Lightning 2006 draft review

By Phil Laugher

Jay Feaster entered the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, his fifth as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, with numerous holes to fill, and few tools at their disposal to fill them. The key goal for Feaster entering the draft weekend in Vancouver was to acquire a starting goaltender. While draft day turned up dry for Feaster on the trade front, that hole was remedied a few days later with the acquisition of Columbus Blue Jackets veteran Marc Denis, in a deal that saw veteran second-line forward Frederik Modin head the other way.

Also, the Lightning only had four draft selections at their disposal entering the weekend, and if history would repeat itself yet again, the Lightning would be very active on the trade front, acquiring picks in this year’s draft for those in next year’s draft. However, much like in regards to rectifying the goaltending situation on draft day, any noise on the Lightning trade front in regards to the acquisition of more picks was also non-existent.

There were a few weak spots in the Lightning prospect system, ranked last in Hockey’s Future’s most recent organizational rankings, but as a whole, the problems facing Tampa’s system entering this year’s draft were relatively cosmetic. The Lightning had seen a few of their projects develop ahead of schedule last season, giving them depth in more positions than just big, stay-at-home defensemen, as had been their wont for the past few seasons.

Still on the docket for the Lightning was a bona fide starting netminder of the future. Gerald Coleman and Jonathan Boutin had begun to show flashes of potential next season, however, both are still fairly raw both physically and mentally at the professional level, and are still a couple of years away from being able to make any serious impact on the Lightning squad, while European standouts Karri Ramo and Vasily Koshechkin are untested in the North American game, despite the promise both have shown in Europe. Also, notwithstanding the wealth of defensive-minded defensemen in the Lightning system, there was quite a dearth of offensive weapons from the point.

Finally, though the Lightning wingers have progressed as a group by leaps and bounds over how they were at this time last season, they were still lacking any serious center depth (save last year’s progression of Blair Jones).

The Lightning had the 15th overall selection in the draft. Chances of them following previous trends and selecting another big, mobile defenseman with that pick were slim to none, given both a lack of options at the position, and more pressing needs elsewhere within the system.

Riku Helenius, G
Selected in the 1st Round, 15th Overall, Ilves Tampere (Finland)
DOB: March 1, 1988, Height: 6’3, Weight: 202 lbs.

The selection of Helenius has made the future goaltending situation in Tampa Bay much clearer. With this one selection, Tampa Bay has in their system a bona fide No. 1 goaltender of the future. The second goaltender selected on draft day, and arguably the best goaltender available in the entire draft, Helenius saw his draft ranking shoot up over the course of an impressive season with Ilves in the Finnish league, wherein he played in 26 games for their junior squad, posting a very respectable 2.68 goals against average. Helenius was also the starting netminder for Finland’s under-18 squad, playing in all six of Finland’s games, and putting up a miniscule 1.88 goals against average, and leading his team to the finals (before bowing out against the Americans).

Helenius fits the mold of many of the previous goaltenders that the Lightning have selected in the past: he’s big. Standing at 6’3, he joins 6’1 Boutin, 6’2 Ramo, 6’3 Morgan Cey, 6’4 Coleman and Kevin Beech, and 6’6 Koshechkin, in, if not one of the best goaltending crops in the league, definitely one of the largest. When Helenius eventually comes across the Atlantic, he will fall under the tutelage of goaltending Jeff Reese, who has worked wonders with netminders of size in the past, in spite of his own diminutiveness.

Helenius is a talented hybrid butterfly-style goaltender who uses his ample frame to his advantage in order to cut down the angles available to the opposition. Calm and cool under pressure, he has shown the ability to play big in big games, and has in the past been able to carry a respectable squad to levels far beyond the team’s ability, and will likely get the opportunity to prove his worth on the international stage next season. With Boston Bruins prospect Tuukka Rask ahead of Helenius on the depth chart in Ilves, it is unclear as to what Helenius’s role within the squad will be next season, whether he will serve as the backup to Rask, or play above his head – but play nonetheless – with the Ilves junior squad. He is a frontrunner to be named to Finland’s World Junior squad, likely as a backup, again, to Rask.

Kevin Quick, D
Selected 3rd round, 78th overall, Salisbury Prep (U.S. High School)
DOB: March 29, 1988, Height: 6’0, Weight: 175 lbs.

The Lightning were able to fill another hole with their second selection, choosing high-school defenseman Kevin Quick in the third round. Quick spent last season playing high-school hockey for Salisbury Prep in Massachusetts, where he picked up 23 points in 28 games.

Quick is a strong two-way defenseman countering great creativity in the offensive end with responsible play in his own end, as well as excellent foot speed and quickness. Adept at controlling the power play, Quick is willing and able to dispense the puck, but also has a great shot in his repertoire. With only Doug O’Brien in the system bringing even a modicum of power play strength, any addition would be an asset. Quick’s dynamic offensive presence helps to bolster the rear attack for the Lightning future. Though it is far too early to know for certain, Quick’s presence in the Lightning system should serve as insurance in case Dan Boyle should leave the Lightning when he becomes eligible for free agency – so long as Quick live up to his initial billing.

Quick is as of yet uncommitted college-wise, but still has another year to make up his mind about the college ranks, and to further hone his game in the hopes of attracting collegiate attention in his post-draft season.

Dane Crowley, D
Selected 6th round, 168th overall, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
DOB: January 21, 1987, Height: 6’2, Weight: 210 lbs.

The Lightning’s third selection in the draft saw them once again add to their blue-line depth, selecting Western Hockey League tough-guy Dane Crowley 168th overall. Crowley, who was passed over in his first year of draft eligibility last season, finally got a regular shift this season, once he had been traded from Saskatoon at the trading deadline last season. In his first two seasons with the Blades, Crowley was only used sparingly, and was not able to contribute much until this past season, as his coaches began to experiment with him in all situations. In a combined 71 games split between Swift Current and Saskatoon, Crowley compiled one goal and 20 assists.

Crowley is not going to dazzle with his offensive ability, which is not very strong, but he is a respectable defensive defenseman with good mobility, an eagerness to play a physical, rugged game, and a willingness to drop the gloves to defend his team-mates if the opportunity should arise. His combined total of 143 penalty minutes placed him second on the Broncos in that category. A hard worker with good leadership ability, and a team-first mentality (which is a hallmark of many of the recent selections of the Lightning), Crowley will still be a bit of a project for the next couple of years before he jumps to the professional game. His offensive game will have to see a bit of improvement if he is to bypass many of the defenders ahead of him on Tampa’s depth chart.

Denis Kazionov, LW
Selected 7th round, 198th overall, Tver (Russia)
DOB: December 8, 1987, Height: 6’3, Weight: 187 lbs.

With their final selection in the draft, Feaster headed across the Atlantic, but to relatively familiar waters, selecting big winger Denis Kazionov — younger brother of Tampa prospect Dmitri — from Tver in Russia. Kazionov split last season between Tver’s main club in the Russian league and their team in the third division, picking up one assist in 26 games for the big club, while compiling six goals, 19 points in 31 games for the third division squad.

Kazionov is a power forward in the making, with an excellent, smooth skating stride, a willingness to throw his big, albeit, lean frame around physically, and a good nose for the net. Kazionov is a better two-way player than dynamic offensive talent, as he only has average hands. He has shown interest in coming across the Atlantic, and though he was not selected in the 2006 CHL Import Draft, he may get a longer look next time. He will look to get a full year in the upper leagues under his belt next season, though it may be difficult to crack the top couple of lines with Tver’s depth and Kazionov’s limited offensive upside.

Kazionov was originally ranked 23rd overall by Central Scouting for European skaters, and thus the ability (and luck) of the Lightning to be able to select him in the seventh round could prove to be yet another coup for the Lightning scouting staff in regards to late-round selections in the Jay Feaster era.

Sergei Balashov and Pekka Lampinen contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.