Lightning top 20 prospects

By Phil Laugher

The Tampa Bay Lightning have made an effort in the past few years to draft prospects from the goal line out, and that has left them with a deep pool of quality goaltenders and stay-at-home defensemen. However, alongside these safe picks were some shrewd late-round selections of forwards who have begun to develop their offensive skills in earnest since Hockey’s Future’s last top 20 list was released. Things are looking up in Tampa Bay’s future, but having only four picks in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft slowed the restocking effort compared to other teams.

1. (4) Andy Rogers, D – 7.5B
2. (NR) Riku Helenius, G – 8.0C
3. (3) Radek Smolenak, LW – 7.5C
4. (7) Matt Smaby, D – 7.5B
5. (15) Karri Ramo, G – 7.5C
6. (10) Stanislav Lascek, RW – 7.5C
7. (NR) Vasily Koshechkin, G – 7.0C
8. (2) Vladimir Mihalik, D – 7.0C
9. (19) Nick Tarnasky, C – 6.5B
10. (12) Marek Kvapil, RW – 7.0C
11. (1) Mike Egener, D – 7.0C
12. (11) Doug O’Brien, D – 6.5B
13. (16) Blair Jones, C – 7.0C
14. (NR) Justin Keller, LW – 7.0C
15. (18) Darren Reid, RW – 6.0B
16. (14) Gerald Coleman, G – 6.0C
17. (13) Chris Lawrence, C – 6.5D
18. (NR) Kevin Quick, D – 7.5D
19. (NR) Mike Lundin, D – 6.0C
20. (8) Adam Henrich, LW – 6.5D

1. (4) Andy Rogers, D – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Height: 6’5, Weight: 206 lbs., DOB: 8/25/1986
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Rogers takes the top spot on the Tampa Bay top 20 prospects list after the graduation of a couple of higher-ranked prospects (Ryan Craig and Evgeni Artyukhin), in spite of running into injury difficulties yet again last season with Prince George. Ankle problems limited him to less than 50 games for the second straight season. It was hoped that Rogers, a late cut at Tampa Bay’s training camp last season, would have a breakout season after signing a contract with the Lightning last October, however, it was not to be. This year, however, the right thing was done, shutting the large stay-at-homer down for the season, and allowing his surgically repaired ankle plenty of time to heal. It is now hoped that his injury problems will be behind him as he makes the jump to the professional ranks.

Whether he logs large minutes for Springfield next season, or goes the “Paul Ranger route” and sees only a cup of coffee with the minor league squad before sticking with the big club for the duration is unclear, however, if he is able to put together a training camp like the one he had in 2005, it will be difficult to keep the defensively responsible Rogers in the minors for too long.

Boasting a big frame and good skating ability for a man his size, as well as a tireless work ethic and a willingness to get physical, Rogers seems to be the prototypical Lightning blue line prospect in the Jay Feaster era. Though he will likely not score much in the professional game, Rogers has shown in the past that he has the ability to be at the very least a serviceable regular, but is more likely a second-pairing defenseman with the potential to play alongside a more offensive partner in a top pairing role somewhere down the line.

2. (NR) Riku Helenius, G – Ilves Tampere, Jr. (Finland)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 202 lbs., DOB: 03/01/1988
Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

It was telling when Jay Feaster and company chose the big Finnish netminder with their first round selection instead of focusing on other needs where there was far less depth; Helenius is believed to be the Lightning’s goaltender of the future. With Ramo and Coleman under contract, and Koshechkin also waiting in the wings, goaltending depth was hardly an issue, however, the use of the first round speaks volumes.

Though he will likely remain in Finland for the next couple of seasons honing his skills, the young netminder has already accomplished much in his young career, backstopping Finland’s under-18 team to within one game of gold at the World Under-18 Championships this past winter, posting very impressive numbers while carrying a relatively mediocre squad far further than was expected, as well as posting strong numbers for Ilves. He may not get the starting job for Ilves this season, but will probably see plenty of ice time behind Boston’s Tuukka Rask, and will get World Junior consideration as well.

The hybrid netminder boasts great quickness and shows ability at effectively cutting down the angles. Already having played big in big games, Helenius has shown that he can elevate his stellar play even further if the situation warrants.

3. (3) Radek Smolenak, LW – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 204 lbs., DOB: 12/03/1986
Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Smolenak had an excellent sophomore season with the Kingston Frontenacs, and was able to parlay his 42-goal season into a professional contract with the Lightning, with expectations of making the jump to Springfield for the start of next season. Not only was he able to better all of his offensive categories from his rookie season, Smolenak was also able to do so by showing better consistency, a problem which plagued him in his first season in North America.

Smolenak put on a little more muscle since the start of last season, yet it did not adversely affect his moderate foot speed and agility. His skating is adequate, and should not be too much of a problem at the professional level, though his drive for the net and finishing ability should make up for any skating concerns. He has a good frame, and will occasionally get involved physically. Whether or not Smolenak is able to continue to build on his improved consistency will play an integral role in his adjustment to the professional level.

4. (7) Matt Smaby, D – University of North Dakota (NCAA)
Height: 6’5, Weight: 220 lbs., DOB: 10/14/1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Smaby continued to take steps forward in his junior season for the Fighting Sioux, taking on a leadership role with the deep WCHA squad. He picked up four goals and 19 points, good enough for second among defensemen on the team, behind Ottawa’s Brian Lee. Boasting a big frame and decent mobility, Smaby has also proven to be a feared defenseman in his own end, bringing a mean, physical game to the table, delivering devastating hits at opportune times, while still playing responsibly enough for it not to be a detriment.

A good two-way defenseman with loads of intangibles at the college level, Smaby came to a contract agreement with the Lightning back in April, and will likely play next season with Springfield. Whether or not he will be the same player in the pros as he was with North Dakota is unclear at present, though he can still be a very valuable component of any team based on his defensive and physical play alone. Whether his offense carries over to the professional game will also play a role in his future success.

5. (15) Karri Rämo, G – HPK (Finland)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 192 lbs., DOB: 07/01/1986
Acquired: 6th round, 191st overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Rämo will be coming over to North America for his first professional season, after signing a contract with the Lightning back in May. Rämo posted dynamite numbers in his relatively limited playing time for the eventual SM-liiga championship-winning HPK squad – a season in which he was slowed with a minor knee injury for a time. He also served as the back-up last year’s Finnish World Junior squad that finished seventh in the tournament, having appeared in one game.

Rämo’s success is not guaranteed in North America despite the praise for his play in Europe. There is also quite the back-log of netminders in Tampa Bay’s professional system at present, though given his history, there is little doubt that Rämo will be given ample opportunity to prove that he belongs ahead of his competition. An excellent butterfly netminder with quick reflexes and unshakable focus between the pipes, Rämo has the in-game intelligence of a seasoned veteran, and should make a smooth transition to the North American game.

6. (10) Stanislav Lascek, LW – Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Height: 6’0, Weight: 195 lbs., DOB: 01/17/1986
Acquired: 5th round, 133rd overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Lascek was another of a host of Lightning prospects to come to a contract agreement at the end of the 2005-06 season, after putting up massive numbers alongside recent Springfield signing Maxime Boisclair and prospect camp invite David Desharnais with Chicoutimi in the QMJHL. His 135 points last season placed him second in the league behind Nashville sniper prospect Alexander Radulov.

Lascek’s greatest attribute is his on-ice vision. Regularly with Chicoutimi, he was able to thread the needle with speed and pinpoint accuracy through traffic to one of his waiting linemates – more often than not Boisclair. He also has excellent stickhandling ability and smart play. A mediocre skater at best, and not very physical despite a decent frame, he will have to get tougher in order to succeed at the next level. He will likely play for Springfield next season.

7. (NR) Vasily Koshechkin, G – Lada Tolyatti (Russia)
Height: 6’6, Weight: 210 lbs., DOB: 03/27/1983
Acquired: 8th round, 233rd overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Koshechkin was another of Tampa Bay’s netminders who had a strong 2005-06 season. Koshechkin’s success came for Lada Togliatti where he earned all-star accolades in the Russian Super League, despite playing behind an inexperienced line-up for much of the season. He was near the top the major statistical categories for goaltenders, including a microscopic 1.59 goals against average, good enough for second in the league, behind Magnitogorsk Metallurg’s Travis Scott (whose team boasting names such as Evgeni Malkin and Stanislav Chistov).

Tampa Bay tried to get Koshechkin under contract during the offseason, but were unable to do so. The large butterfly netminder will return to Russia for yet another season, where he may this time get some help in front of him. It may not matter, for he has shown that he can perform admirably even when defensive assistance is non-existent. Poised, with great rebound control, Koshechkin adds another solid hand in a deep crop of goaltenders.

8. (2) Vladimir Mihalik, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Height: 6’7, Weight: 222 lbs., DOB: 1/29/1987
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Mihalik ran into some difficulties in his first year of North American hockey in the WHL, but that is to be expected for a project like him. He doesn’t boast very much offensive skill and is still a bit raw in his own end, but he does bring plenty of aggression and physicality to the table, coupled with astounding size. The ornery Slovak has tried to find a niche in North America relying on his physicality, and while it occasionally caused him to make an undisciplined play, the intimidation factor did help his adjustment.

A decent skater for someone his size, his skills are somewhat lacking, and he will have to continue to adapt to the changing style of play by working on his hockey sense. Mihalik will join the Prince George Cougars next season after having been traded prior to the draft, hoping to improve on the modest building blocks put in place in his rookie campaign. The physical defenseman will have to continue to hone his defensive play, for offense will not get him to the next level. Mihalik participated in last year’s World Junior Championships for Slovakia and thanks to a January birthday will be eligible again this year.

9. (19) Nick Tarnasky, C – Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 233 lbs., DOB: 11/25/1984
Acquired; 9th round, 287th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Few would have thought that Tarnasky would be among the top ten prospects for Tampa Bay when they selected him with one of the final draft picks of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, yet through his tenacity, hard work, and leadership, he has flourished in the professional game. Seeing regular time on the second and third lines for Springfield in his first two professional seasons, the hard-nosed forward has persevered, and eventually earned a call-up to the Lightning last season when they ran into injury troubles, appearing in 12 games, picking up one point.

Tarnasky’s style of play is perfectly suited for an energy role on a checking line, and he will likely have a shot at making the Lightning out of camp in such a role. However, to be a valuable contributor at the top level, he will have to improve his all-around play. His increased work ethic should ensure that he will continue to try to improve his game, and his heart should be good enough to lead him to more chances in the future.

10. (12) Marek Kvapil, RW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 172 lbs., DOB: 01/05/1985
Acquired: 6th round 163rd overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

Kvapil made a relatively smooth adjustment to the professional game in his first season with Springfield, having only spent one season previous playing in North America. After a breakout rookie campaign with Saginaw of the OHL, the right wing made the jump to the Falcons, picking up an impressive 45 points in a near-full schedule, good enough for second among rookies in Springfield.

Kvapil is a quick skater with great stickhandling ability and a nose for the net, though his slight frame could prove to be a bit of a liability, as he occasionally gets muscled off the puck. He will have to get tougher in his subsequent seasons, or else he may not be able to showcase his excellent puck-handling skills. He worked a bit on his defensive game last season, but still has a ways to go until he can be considered a solid two-way player, though he does seem willing to learn. He will have to if he is to make it at the next level, as he probably won’t be able to do it on offense alone.

11. (1) Mike Egener, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 213 lbs., DOB: 9/26/1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 34th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Egener has seen his stock fall in the past year due largely to the fact that he has been prone to inconsistent, occasionally undisciplined play that has been compounded by injury. A powerful skater with great size who often displays good decision-making and puck-distribution abilities in junior, Egener has surprisingly had trouble adapting to the professional game after two seasons, and has yet to carve out his niche. He struggled so much last season that he was demoted to the ECHL for a time in the hopes of being able to rediscover his consistency, but it was there that he re-injured his knee.

Egener has the ability to be a key contributor down the line, and a defensive cornerstone, bringing offense, defense, and physicality to the table, but until his head and body get adapted to the professional game, he will likely continue to struggle. This year is big for Egener, as he will be up for a new contract at the end of the 2006-07 season, and he will need to come to camp with renewed focus and competitiveness.

12. (11) Doug O’Brien, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: 02/16/1984
Acquired: 6th round, 192nd overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

O’Brien entered his second professional season looking to build upon a modest first season, and ended up taking on a leading role on the Falcons defense, picking up 32 points, good enough for sixth in points on the team, and first among defensemen. His offense had suffered in his reduced role in his rookie season, but had the added benefit of making him more of a two-way player.

O’Brien warranted a brief promotion to the Lightning mid-season when their defensive unit suffered injuries, but he looked out of place, unable to adapt to the increased pace of the NHL game. The mobile defenseman will look to build on a solid sophomore season, and perhaps warrant more of a look with the Lightning next season. He has the ability and the versatility to play at the next level, but just has to keep to the basics.

13. (16) Blair Jones, C – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight; 193 lbs., DOB: 09/27/1986
Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

The Lightning had an inkling of what to expect from Jones when they selected the 50-point man in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, but his ballooning to 85 points in his sophomore season was welcome progress. It had become apparent during his draft year that he did have some offensive skill to go along with defensive responsibility from the center position, however, few expected him to become an all-star, and finish well within the top ten in points.

Jones’s development was good enough to warrant a contract signing, and he will likely jump to the professional ranks next season. His two-way ability and his grittiness should ensure a relatively seamless transition to Springfield next season. He will look to translate his game to the professional level, with three years to prove his wares.

14. (NR) Justin Keller, LW – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 185 lbs., DOB: 03/04/1986
Acquired: 8th round, 245th overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Keller’s road to the professional ranks has been long and winding. Having gone undrafted in the WHL, and then an eighth round afterthought in the NHL Draft, Keller continues to make the critics look thick in regards to his ability. After a modest 30-goal sophomore season, Keller exploded for 51 goals last season, and that was enough to warrant a professional contract. Keller signed with the Lightning in May and will make the jump to Springfield next season.

A dynamite offensive talent with shifty skating ability which more than makes up for his relative size deficiency, Keller is also a consistently hard worker with great leadership ability, no doubt harnessed through the adversity he has faced in his career. Though size will often be an issue, Keller’s desire and skill set should be enough to overcome this barrier, and he should be a regular contributor in the professional ranks.

15. (18) Darren Reid, RW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 205 lbs., DOB: 05/18/1983
Acquired: 8th round, 256th overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Reid had a solid bounce-back season after floundering with Springfield in an undefined role in his first professional season in 2004-05. Reid found a niche on the Falcons checking line, bringing solid, gritty defensive play and hard work to the rink every night, as well as a willingness to get physical should the opportunity arise. Gone from last season were the bouts of inconsistency and undisciplined play, as Reid played the simple, safe game and was able to be a more valuable contributor as a role player with the Falcons. Reid’s improved play also warranted a call-up to the Lightning mid-season.

Reid has improved steadily since jumping to the professional ranks. He has shown in the past that he can score, but has been used in a more defensive role since going pro. Reid has a chance to crack the Lightning line-up full-time next season as a defensive specialist and energy player. Though his skating isn’t great, his willingness to get involved and defend his teammates makes up for this detriment.

16. (14) Gerald Coleman, G – Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 190 lbs., DOB: 04/03/1985
Acquired: 7th round, 224th overall, 2003 NHL Entry Draft

Coleman appears to be likely to be relegated to either a back-up role in Springfield or to Johnstown as a result of the signings of Swede Johan Holmqvist and Rämo (who will likely see the bulk of the action with Springfield next season). Coleman had a bit of an up-and-down season, in spite of his seeing two games for the Lightning in an emergency role, and his inconsistency may have been his downfall for his future with the Lightning. With the goaltending depth chart getting more crowded, Coleman will need a breakout season reminiscent of his final season with the London Knights in order to ensure a longer stay in the Lightning system, and to move him back up the depth chart.

17. (13) Chris Lawrence, C – Mississauga Ice Dogs (OHL)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 199 lbs., DOB: 02/05/1987
Acquired; 3rd round, 89th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft

In the first half of last season, it appeared that Lawrence was still stuck in his inconsistent ways when he got off to another abysmal start with Sault Ste. Marie, where the highly-talented forward had been limited to only three goals through his first 29 games. However, Lawrence’s fortunes were about to change, as he was moved to Mississauga midway through the season. The trade kick-started Lawrence’s season, and lassoed his wayward focus. Often criticized for his indifferent work ethic, Lawrence exploded with 36 points in 38 games for the Ice Dogs, and put up a career high 20 goals, and in only half a season. Lawrence will look to parlay a strong Traverse City tournament into a quick start with the Ice Dogs next season, in the hopes of retaining his new focus and drive to match his quality skill set.

18. (NR) Kevin Quick, D – Salisbury Prep (US High School)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 175 lbs., DOB: 03/29/1988
Acquired: 3rd round, 78th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft

Quick was a bit of a surprise pick by the Lightning in the third round, though he did have an impressive season with his Salisbury Prep squad, picking up 23 points in 28 games from the blue line. The smooth-skating, offensively skilled (yet defensively responsible) playmaking defenseman was invited to Tampa Bay’s summer prospect camp. Quick made perhaps the biggest impact of any of the invites, bringing dynamic playmaking ability with levelheaded decision-making far beyond his years to camp. Quick has not played beyond high school level, and is still a year away from a likely trip to the NCAA, and it is management’s hope that he can be directed towards the USHL for a year of seasoning. It is still far too early to tell, but Quick looks like a potential power play quarterback in the making.

19. (NR) Mike Lundin, D – University of Maine (NCAA)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 180 lbs., DOB: 09/24/1984
Acquired; 4th round, 102nd overall, 2004 NHL Entry Draft

Lundin returns to the Lightning top 20 prospects list after having another solid, consistent season with the University of Maine Black Bears, picking up 15 points in 35 games. The hard-skating, puck-moving defenseman missed a few games in his junior year with a broken finger. Though Lundin showed great discipline yet again this season, he still tends to shy away from physical play, and this is something he will have to overcome if he is to excel at the professional game. Lundin will return to Maine for his senior season next year before heading to the next level.

20. (8) Adam Henrich, LW – Johnstown Chiefs (ECHL)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 238 lbs., DOB: 01/19/1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2002 NHL Entry Draft

Henrich suffered through his second consecutive poor professional season in 2005-06. While he was at least able to stick much of the season with Springfield in his rookie campaign, Henrich saw only 12 games (he was held pointless), spending the bulk of his sophomore season with the Johnstown Chiefs. While he did post strong numbers with Johnstown, he needs to be putting up these numbers with Springfield at this point of his career. This season will be a make-or-break year for the former second round pick. He will look to put together a strong – full – season with Springfield, in the hopes that he can get another couple of years within the organization after his contract expires. He has the ability to be a solid power forward in the Lightning organization, however he has as of yet been unable to use his size and skill effectively and regularly, and until he does, his chances of sticking in the Lightning organization will be slim.

Missing the cut

Alexander Polushin: Polushin suffered through another mediocre season in Russia, this time with Cherepovets Severstal, picking up 12 points. Tampa Bay seems willing to allow him to stay in Russia until he is willing to come to North America under their terms.

Dane Crowley: The physical defenseman will play his fourth season in the WHL for Swift Current this year.

Jonathan Boutin: Boutin had a good season split between the Johnstown Chiefs and Springfield Falcons last season, regaining his focus which had been an issue with him since junior, however, the signing of two goaltenders and the drafting of another leave Boutin’s future in the organization up in the air.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.