Lightning 2001 draft evaluation

By Phil Laugher

When Rick Dudley, then-general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning, entered the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, he looked to return to a sense of normalcy, after having had hectic draft days in his previous two attempts. In 1999, Dudley had made a splash by moving the third overall pick to the New York Rangers for a bevy of prospects and picks, and followed up the draft day wheeling and dealing in 2000, when he traded the fifth overall pick in a deal that brought Kevin Weekes to the Lightning. Before all was said and done, Dudley had amassed 14 draft selections for the nine-round 2001 draft.

Despite the choices at his disposal, Dudley’s third, and ultimately, final draft as the general manager of the Lightning must be seen as a failure. Of the 34 draft selections Rick Dudley made during his stay with Tampa Bay, only eight have played a game in the NHL (and two of those, goaltenders Brian Eklund and Evgeny Konstantinov played only one game apiece). And of those eight picks to have played in the NHL, only one played in the NHL in the 2005-06 regular season.

Only two players of the 14 selected by the Lightning in the 2001 Entry Draft – Alexander Svitov and Evgeni Artyukhin saw time in the NHL. It took Artyukhin until this past season to make his debut, and Svitov has been traded once, and has since returned to his native Russia.

The 14 picks have played a total of 175 NHL games, for an average of just 13 games per pick.

Alexander Svitov, F – 1st round, 3rd overall (Omsk, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust (former NHL player)
NHL Games Played: 103
DOB: 11/03/1982, Height: 6’3, Weight: 198 lbs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were hopeful that Svitov would be an integral part of the franchise for the years to come when they selected him with the third overall selection in the 2001 Entry Draft. Highly-touted as a prototypical second-line centerman with great puck handling skills, strong skating, and a modest amount of physicality, Svitov was considered by many to be ready for the NHL in the year following his draft, and the Lightning were hopeful that their selection would be among the steals of the draft.

But Svitov did not make his debut the following season. Svitov chose to remain in Russia, playing for Avangard Omsk, the team he was drafted from, for the two seasons following his draft. It was not until the start of the 2002-03 regular season that Svitov suited up on this side of the Atlantic, splitting time with Tampa Bay and Springfield of the AHL, picking up a disappointing eight points in 64 games for the Lightning. He started the following season with the Lightning yet again, but was again relegated to the minors, before ultimately being traded to Columbus in a deal that brought Darryl Sydor to the Lightning. Svitov finished the season with the Blue Jackets, and between them and Tampa, picked up only 11 points.

During the lockout, Svitov spent the season with Columbus’s farm team in Syracuse, putting forth a modest 42-point effort. However, at the close of the season, driven in part by family matters, Svitov returned to Russia to play for Omsk, where he scored only 10 points this past season. At present, Svitov’s career arc has been disappointing, at least in regards to his North American play, and thus, he must be considered an NHL bust at present. With rumors abounding that Svitov may return to North America next season, that bust tag could be dropped – if he can gain some consistency at the professional level.

Alexander Polushin, F – 2nd round, 47th overall (Tver, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 05/08/1983, Height: 6’4, Weight: 212 lbs.

The Lightning hoped that they had picked up one of the steals of the draft when they selected the immensely talented Polushin midway through the second round. And why wouldn’t they? Having already starred in Russia with CSKA, and with a gold medal-winning World Junior performance under his belt, as well as an amazing skill set and a good physical presence, Polushin seemed to be a can’t-miss prospect. The only knock was being occasionally indifferent to his surroundings on the ice.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, it didn’t work out. Polushin made the jump to the Russian Super League in 2002-03, with modest successes, before suffering a serious knee injury the following season. Factor in the recovery from this major injury, as well as occasional clashes with coaches and management in Russia, a hard-ball approach to Lightning management on this side of the Atlantic in regards to contract negotiations, inconsistent levels of play and conditioning in the wake of his knee injury, and a lockout that further prevented his coming over to North America, Polushin’s star has waned considerably in recent years. Doubtful that he will ever come over to North America, Polushin was another surefire selection that flamed out. He played last season with Cherepovets Severstal.

Andreas Holmqvist, D – 2nd round, 61st overall (Hammarby, Sweden)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 07/23/1981, Height: 6’4, Weight: 195 lbs.

Tampa used its second second-round selection to take Holmqvist, an offensive defenseman with a bit of a physical edge, from Sweden. After playing his first couple seasons in the middle levels of Swedish hockey, he made his debut in 2002-03 with Elite League club Linkoping. In his debut season, he posted a modest 13 points in 43 games, before deciding to make the jump across the pond at the start of the 2003-04.

Holmqvist came to the Lightning camp with high hopes, but those hopes were dashed early. Thanks to his suspect defensive zone coverage, Holmqvist was among the early Lightning cuts, being assigned to the minors. Things went from bad to worse when he was unable to stick around with Hamilton, spending the bulk of the season with Pensacola in the ECHL. He made a better go of it in his second professional season, spending much of the year with Springfield, but as the season progressed, the gaping hole where his defensive game should have been resulted in his falling out of favor with the Springfield coaching staff, and saw him spend many a game in the second half of the season in the press box. Not offered a contract at the end of the season, Holmqvist returned to Sweden, once again with Linkoping.

Evgeni Artyukhin, F – 3rd round, 94th overall (Podolsk, Russia)
Status: NHL player
NHL Games: 72
DOB: 04/04/1983, Height: 6’4, Weight: 254 lbs.

Artyukhin’s progression from a late-third round pick to an NHL regular has been a slow but steady one. Artyukhin was considered quite the project based upon his size, but bolstered by decent skating and hands for a big man, as well as a wrecking-ball demeanor in regards to physical play, he has begun to carve a niche as a physical forward.

Unlike his European predecessors, Artyukhin got his feet wet in North America before entering the professional game, spending a season adapting to the different style of play with Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, in which he achieved modest success, and in which he also picked up a gold medal at the World Junior championships. Artyukhin was able to jump to the professional game the following season, splitting time between Springfield and Pensacola, before asserting himself as a third-liner with Springfield in his second season. A late cut in the 2005-06 training camp, it took only four games for Artyukhin to be recalled to Tampa Bay, where he spent the rest of the season, seeing duty on the third and fourth lines, and picking up 17 points in his rookie campaign, setting the tone for a solid professional career as a burgeoning power forward and checking liner.

Aaron Lobb, F – 4th round, 123rd overall (London, OHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 06/10/1983, Height: 6’4, Weight: 209 lbs.

Lobb was Tampa Bay’s fifth selection in the draft, and the first North American selected by the team, chosen from London in the Ontario Hockey League. He was coming off of a strong sophomore campaign in the OHL, picking up 48 points. His decent hands, coupled with strong skating and good size made him a good bet to see some time in the professional ranks at some time. These renewed expectations were shattered when Lobb suffered a major knee injury that put a serious dent into his third season, limiting him to 17 games. He was not the same player in his final OHL campaign, and chose to move on to Canadian university hockey at the end of his junior career, playing with St. Thomas, appearing in 16 games last season.

Paul Lynch, D – 5th round, 138th overall (Valley Jr. Warriors, EJHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 04/23/1982, Height: 6’3, Weight: 195 lbs.

Lynch was selected from the EJHL, a smooth-skating, strong puck-handling defenseman, who had torn up his local high school league before advancing to a tougher level. Lynch made the jump the NCAA hockey, signing on to play for the Maine Black Bears. He saw only a modicum of playing time in his first two seasons, and decided that a transfer would be in the best interests of his career, moving on to UMass-Amherst, and thus forgoing his junior year. He played only two games with Amherst, instead signing on to play in the ECHL, seeing time with Johnstown, Charlotte, and Louisiana, where he picked up nine points in 65 games.

Art Femenella, D – 6th round, 188th overall (Sioux City, USHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 06/06/1982, Height: 6’7, Weight: 255 lbs.

Femenella, a monster of a man, was selected as a future project with Tampa’s sixth round pick. The mean, oversized defenseman played three seasons in the United States Hockey League, serving as captain of his Sioux City squad for two seasons, before committing to Vermont for the 2003-04 season. He played sparsely, bringing his brand of physical play to the college ranks, appearing in 27 games in his sophomore season (with one goal), and 21 games in his sophomore season, playing in 21 games. His junior season was limited two eight games after suffering an injury. Femenella has brought some versatility to his game, with him seeing time both on the point and as a forward. He will look to bounce back in his senior year, before moving on the professional ranks.

Dennis Packard, F – 7th round, 219th overall (Harvard, NCAA)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 02/09/1983, Height: 6’3, Weight: 234 lbs.

Packard, another large-bodied Dudley draft pick, was a product of the US National Developmental Program, and played four seasons with Harvard’s squad, posting modest offensive numbers while bringing a strong physical presence to the ice. He made the jump to the professional game in 2004-05, splitting his time with Johnstown and Springfield. The same story followed in his sophomore professional campaign, with near-equal game totals, as well as similar offensive numbers. He will look to put forth a full season in Springfield next year, likely on the team’s fourth line.

Jeremy Van Hoof, D – 7th round, 222nd overall (Ottawa, OHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 08/12/1981, Height: 6’2, Weight: 185 lbs.

Van Hoof was originally a second-round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1999 draft, but was unable to come to terms with the Pens, and re-entered the draft. Tampa Bay was happy to acquire the services of the smooth-skating defensive-minded defenseman, a product of the Ottawa 67s system. Van Hoof jumped to the professional ranks immediately following the draft, seeing time with the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL. He returned to Pensacola for a second season, but also saw a handful of games with Springfield in the AHL. Five more games would follow in 2003-04 for Hershey, once again spending the bulk of his time with the Ice Pilots. Van Hoof has remained in the ECHL ever since, spending time with Johnstown, Columbia, and Dayton.

Jean-Francois Soucy, F – 8th round, 252nd overall (Montreal, QMJHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 03/25/1982, Height: 6’3, Weight: 205 lbs.

Soucy was selected largely on the basis of his physical play in the QMJHL, however, Tampa management felt that they may have picked up something else on the basis of Soucy’s overage season, when he picked up nearly a point a game for a wholly mediocre Montreal squad. Soucy jumped to Pensacola the following season, posting modest numbers in limited ice time in the ECHL. He hoped to continue his progress in the AHL the following season, but was unable to adapt to the advanced playing style. He played the bulk of the 2004-05 season with Springfield, but only picked up five points. He spent all of last season in the ECHL again, playing with Phoenix and San Diego.

Dmitri Bezrukov, F – 8th round, 259th overall (Nizhnekamsk, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 11/09/1977, Height: 6’4, Weight 203 lbs.

Bezrukov was drafted as a 24-year-old after posting 17 points for Nizhnekamsk, after having spent four seasons bouncing around the Russian Super League. It was hoped that he would come over to North America, however, the large Russian forward has decided to stay in his homeland thus far, and it is unlikely that he will ever come across the Atlantic to play. Bezrukov split last season with Vysshaya League clubs Nizhny-Novgorod and Neftyanik Almetievsk, posting 15 points in 43 games.

Vitali Smolyaninov, F – 8th round, 261st overall (Neftehchimik, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 08/05/1983, Height: 6’3, Weight: 235 lbs.

Smolyaninov was Tampa Bay’s third eighth round selection of the draft, having spent his draft year playing with third division Neftehchimik. Another big body with decent offensive presence, it was hoped that Smolyaninov would develop and all-around game and add a physical dimension, and progress through the Russian league ranks, before coming over to North America, however Smolyaninov has not yet tasted even the Russian Super League, let alone North American professional play. He spent last season playing in Kazakhstan with Irtysh Pavlodar, posting 14 points in as many games.

Ilya Solarev, F – 9th round, 281st overall (Perm Molot, Russia)
Status; NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 08/02/1982, Height: 6’2, Weight: 191 lbs.

Solarev was drafted after making a quick appearance in the Russian Super League for Perm Molot as an injury call-up. Unfortunately, that was his only Super League experience, as he has bounced around various Russian and Belorussian leagues since his draft year. A decent offensive presence with a nice work ethic, Solarev was a fixture up front for Lipetsk in the Vysshaya league last season, picking up 10 points in 49 games.

Henrik Bergfors, D – 9th round, 289th overall (Sodertalje, Sweden)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 05/15/1982, Height: 6’3, 224 lbs.

Bergfors was Tampa Bay’s final selection in the 2001 draft, a solid defensive-minded defenseman with a physical tinge from Sweden. In his second full season in Sweden’s under-20 league with Sodertalje, Bergfors picked up eight points and boasted a strong +16 rating, putting smiles across the faces of Tampa Bay management. The smiles got a little wider when Bergfors decided to come to North America at the start of the 2003-04 campaign, but an injury derailed his entire season, which he would have spent in the Central Hockey League. He bounced back for a full season with Adirondack in the United League in 2004-05, but returned to Europe last season, playing for Comet in the Norwegian League, where he was held pointless with 75 penalty minutes.

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