 year, he suffered a knee injury and was lost for the season. A projected two-way scoring liner that could play on the top line, Polushin won’t make the trip overseas next season, nor will he be with the Lightning’s prospect team in the Traverse City, Michigan tournament in September. If Polushin comes back strong from his injury, expect Tampa Bay to make a strong push to sign him next summer, though obstacles to getting him under contract abound.

2003-04 CSKA, RSL: 13 GP, 5-2-7, 4 PIM.

2. (5) Mike Egener, DSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-3, 200 lbs.
The Lightning’s first pick in the 2003 draft had a solid year defensively for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen and was rewarded with a rookie contract earlier this summer. A top-flight skater, Egener is a stay-at-home defenseman who plays with an edge and is quick to stick up for his teammates. While gifted with a heavy shot and good passing skills, his offensive numbers have yet to materialize. But what Egener lacks in offense, he makes up with character. Feaster has called Egener a prototypical Lightning player for his team-first attitude and high character. Egener, who ranked in the top 10 in the WHL in both plus/minus and penalty minutes, won the Hitmen’s Humanitarian of the Year award two years in a row. In the mold of Colorado’s Adam Foote, Egener will be brought along slowly this year with Tampa’s AHL affiliate in Springfield. He projects to be a No. 2 or 3 defenseman.

2003-04 Calgary, WHL: 64 GP, 1-16-17, 228 PIM, +26.
Playoffs: 7 GP, 1-1-2, 47 PIM, E.

3. (N/A) Andy Rogers, D Calgary Hitmen, WHL

Drafted: 1st Round, 2004
Vitals: 6-5, 205 lbs.
Feaster and the Lightning took Rogers with the last pick of the first round in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Slightly bigger than Egener, Rogers is in the same stay-at-home defenseman mold as his Calgary Hitmen teammate. Rogers is indeed a big man at 6’5, but skates like he’s 5’10. He is a solid hitter and a smart player in his own zone. He consistently plays within himself, taking a simple approach to his duties. On the rare occasion he gets caught out of position, he is able to recover quickly. Like Egener, Rogers boasts a heavy shot, but rarely finds the score sheet. His size, skating, hockey smarts, physical play, and character earn Rogers a top three rating in the Lightning system. He is currently participating in Canada’s World Junior Development Camp, where he looks to earn himself a spot for the Christmas WJC tournament. Also like Egener, Rogers projects as a No. 2 or 3 defenseman.

2003-04 Calgary, WHL: 64 GP, 1-3-4, 89 PIM, +11.
Playoffs: 7 GP, 0-0-0, 11 PIM, -2.

4.(6) Gerard Dicaire, DSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2000 (Buffalo); 5th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 210 lbs.
After a surprisingly strong training camp and preseason last year with Tampa Bay, perhaps no prospect suffered more from the Lightning’s lack of a healthy minor league system last season than this former Kootenay standout. Dicaire entered his first professional season coming off a 59-point junior campaign. A smart two-way defenseman, Dicaire was used sparingly by the Utah Grizzlies when there was no room for him in either of Tampa’s dual affiliates in Hamilton or Hershey.

The poise Dicaire showed in exhibition games last fall endeared him to the Lightning management and they have high hopes for him in the near future. He may not start the season as a leader on the Springfield blueline, but by the end of the year he could be among the best young defensemen in the AHL. Dicaire, who must continue to add weight and get stronger, is a future second pair defenseman and power play specialist. After the Grizzlies season was finished, Dicaire was recalled by Tampa Bay and was part of their taxi squad for the playoffs.

2003-04 Utah, AHL: 53 GP, 2-5-7, 36 PIM, -10.

5. (2) Adam Henrich, LWSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-4, 220 lbs.
The first draft choice of the Jay Feaster era, Henrich was signed earlier this summer to a standard rookie contract. He will have a prime development opportunity in Springfield playing with veteran AHL offensive players such as Jarrod Skalde, Shane Willis, and Craig Darby after somewhat of an underachieving final year with OHL Brampton. Henrich scored 33 goals in his draft year, but failed to match that total in the two seasons since. While he was able to get more involved physically, setting a career high in penalty minutes with 146, he saw his plus/minus plummet to -15, a surprise considering he led the Battalion in that category the previous year at +24. Among the final cuts for Canada’s 2004 World Junior Championship squad, Henrich is a big forward with above-average stick handling ability. He must make the transition from being a perimeter skill forward to using his size as a grinding power forward if he is to make the Lightning’s top lines.

2003-04 Brampton, OHL: 65 GP, 29-29-58, 146 PIM, -15.
Playoffs: 12 GP, 5-1-6, 24 PIM, -1.

6. (8) Matt Smaby, D University of North Dakota, NCAA

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-5, 205 lbs.
Tampa’s second selection in the second round of the 2003 draft earned a regular shift for the Fighting Sioux as a true freshman. Like Egener and Rogers, Smaby is a strong, fluid skater with good size who loves to hit. He doesn’t have the heavy shot that Egener and Rogers possess, but will develop in the same stay-at-home defenseman mold. None of the three are offensive threats but all pass well enough that they can be used as first or second pair defensemen in the future. Relatively unknown when he was drafted, Smaby is quietly making a name for himself in the Lightning system and within the NCAA thanks to his physical and mature play in his own zone.

2003-04 UND, NCAA: 39 GP, 1-6-7, 81 PIM, +20.

7. (3) Andreas Holmqvist, DSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-4, 195 lbs.
Holmqvist’s highly anticipated North America debut turned out to be nothing to write home to Sweden about initially as he failed to secure a spot with AHL Hamilton and spent the better part of last season in the ECHL. This was quite a surprise considering the fact that most expected Holmqvist to have an outside shot at making the Lightning out of camp.

A big, offense-first defenseman with strong skating ability, good puck skills, and an above-average physical game, Holmqvist is a high-end prospect that was slow to adjust to both North American life and hockey. Holmqvist improved on the ice as he became more comfortable off of it, finishing among the top ECHL defensemen in scoring and leading Ice Pilot backliners in plus/minus. He will receive ample development time under the Lightning hired coaching staff in Springfield, where he must round out the defensive side of his game in order to earn prominent ice time. He already has the offensive skills to make it to the NHL.

2003-04 Hamilton, AHL: 4 GP, 0-0-0, 0 PIM, +1.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 63 GP, 4-33-37, 16 PIM, +8.
Playoffs (Pensacola): 5 GP, 0-4-4, 0 PIM, -4.

8. (17) Doug O’Brien, DSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 6th Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-1, 200 lbs.
O’Brien is coming off a stellar season that saw him help lead the Gatineau Olympiques to their second straight Memorial Cup final. Unfortunately, the Olympiques lost in the finals both seasons. O’Brien certainly did his part, however, as he led the QMJHL in plus/minus, was third among defensemen in scoring, was named QMJHL Defenseman of the Year, was named to the QMJHL First and CHL Second All-Star Team, and was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team for the second year in a row as he led the Memorial Cup tournament in scoring as a defenseman with three goals and eight points in five games.

A somewhat undersized defense-first defenseman, O’Brien has seen his offensive game blossom. The Lightning is impressed with the Newfoundlander’s development and especially his hockey sense and would like to have him under contract to start next season. There is one problem, however. O’Brien and his agent also realize how much he has blossomed as a prospect and the two sides remain far from a compromise that would result in a contract for the young defenseman.

O’Brien projects as a second pair defenseman who will need a few seasons of professional experience before he’s ready to make the transition to the NHL game. If he’s signed, expect him to be a part of the Springfield blueline. He is still eligible to play another season in the QMJHL should he remain unsigned. The Lightning will get a long look at O’Brien at the Traverse City prospect tournament later in September.

2003-04 Gatineau, QMJHL: 66 GP, 17-46-63, 146 PIM, +52.
Playoffs: 15 GP, 1-8-9, 16 PIM, +9.

9. (19) Darren Reid, RW Springfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 8th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 195 lbs.
Reid caught the eye of the Lightning staff in Traverse City last summer, earning an impromptu invitation to the Lightning’s main camp. After impressing in the scrimmage tournament (he led his team in scoring), Reid made the first cuts and earned an exhibition game appearance. He played well, but was rightly returned to Medicine Hat as an overager where he exploded offensively, bettering his career high in points by 37. The Tigers penalty minute leader and assistant captain was among the league leaders in points all season before settling in the tenth spot, but exploded again in the playoffs leading the league in goals as Medicine Hat won the WHL title. Reid notched four goals and four assists in a sweep of Everett in the Finals, including a natural hattrick in Game Four. He managed a goal and an assist in four Memorial Cup games.

Reid is quickly developing into an effective power forward and does whatever coaches ask of him, including scoring a key goal, delivering a hit to send a message, or dropping the mitts. He has worked hard to improve his skating and, combined with his overall skill level, has the “jam” to be a favorite of Lightning coach John Tortorella in the future. The Alberta native was rewarded for his 2003-04 campaign and signed a rookie contract earlier this summer. Reid will try to translate his game to the professional level next year in Springfield and could be a darkhorse for NHL time. He could top out as a grinding, two-way scoring liner in the NHL though he’s nearly a lock to be an effective, physical checking liner. The key to his standing on the organizational depth chart is to prove last season was more than taking full advantage of an overage year.

2003-04 Medicine Hat, WHL: 67 GP, 33-48-81, 194 PIM, +18.
Playoffs: 20 GP, 13-8-21, 31 PIM, +15.

10. (15) Paul Ranger, DSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 6th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 200 lbs.
The smooth skating Ranger proved that his 2002-03 breakout season in which he notched 10 goals and 38 points was no fluke as he set career highs last season in goals (12), assists (31), points (43), and penalty minutes (72) with OHL Oshawa. The OHL All-Star earned a rookie contract with the Lightning for his efforts and is expected to start in Springfield during the upcoming season.

Despite his offensively solid regular season, Ranger saw his plus/minus rating drop from +25 two years ago to -5 last season. Also, for the second straight year, Ranger couldn’t translate his regular season success to playoff hockey. Two years ago he only managed three assists in 13 games to go with a -5 rating. Last season, in a seven game series loss to Mississauga, Ranger had only one assist and a -9 rating, including a team-worst -4 in a 6-1 game seven loss. Ranger impressed coaches during training camp in Tampa last season and will get an extended look this year in both the rookie tournament and NHL camp. Another late-round find by Feaster, Ranger has proven to be a diamond-in-the-rough as he was drafted having never scored a goal at the junior hockey level. His development is a testament to his work ethic and intelligence, both ingredients that should help him become at least a second pair defenseman on the NHL level.

11. (N/A) Mark Tobin, LW Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2004
Vitals: 6-3, 204 lbs.
A surprise second round pick by the Bolts in the 2004 draft, Tobin is a gritty character forward with raw offensive skills. The latest in the Rimouski-Tampa Bay pipeline that has produced Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, Tobin has the potential to be a second line, two-way power forward and may best show his value come playoff time. The St. John’s, Newfoundland native had four goals in nine games for Rimouski in the QMJHL playoffs last year, scoring one in each of the Oceanic’s first four games while giving a strong effort in his own end and in the high traffic areas. Tobin will return to Rimouski to continue his development, specifically his offensive side, with fellow Bolt prospect Zbynek Hrdel and the likely 2005 No. 1 overall draft choice Sidney Crosby.

2003-04 Rimouski, QMJHL: 69 GP, 22-16-38, 112 PIM, +6.
Playoffs: 9 GP, 4-1-5, 12 PIM, -2.

12. (7) Evgeni Artukhin, RWSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-5, 245 lbs.
The Lightning’s poster-boy for the “size and speed” drafting preference under former GM Rick Dudley, Artukhin failed to impress in training camp last season and struggled to get consistent ice time with AHL Hershey. Artukhin continues to show some offensive ability as he has an above average wrist shot, but his ticket to the NHL remains his huge frame and slick skating ability. He won the Lightning’s skating and conditioning competitions in training camp last fall. Artukhin loves to hit, and when he hits, he hurts. While his hits are usually clean, he frequently receives charging and elbowing penalties resulting in an unearned reputation as a dirty player. Hershey coach Paul Fixter supported his former player, saying, “the league isn’t used to a 6’5, 245-pound forward hitting with force.”

Once thought to be power forward material for a scoring line, it seems that Artukhin is destined as a third or fourth line physical force. Finally with a full AHL affiliate in Springfield, the organization will experiment with Artukhin throughout the forward lines to see where he can best be utilized.

2003-04 Hershey, AHL: 36 GP, 3-3-6, 111 PIM, -1.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 6 GP, 1-0-1, 14 PIM, -1.

13. (N/A) Mike Lundin, DUniversity of Maine, NCAA

Drafted: 4th Round, 2004
Vitals: 6-2, 180 lbs.
Lundin just completed his freshman season at the University of Maine where he amassed 19 points (3 goals, 16 assists) playing in all 44 games. His 19 points ranked second among defensemen on the team and he was on the ice for Maine’s infamous six on three advantage in the closing minutes of the 1-0 National Championship loss to the University of Denver. He assisted on Dustin Penner’s third period game winner to get the Black Bears past Boston College and into the championship game.

The former Associated Press Minnesota Hockey and Minneapolis Star-Tribune Metro Player of the Year is a skilled defenseman who possesses exceptional playmaking abilities and athleticism. An excellent skater who shows tremendous confidence with the puck, the projected NHL top-four defenseman was utilized in every type of situation as a freshman at Maine, including quarterbacking the power play. Lundin does everything well, but must continue to add weight to his slight frame and gain valuable playing experience. Playing in a high-profile program like Maine, Lundin is in prime position to shoot up the Lightning prospect rankings in the next few years.

2003-04 Maine, NCAA: 44 GP, 3-16-19, 34 PIM, +19.

14. (14) Brian Eklund, G Springfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 7th Round, 2000
Vitals: 6-4, 200 lbs.
Two years out of Brown University, Eklund enjoyed a fine, but busy season for the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL last year. Eklund tied the league record for wins (38), and set ECHL records in saves (2,194), minutes (3,724), saves in a playoff game (83 saves in Game 5 vs. Louisiana) and finished third in Most Valuable Player voting. He was recalled by Tampa during their Stanley Cup run, where he served as the emergency No. 3 goaltender. The lanky American will get his first sustained AHL duty next season where he is expected to split the goaltending duties in Springfield with a veteran free agent AHL netminder. He played in one AHL game two years ago for Springfield, allowing just one goal on 38 shots in a Falcon victory. A smart goaltender who depends on his size and positioning to make the save, Eklund was re-signed to a one year deal this summer and figures to make the NHL in at least a back-up role.

2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 62W-17L-5 SOL, 3.01gaa, .921 SP, 1 SO.
Playoffs: 2W-3L, 2.33gaa, .931 SP, 0 SO.

15. (11) Ryan Craig, CSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 8th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-2, 205 lbs.

The former Brandon Wheat King captain had a solid camp for the Lightning in 2003 before being assigned to ECHL Pensacola. All the two-way forward did in his short stint in Pensacola was score eight points in five games, win ECHL Player of the Week honors, and earn a promotion to AHL Hershey. A natural leader on the ice, this former WHL All-Star and 74-point scorer secured a regular shift with the Bears as a checking liner. However, despite some spot duty with offensive linemates on a scoring line, he was unable to show his scoring prowess in his first professional year as an AHL’er. A smart defensive forward who has been mentioned by Lightning management as a possible future checking center, Craig will likely start the year on a checking line in Springfield. Now under Lightning coaching, he may be given the chance to earn his way onto a scoring line and receive some power play time. Craig was returned to Pensacola when Hershey failed to make the playoffs. He played in two games before the Ice Pilots season ended and he was quickly recalled by Tampa Bay and put on the playoff taxi squad.

2003-04 Hershey, AHL: 61 GP, 4-8-12, 24 PIM, +1.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 5 GP, 3-5-8, 0 PIM, +4.
Playoffs (Pensacola): 2 GP, 0-1-1, 0 PIM, +1.

16. (19) Jonathan Boutin, GP.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-1, 195 lbs.
Boutin, the first French-Canadian goalie drafted by Tampa, returned to Halifax of the QMJHL after a strong Lightning training camp only to lose his confidence and ultimately his starting job for the Mooseheads. After recovering from a mid-season concussion, Boutin won his first two games of the year for last-place Halifax, but was soon traded to P.E.I., a club partially owned by Lightning center Brad Richards. With a fresh start, Boutin played up to expectations, including a shutout in his first game, and was among QMJHL leaders in playoff goaltending (second in goals against average; third in save percentage).

Boutin has the raw ability to become a future No. 1 goaltender, but continues to fight lack of confidence, inconsistency, and the occasional soft goal. He does, however, have himself back on the Goaltender of the Future map after his strong playoff performance, though it’s a guarded projection until he pieces together successive strong seasons. The key for him now is to secure the No. 1 goaltender position next year for the Rocket, no small task considering his competition is projected first rounder Ryan Mior.

2003-04 Halifax, QMJHL: 2W-8L-1T, 3.98 gaa, .873 SP, 0 SO.
2003-04 PEI, QMJHL: 11W-4L-1T, 2.35 gaa, .910 SP, 1 SO.
Playoffs (PEI): 6W-5L, 2.06 gaa, .933 SP, 0 SO.

17. (13) J. F. Soucy, C/WSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 8th Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-3, 207 lbs.
Soucy was signed by Tampa last summer after a breakout season for Montreal of the QMJHL and confirmed he was worth the contract with an impressive training camp for the Lightning. Soucy plays the agitator role almost to perfection, delivering hard hits and getting under the skin of his opponents. Soucy was up and down between AHL Hershey and ECHL Pensacola last season where the lanky speedster continued to refine his physical game, hitting everything in sight. Soucy has enough offensive skill, speed, and size to one day earn a regular shift with the Lightning, and could be an effective bottom line player because of his work ethic and physical game. He projects as a Jordan Tootoo type player, always finishing his checks.

2003-04 Hershey, AHL: 12 GP, 2-2-4, 29 PIM, +2.
2003-04 Pensacola, ECHL: 57 GP, 10-10-20, 199 PIM, -11.
Playoffs (Pensacola): 5 GP, 0-0-0, 23 PIM, -2.

18. (12) Dmitri Kazionov, CLada Togliatti, RSL

Drafted: 4th Round, 2002
Vitals: 6-3, 185 lbs.
After a strong first month to the season with Lada, Kazionov’s production diminished though he continued to earn a regular shift. The Lightning’s lone representative in the WJCs this year, Kazionov finished the tournament with a goal and an assist in six games for Russia as a fourth liner. He only scored once in the RSL after the WJCs.

A big, smooth skating center with creative playmaking skills, Kazionov has to have a strong season in the RSL next year before a possible move to North America. He could top out as a second line complimentary center, but must round out his game and add consistency to do so. Kazionov was taken by Kingston in last year’s CHL Import Draft but chose to stay in Russia.

2003-04 Lada, RSL: 49 GP, 5-6-11, 36 PIM.
Playoffs: 6 GP, 0-0-0, 2 PIM.

19. (20) Gerald Coleman , GLondon Knights, OHL

Drafted: 7th Round, 2003
Vitals: 6-4, 190 lbs.
A late round pick in 2003, Coleman is a big goaltender that plays his angles well and uses his size to his advantage. Coleman split time last year in London with Ryan MacDonald in what turned out to be a seesaw battle for the No. 1 job. Just when it appeared Coleman had secured the honor, he’d find himself back on the bench. After starting the playoffs for London, he was back on the bench in favor of MacDonald by the end of the playoffs as London fell to Guelph in the conference finals. Both Coleman and MacDonald were among OHL goaltending leaders in the regular season (Coleman second only to MacDonald in goals against average; first in save percentage and shutouts), both shared the Dave Pinkney Trophy for lowest team goals against, and both remain with the Memorial Cup hosts for next season. Unless there’s a trade, expect another season-long fight for playing time next year.

Coleman is a battler in the mold of fellow-American John Grahame, the Lightning’s current No. 2 goaltender, a trait that has been praised repeatedly by Tortorella in Grahame. If Coleman can continue to refine his skills, specifically his focus and rebound control, he could challenge Boutin and Eklund as the Lightning’s Goaltender of the Future.

2003-04 London, OHL: 24W-8L-0T, 2.20 gaa, .931 SP, 5 SO.
Playoffs: 5W-2L, 2.57gaa, .912 SP, 1 SO.

20. (16) Dennis Packard, LWSpringfield Falcons, AHL

Drafted: 7th Round, 2001
Vitals: 6-6, 225 lbs.
Coming off a somewhat underachieving and oft-injured junior season, Packard entered his senior year as one of the leaders for the Harvard Crimson both on and off the ice. Packard promptly earned top line, top power play unit, and top penalty kill unit duties and, despite average numbers, played well in a specified role. A gargantuan forward with fluid skating ability, Packard’s best work came along the boards and in front of the net. Perhaps the Lightning’s smartest prospect, Packard earned a two-year rookie contract from the NHL club this summer and is expected to start next year either in AHL Springfield or ECHL Johnstown. Packard is a long shot to make it as an NHL scoring liner, but could excel as a physical checking liner thanks to his size, skating, smarts, and tireless work ethic.

2003-04 Harvard, NCAA: 36 GP, 11-11-22, 16 PIM.

Also receiving votes:

Nick Tarnasky, C Johnstown Chiefs, ECHL
Brady Greco, D – Colorado College, NCAA
Justin Keller, LW Kelowna Rockets, WHL
Vasily Koshechkin, G Lada Togliatti, RSL
Zbynek Hrdel, LW Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL

Rankings compiled by Chad Schnarr and Timothy Bennett.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.