Lightning 2002 draft evaluation

By Phil Laugher

The 2002 NHL Entry Draft marked the first draft of the Jay Feaster era with the Tampa Bay Lightning. With a new management group in the Lightning front office, there was a decided shift in drafting philosophy, as the Lightning began looking in their North American backyard for prospects instead of across the Atlantic, as had been one of the hallmarks of the Rick Dudley regime. Of the 13 draft picks the Lightning used during the 2002 draft, only five were used on players from Europe. In 2001, eight of their 14 picks were used on Europeans, and in both 2000 and 1999, it was 80 percent.

The Feaster era did begin much where Dudley’s had left off in another respect, with plenty of dealing of the Lightning’s draft picks. The Lightning entered the draft weekend with the fourth overall draft pick at their disposal. However, they would not use that selection, as the fourth pick was moved to Philadelphia in a deal that brought winger (and future Stanley Cup finals hero) Ruslan Fedotenko to the Lightning, along with a bevy of picks. Both of the picks Feaster acquired were traded later in the day for other picks and players. Though the Lightning finished the draft having made 13 selections, only one would be made in the first three rounds.

This back-loaded drafting approach proved to be a boon for the Lightning. The first draft of the Feaster era has resulted in 344 NHL games played thus far among four players, with three of those seeing regular duty (one starting goaltender, one top-four defenseman, and one burgeoning second liner).  The picks averaged 26.5 NHL games each, a bit above the league average.

Adam Henrich, LW

2nd round, 60th overall – Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Henrich was the only first-day selection by the Lightning, who chose the hulking winger with their second-round pick, acquired in a deal for one of the selections picked up in the Fedotenko deal. Henrich came with plenty of baggage, with questions about his consistency, and concern about his lack of foot speed. Still, it was hoped that the Thornhill, ON native could be a power-forward solution, given his willingness to mix it up physically, as well as his strong finish and drive to the net.

It was not to be for Henrich, who had plenty of trouble adapting to the quicker professional game after having posted solid numbers in junior. His first year with the Springfield Falcons was fairly modest, with Henrich posting a decent 26-point output. His consistency and drive fell off in his sophomore campaign, and he found himself shuttled between Springfield and Tampa’s ECHL affiliate in Johnstown for the bulk of the season. Henrich had a bit of a bounce-back season in 2006-07 — his contract year — though, it may have been too little, too late for the big winger, who still struggled to produce regularly in the AHL. If it is not Tampa Bay, another  team will surely give the talented but underproducing forward another opportunity. He will have a long road ahead of him, though.

Dmitri Kazionov, C

4th round, 100th overall – Lada Togliatti (Russia)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Lightning went back overseas with their second selection, choosing the shifty Russian forward Dmitri Kazionov. A solid two-way centerman with great skating ability, Kazionov has slowly but surely begun to develop a better offensive game in the Russian SuperLeague to complement a very strong defensively responsible game. Still, there was little indication that Kazionov would ever come across the Atlantic. That was the case until the Lightning selected Kazionov’s younger brother, Denis, in the 2006 Entry Draft. With both Kazionovs in the Lightning fold, and rumors of their mulling coming across the Atlantic to North America to play professionally, the elder Dmitri is still on the Tampa Bay radar.

Joseph Pearce, G

5th round, 135th overall – Manchester Monarchs (EJHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Pearce was the first of three goaltenders selected by the Lightning. He had just come off an excellent performance in the EJHL, leading the Manchester Monarchs to a league championship when drafted, before jumping to the USHL. With Chicago’s USHL team, Pearce once again flourished. The sky appeared to be the limit, and he signed on to join the heralded Boston College program, where it was expected his stellar play would continue. Unfortunately for Pearce, he never got the chance. In his four years of college hockey, he only appeared in 10 games. This was not due to his own anemic play, but rather that he was a victim of circumstance, playing behind two excellent starting goaltenders – first, behind Finnish netminder Matti Kaltiainen, then behind Vancouver prospect Cory Schneider. When Pearce makes the jump to the professional ranks, he will have to hearken back to his pre-college play in order to impress.

Gerard Dicaire, D

5th round, 162nd overall – Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Dicaire was originally a second-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2000 Entry Draft, but did not come to terms with the Sabres, and thus re-entered the draft, falling to the fifth round. He was selected coming off of a Memorial Cup-winning performance with Kootenay in 2001-02. An offensive defenseman, it was hoped that Dicaire would be able to rectify the relative dearth of puck-moving defensemen in the Lightning system at the time. After one more year of junior, Dicaire jumped to the professional ranks with Utah, in which he posted a modest first season. Injuries began to take their toll on Dicaire in his sophomore season, keeping him from seeing valuable top-four time. Dicaire was unable to bounce back in his contract year, and bounced between Springfield and Johnstown in the ECHL. He was not tendered a contract at the end of the 2006 season. Dicaire is currently out of professional hockey.

PJ Atherton, D

6th round, 170th overall – Cedar Rapids (USHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Atherton was the second defenseman selected by the Lightning on day two, coming out of the USHL. The native of Edina, Minnesota made the jump to the always-competitive University of Minnesota program, bringing his solid two-way ability to the Golden Gophers. Quite an offensive weapon in the USHL, Atherton’s offensive game was not needed as much with the run-and-gun Golden Gophers, who were loaded to the brim with quality offensive talent every year. This allowed Atherton to focus more on improving his defensive game without the risk of being exposed playing big minutes. Atherton was not offered a contract by the Lightning, but was rather signed by Springfield, which gave the Lightning the ability to look in on Atherton from time to time. Last year, his first full professional season, Atherton got the opportunity to display his strong offensive game with Johnstown (also seeing spot duty with Springfield). Atherton will likely make the jump to the AHL full time next season, and will look to build on his steady progression.

Karri Akkanen, C
6th round, 174th overall – Ilves Tampere (Finland)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Akkanen was deemed to be a bit of a shrewd pick at the time, boasting huge size and good stickhandling ability, as well as a willingness to play physical in the center position as a member of the Ilves junior team. Things were looking up following his drafting, as he saw some time with the Ilves parent club, appearing in 21 games in 2002-03. That was the last he saw of the Finnish SM-Liiga, as he has remained in the lower levels of Finnish hockey with numerous teams since. He was not tendered a contract by the Lightning.

Paul Ranger, D
6th round, 183rd overall – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 148

Ranger is the first of several success stories from the Lightning draft. The biggest surprise is not the impact Ranger has had at the NHL level, but rather that he is the highest-selected Tampa 2002 draft pick to play in the NHL (their seventh selection, 183rd overall). An excellent skater who was highly rated entering the draft weekend, Ranger fell in the draft after uncertainty over his health, as well as what appeared to be a limited offensive game (he went goalless through his first two OHL seasons). Ranger responded to questions about his offensive game by exploding for two very strong seasons with Oshawa, in which he put up double-digits in goals and more than 38 points in each campaign.

Ranger made the jump to Springfield after his 19-year-old season after having come to terms with the Lightning. He was eased into his role with the Falcons, but came on strong towards the end of his rookie season. A quick start with Springfield in 2005-06 resulted in an immediate call-up to the Lightning, where Ranger flourished almost immediately, playing a safe game with occasional glimpses of his offensive ability. Now a fixture on the Lightning point, Ranger is staring down a big raise after the conclusion of his rookie contract.

Fredrik Norrena, G
7th round, 213th overall – TPS Turku (Finland)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 55

The Lightning traded offensive minor league defenseman Josef Boumedienne for the pick they used to take Norrena. It was a bit of an unorthodox, optimistic pick in selecting the 28-year-old Norrena, who was at the time one of the top goaltenders in the Finnish SM-Liiga for Turku, an organization he had been a part of for nearly 10 years, before moving to the Swedish Elite League the following year. The Lightning regularly courted Norrena in the hopes of luring him across the Atlantic, and finally succeeded in the summer of 2006, signing both Norrena and fellow Swedish Elite League goaltender Johan Holmqvist to contracts. The Lightning, however, moved Norrena shortly thereafter, to Columbus as part of a deal that brought Marc Denis to Tampa Bay.

Norrena started the 2006-07 season as a backup to long-time prospect Pascal Leclaire, who had finally been given the reins by Columbus to carry the starting goaltending job. It was expected Norrena would provide insurance should Leclaire falter. A combination of inconsistency and injury kept Leclaire out of the line-up for the bulk of the second half of the season, and Norrena stepped in admirably for the Blue Jackets. In Leclaire’s absence, Norrena posted a solid record of 24 wins and 23 losses in 55 games, alongside a modest 2.79 goals against average. Norrena has solidified himself as a quality NHL netminder. Given his age, however, his current two-year contract could feasibly be his only one.

Vasily Koshechkin, G

8th round, 230th overall – Lada Togliatti (Russia)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Koshechkin fell below the radar for many teams in the lead-up to the draft, and the Lightning were enamored to be able to select him in the eighth round. A massive butterfly goaltender with great lateral movement, Koshechkin is the prototypical Lightning goaltender selection. He remained in relative obscurity in the first couple of seasons following his draft year, playing in the lower reaches of the Russian hockey hierarchy in the Lada Togliatti system. He progressed up to the SuperLeague as back up in 2003-04, seeing sparse duty in his first two seasons in the top level.

In 2005-06, Koshechkin became the starting goaltender for Lada Togliatti, and made quite the first impression. With much of the quality talent disappearing from the roster, Koshechkin took the team on his back, winning countless games that they were outclassed in. A league all-star, Koshechkin posted a miniscule 1.59 goals against average. His performance was enough proof that the Lightning should get him under contract as soon as possible, however Koshechkin chose to remain in Russia for at least one more season.

Keeping up that Hainsworthian level of play was unlikely. Koshechkin was, however, still able to lead an average Togliatti squad to another solid season, posting a 2.02 goals against average, before his team was swept out of the playoffs. The Lightning will once again try to convince Koshechkin to come to North America for the start of next season. Given the financial problems for the struggling Lada organization, Koshechkin’s crossing the Atlantic is all the more likely. His presence would further solidify the already burgeoning Lightning goaltending corps.

Ryan Craig, C

8th round, 233rd overall – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 120

Craig was another overage draft selection — and late-round flyer — who has paid great dividends for the Lightning. Chosen with an eighth-round selection as a 19-year-old, Craig had just come off a year in which he had captained the Brandon Wheat Kings, leading them deep into the playoffs while posting more than a point per game. He showed a knack for clutch goals, netting 11 in 19 games, leading his team in playoff points (tripling the output of teammate Jordin Tootoo). After his overage season with Brandon, Craig jumped to the professional ranks. He spent the bulk of the season playing on the fourth line with Hershey, getting his feet wet in the pros.

Craig’s leadership and tenacity came to the forefront in his sophomore season with Springfield, after he was given both greater ice time and greater responsibility. Drawing on the leadership he honed in junior, where he was Brandon’s captain, and where he also fought back from a career threatening injury Craig was named an assistant captain for the Falcons, and he relished his new role. Craig led the abysmal Falcons in both goals (27) and points (41), but was not deemed ready for a call-up to the NHL. That call came midway through his third professional season. Craig let the Lightning know that he intended to stay, scoring a goal in his first NHL game. If there was any doubt, he repeated the feat the following game. He finished his rookie season with 28 points in 48 games. With another NHL season under his belt, the gritty, versatile Craig is now a fixture in the top two lines and special teams units for the Lightning.

Darren Reid, RW
8th round, 256th overall – Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 21

Reid was selected after his rookie season with the Medicine Hat Tigers, in which he posted a very modest 17 points. The bulk of his contribution was of a physical nature, as in the banging winger, the Lightning envisioned power forward possibilities. Reid continued to progress in his following two junior seasons, culminating in an 81-point, nearly 200-penalty minute performance as a 20-year-old.

Reid’s developing offensive game hit a roadblock in Springfield, as he was limited to only three goals in his rookie season. Things did not get better for Reid in his second season, as he was plagued by inconsistency with the Falcons (though he did see a short-term call-up to the Lightning, in which in notched an assist in seven games). After another slow start this past season, the Lightning moved Reid to Philadelphia in a deal that brought veteran Daniel Corso to the Lightning organization. The change of scenery helped Reid’s confidence immensely, as his scoring and physical play began to emerge again. He also saw a 14-game stint with the patchwork Flyers forward unit.

Alexei Glukhov, RW
9th round, 286th overall – Voskresensk Khimik (Russia)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Glukhov was drafted on the basis of his blend of good size and excellent skill. His drive, however, was a limiting factor that saw him fall in the draft. Glukhov was convinced to come across the Atlantic for an unsuccessful stint in 2003-04, appearing in three games with Springfield, and seeing some time with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL, before he returned to Russia. He played last season with Severstal Cherepovets, picking up 16 points.

John Toffey, C
9th round, 287th overall – Ohio State Buckeyes (CCHA)
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Toffey was drafted from Ohio State after his freshman year. His sophomore year was a wash, as a result of his transfer to UMass-Amherst. The talented Toffey saw the bulk of his action in the following two seasons playing on the Minutemen fourth line. He was signed to a deal after his senior year, and joined the Johnstown Chiefs, picking up 11 points in 61 games in his rookie year. Toffey was lost in the mix last season with the Chiefs, as injuries and inconsistency limited him to 25 games in the final year of his contract, which saw him finishing the season on the 30-day injury reserve. Though he has proven to have good defensive skills, and is a solid lower-line skater, the current 50-man roster limit may play a role against his future with the club. Toffey is currently a restricted free agent.

Elisa Hatch contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.