Lightning Top 20 Prospects, Fall 2007

By Phil Laugher

Top 20 at a glance

1. Karri Ramo, G, 7.5C
2. Riku Helenius, G, 8.0C
3. Matt Smaby, D, 7.0B

4. Dana Tyrell, C, 6.5B

5. Blair Jones, C, 7.0C

6. Luca Cunti, LW/C, 8.0D

7. Vladimir Mihalik, D, 7.0C

8. Andy Rogers, D, 7.0C

9. Mike Egener, D, 6.5C
Justin Keller, LW, 6.5C
11. Chris Lawrence, C, 6.5C
12. Kevin Quick, D, 7.5D

13. Jonathan Boutin, G, 6.5C

14. Mike Lundin, D, 6.0C

15. Dane Crowley, D, 6.0C

16. Radek Smolenak, RW, 7.0D

Marek Kvapil, RW, 6.5D
18. Alex Killorn, C, 7.0D

Stanislav Lascek, RW, 6.5D
20. Mitch Fadden, C, 6.0C

The Tampa Bay Lightning spent the 2007 NHL Entry Draft bolstering parts of their relatively meager prospect corps that were most in need. After seeing the bulk of their forward prospect corps graduate to the professional ranks and for the most part, struggle at the next level, the cupboards were empty as far as junior and college-aged prospects were concerned, particularly up front. Of the nine players selected by the Lightning, seven were forwards. Of those seven drafted forwards, four make an appearance in the autumn incarnation of the top 20 rankings.

The top of the list is once again dominated by Tampa Bay’s strong Finnish goaltending duo, with last year’s Springfield success story, Karri Ramo, headlining the list, followed close behind by fellow countryman Riku Helenius. Helenius suffered through an injury-plagued season last year, and will make the jump to North America – under the watchful eye of Tampa Bay’s scouting and medical staff — in the hopes of bouncing back from his lost campaign.

As far as omissions and departures from this edition of the top 20 Tampa Bay prospect rankings are concerned, the most obvious removal from the list is that of Russian goaltender Vasily Koshechkin. His removal from the list has nothing to do with his play, but rather to do to with his age. As per the Hockey’s Future Prospect Criteria, prospects who have yet to sign an NHL contract after the season in which they turned 24 years of age are no longer considered prospects. While Koshechkin is still on the Lightning’s radar (and could conceivably come across the Atlantic next year after honoring his Russian League contract), he does not fit the criteria.

1. (1) Karri Ramo, G

Height: 6’2; Weight: 192 lbs.; DOB: Jul 1, 1986

Acquired: 5th round, 191st overall, 2004

Rämo remains atop the Tampa Bay top prospect list. The Finnish netminder, who burst onto the scene in his first year playing in North America (for the mediocre Springfield Falcons), was one of the lone bright spots on the team. Rämo displayed great athleticism, quickness, and many some instances, improvisation, in keeping the Falcons in many games that few expected them to have a chance at winning.

While Rämo will likely return to the AHL again this season, assuming the No. 1 goaltender’s role with the Lightning’s new affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. There is still a possibility that Rämo could steal a job with Tampa Bay out of training camp. The duo of Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis was inconsistent over much of last season with the Lightning, and including the exciting Rämo into the fold could go a long way in mixing things up for Tampa Bay.

If Rämo provides the same dependable play that he displayed in his rookie campaign, it will only be a matter of time before the former sixth-round draft pick jumps to the NHL permanently.

2. (2) Riku Helenius, G

Height: 6’3; Weight: 202 lbs.; DOB: Mar 1, 1988

Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2006

Helenius suffered through a lost year last season after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery very early in the year, derailing what would have been a starting job with the Ilves junior squad in the SM-liiga.

With the potential of once again being stuck behind one of the best goaltending prospects in the world in teammate and countryman Tuukka Rask for another season, Helenius decided that it would be best for his career to head across the Atlantic to the WHL, after having been selected by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the CHL Import Draft back in July.

As a bonus to his development, the Lightning will be able to get a closer look at the athletic netminder as he plays in the CHL, and will be able to check in on his health, helping to fine tune any of the few problems in his game. It is hoped that he will be able to bounce back to near 100 percent after his long layoff. However, if his mediocre performance in the Traverse City prospect tournament in early September is any indication, it appears as if Helenius is not quite back to his peak yet, and will still need some seasoning before he regains the mantle of one of the world’s better goaltending prospects in his age group.

3. (3) Matt Smaby, D

Height: 6’6; Weight: 239 lbs.; DOB: Oct 14, 1984

Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2003

The hulking sophomore Smaby remains the top skater in the Lightning’s prospects depth chart. At the onset of the season, he is also the most likely player to make the jump from the minor-league ranks to the NHL. Smaby will be given every opportunity to earn a depth defensive spot on the Lightning’s big club after having had a modest first season with their previous affiliate, the Springfield Falcons. If Smaby has a strong camp, building on last year’s solid all-around performance, a sixth or seventh defenseman slot on the Lightning’s opening day roster could be in the offing.

Smaby brings responsible defensive play in his own end, along with an above average physical game to the table. With the departures of the likes of Cory Sarich and Luke Richardson from last year’s roster, Smaby’s physicality would be a welcome addition to the 2007-08 Lightning roster. The maturity he has displayed both in college, and helping to run an inconsistent blue line in Springfield, will help immensely this coming season, be it in Tampa Bay or Norfolk.

4. (nr) Dana Tyrell, C

Height: 5’10; Weight: 185 lbs.; DOB: April 23, 1989

Acquired: 2nd round, 47th overall, 2007

Tyrell enters the fall rankings as the top ranked forward in the Lightning prospect pipeline. The selection of the diminutive Prince George forward signified a change in what the Lightning were looking for at the draft table in regards to forwards. Tyrell’s prime asset as a player is his skating ability, which was among the upper tiers of those eligible for the last draft. With that skating ability, he brings a tenacious forechecking attitude and solid puck-handling skills and hockey sense to the table.

Tyrell flew under the radar entering the draft weekend, however, his star has raised somewhat since the draft. Tyrell was a member of Team Canada, in the Canada-Russia Summit Series, appearing in seven games, picking up a goal for his efforts. His appearance in the 35th anniversary of the original tournament prevented his suiting up for Tampa Bay’s last-place Traverse City effort.

Tyrell will play next season in the WHL, and will still be a couple years away from making a big impact at the professional level. A modest increasing in scoring would certainly be beneficial.

5. (5) Blair Jones, C

Height: 6’3; Weight: 210 lbs.; DOB: Sep 27, 1986

Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2005

Jones was one of the few forwards from last year’s group of first-year professional prospects to make any sort of serious impact in the pros during the 2006-07 season. He too, like Keller, Smolenak, and Lascek with him, also suffered some difficulties in making the transition to the professional ranks. That did not stop the former Moose Jaw Warrior from appearing in 20 games for the Lightning, registering a goal and two assists in sparse duty. His modest 21 points with Springfield was plagued by a month-plus scoring drought mid-season. Strangely, it was in the midst of this drought that Jones garnered his first call-up to the NHL.

Though Jones saw time with the Lightning last year, it is expected that he will begin the 2007-08 season in Norfolk, as the additions of Chris Gratton, Jan Hlavac, and Michel Ouellet to the forward group means that there is very little space for the Lightning’s forward youth. A year spent centering either the first or second line with Norfolk will go a long way in the Lightning’s (and Jones’s) hopes of rekindling the sort of scoring touch he displayed in his final season in the WHL.

6. (nr) Luca Cunti, LW/C

Height: 6’0; Weight: 185 lbs., DOB: Jul 4, 1989

Acquired: 3rd round, 75th overall, 2007

Like Tyrell before him, Luca Cunti was another of the strong skaters the Lightning added to their prospect corps at the 2007 Draft. Unlike Tyrell, however, Cunti brings dynamic offensive skills to the table, coupled with excellent hockey sense. Perhaps the prospect with the best offensive upside in the Lightning organization at present, Cunti boasts a sniper’s mentality, coupled with solid playmaking ability.

There are problems with his game, though. His defensive play has been deemed to be inconsistent at best, and there are also some questions regarding his character (concerns which played a role in his modest fall down the board on the draft weekend). If he can develop a better-rounded game, then the third-round selection could be deemed a steal a few years down the line.

The Swiss import hopes to suit up for St. Cloud State as a freshman in the 2007-08 season, though there are still issues with his having to pass through the NCAA Clearinghouse prior to being able to play for the Huskies.

7. (7) Vladimir Mihalik, D

Height: 6’7; Weight: 222 lbs., DOB: Jan 29, 1987

Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2005

The ornery Slovakian defenseman will make the jump to the professional ranks this season, likely suiting up with the Norfolk Admirals. Mihalik, a teammate of Tyrell’s last season, showed marked improvement in his all-around game, to go along with his ever-present physical dimension, as the season progressed.

The professional game, however, is not the junior game, and Mihalik will have to work very hard to translate his game to the next level. While he displayed good agility for a player his size in junior, the players in the pros are bigger and quicker than those in junior, and he will have to adapt; all the while not shying away from the physicality that made him a force in Red Deer and Prince George, but also playing within the lines, and not reverting back to his discipline issues.

He got off to a relatively inconsistent start playing for Tampa’s entrant in the Traverse City tournament, and will miss out on much of training camp after suffering a minor leg injury, which could also hamper his training camp with Norfolk.

8. (4) Andy Rogers, D

Height: 6’5; Weight: 206 lbs., DOB: Aug 25, 1986

Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2004

Formerly considered a top prospect in the Lightning organization by Hockey’s Future in past incarnations of the Tampa Bay top 20 rankings, Rogers has had a series of short falls deeper into the list in the past year. This decline has been due in large part to his continued injury issues, compounded by a relatively muddled transition to the professional game. The former first-round draft pick was limited to 48 games in his rookie season, missing the bulk of the first half of the campaign with a leg injury. On the plus side, Rogers stayed healthy for the rest of the season, and slowly but surely began to make progress in his own end.

Another of Tampa Bay’s big, mobile, stay-at-home defensemen, what you see with Rogers is likely what you are going to get. It was hoped at this time last year that Rogers would be in Smaby’s position, competing for a full-time roster spot with the Lightning, however his inconsistency, coupled with a slow start to this year in Traverse City, mean that Rogers is bare minimum a year away from playing in the NHL. An injury-free 2007-08 season, with 25 minutes a game with the Admirals would be highly beneficial for Rogers, as he attempts to right his ship.

9. (8) Mike Egener, D
Height: 6’4; Weight: 195 lbs.; DOB: Sep 26, 1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 34th overall, 2003

It is time for Mike Egener to step up to the forefront. He was able to warrant a second contract with the Lightning organization – coming to terms with the club on a one-year deal in the off-season – having had a bit of a bounce-back season. His re-signing was not a result of his offensive acumen: Egener appeared in 75 games for Springfield, registering three assists.

Egener honed his shutdown game with the Falcons last year, bringing some solid physical play to the table at the same time – but using it moreso at the right time. He will have to bring more to the rink this season if he is to make his presence known amidst a burgeoning defensive group in Norfolk, or else he could find himself on the outside looking in at the end of the season.

10. (11) Justin Keller, LW
Height: 5’11; Weight: 183 lbs.; DOB: Mar 4, 1986

Acquired: 8th round, 245th overall, 2004

Of the four rookie forwards in the Lightning organization to make the jump to the professional ranks at the start of last season, it was Keller who had the best offensive output of the bunch. The slight winger, who has strong finishing ability, ended his rookie campaign with a modest 13 goals and 24 points in 60 games – a far cry from his 51-goal performance in his final year of junior in Kelowna, but still solid nonetheless for the hapless Falcons squad. Keller will be leaned on more this season, to bring the same sort of desire and drive to the net that he displayed in junior, with hopes of him bypassing the dreaded sophomore slump. A slow finish to the season put a downer on his year as a whole.

Keller has had a quality start to training camp in Norfolk (despite having missed the Traverse City prospects tournament), and will look to build on this consistent play entering his second professional season. Foot speed issues are still inherent in his game, in spite of his relatively small stature, and that aspect of his game will have to be improved.

11. (13) Chris Lawrence, C
Height: 6’4; Weight: 199 lbs.; DOB: Feb 5, 1987
Acquired: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2005

Lawrence was a massive success story for the Lightning last season. Lawrence had previously been plagued by inconsistency and shown less than desirable work ethic, before he was traded to Mississauga midway through the 2005-06 campaign. Lawrence was able to echo his productive second half of the season with an impressive 88-point output last year.

Lawrence agreed to terms on a contract at the end of the CHL season, and will make the jump to the pros this season.  He has had a slow start to camp, and will likely begin the year with Mississippi. If he continues on the same path as last year, the stay with the Sea Wolves will only be temporary.

12. (14) Kevin Quick, D
Height: 6’0; Weight: 175 lbs.; DOB: Mar 29, 1988
Acquired: 3rd round, 78th overall, 2006

Quick makes the jump to the NCAA as a freshman for the Michigan Wolverines this season. The offensive defenseman, who saw his numbers dip in his final year of high school hockey as he worked on improving his all-around game, will likely see only limited ice time initially for the strong Wolverines squad.

He has great potential as a puck-moving defenseman, but given that he has not played beyond the prep school level up to this point in his career, the next two seasons should provide a more accurate gauge as to what to expect from Quick in the future in the Lightning organization.

13. (12) Jonathan Boutin, G
Height: 6’1; Weight: 200 lbs.; DOB: Mar 28, 1985
Acquired: 3rd round, 96th overall, 2003

Boutin continues to improve his stock. He also continues to be overshadowed between the pipes in the AHL by Rämo. Boutin posted statistics akin to Rämo for the bulk of the season, but was overshadowed by the rookie Finn’s energetic play, as compared to Boutin’s safe, poised game between the pipes. If Rämo makes the Lightning out of training camp – which, admittedly, is a very slight chance at this time – Boutin would finally get the opportunity to show that he can handle a No. 1 job. In the final year of his entry-level contract, such an opportunity to prove his wares would be most welcome. Otherwise, he will once again have to resort to sharing time in goal.

14. (17) Mike Lundin, D
Height: 6’2; Weight: 180 lbs.; DOB: Sep 24, 1984
Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2004

Lundin agreed to a two-year entry-level contract during the summer, and will make his professional debut this coming season. Much to his chagrin, his first professional season may well begin in the ECHL with the Lightning’s new affiliate in Mississippi. Lundin brings a mature defensive game to the table, as well as a good offensive skill set. Still, the Lightning organization is deep in defensemen, with many veteran blue-liners ahead of Lundin on the depth chart. Lundin will have to have a big September in order to crack the Admirals line-up. A stint – probably short-term – with the Sea Wolves is likely in the offing to start the year.

15. (18) Dane Crowley, D
Height: 6’2; Weight: 210 lbs.; DOB: Jan 22, 1987
Acquired: 6th round, 168th overall, 2006

Crowley will return to the WHL for his overage season this coming year, playing for last year’s offensive juggernaut, the Everett Silvertips. Though the Silvertips bowed out of the playoffs far earlier than expected last year, Crowley (acquired at the trade deadline from Swift Current) brought defensive stability to the table, along with a consistent physical game, playing a valuable role with the club.

The Lightning still have another year to sign the 20-year-old blue-liner (as a result of his having been drafted as an overager), and will not rush the process. Everett will likely still have a strong team this coming year, and Crowley’s burgeoning defensive game, coupled with his leadership, should result in him seeing plenty of ice time for the Silvertips in this his overage season.

16. (15) Radek Smolenak, RW

Height: 6’3; Weight: 180 lbs.; DOB: Dec 3, 1986
Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2005

Smolenak was a massive disappointment in his first professional season. While he was able to put up decent numbers in the ECHL with Johnstown, he did so without playing at both ends of the ice. His few stints with the Falcons were abject failures offensively, as the import often looked at least one step behind skating-wise, and outclassed in the puck-handling department.

Smolenak has gotten off to a solid start this year, having put together one of the few quality performances for Tampa Bay’s Traverse City entry. Building on these modest beginnings, and shooting for a full season with the Admirals will be Smolenak’s goal. Even if he sees time with Mississippi, it will be imperative for Smolenak to bring a consistent effort to the rink game in, game out.

17. (9) Marek Kvapil, RW
Height: 5’11; Weight: 172 lbs.; DOB: Jan 5, 1985
Acquired: 6th round, 153rd overall, 2003

Kvapil suffered through a terrible sophomore slump last season with Springfield, producing only 27 points in 72 games for the Falcons – far below his impressive rookie season. Kvapil’s play suffered at both ends of the ice as his slump worsened, and it also affected his mental game. Kvapil was able to rediscover his scoring touch during a short, late-season stint with Johnstown, but it was too late to salvage his season as a whole.

Kvapil is a strong skater with creative offensive instincts. If he is to earn a second contract with the Lightning, these offensive skills will have to come back to the forefront and Kvapil will have to display the sort of game that made him a quality prospect after his rookie season.

18. (nr) Alex Killorn, C
Height: 6’0; Weight: 161 lbs.; DOB: Sep 14, 1989
Acquired: 3rd round, 77th overall, 2007

The Nova Scotia-born product has chosen to bypass the well-trod road of recent Maritime provinces draftees, and has rather decided to play prep hockey in the United States, maintaining his NCAA eligibility. Killorn played last season with Deerfield prep, and has intentions of attending Harvard, playing for the varsity squad starting in 2008-09.

A long-term project, Killorn brings excellent skating ability (much like the bulk of Tampa Bay’s 2007 NHL draftees), as well as creative offensive play to the table. Despite his beanpole physique, Killorn does not tend to shy away from gritty play. He will definitely need to add more muscle if he is to compete at higher levels.

19. (10) Stanislav Lascek, RW

Height: 6’0; Weight: 195 lbs.; DOB: Jan 17, 1986
Acquired: 5th round, 133rd overall, 2005

Lascek is another of the 2006 class of professional graduates to have had a less-than-stellar transition to the professional ranks. A top scorer in junior, Lascek’s offensive abilities have not translated to the next level to this point. What was one of the biggest concerns entering the next level – Lascek’s mediocre skating ability – has been, not surprisingly, one of the biggest drawbacks to his game thus far.

Lascek did not have a great Traverse City tournament, and will have to have a big camp in order to secure a spot in Norfolk. Lascek will have to find his offensive touch again, and soon. He still has two years left on his contract to do so, but if he does not produce soon, he may find himself just playing out the contract, with little hope for re-signing.

20. (nr) Mitch Fadden, C
Height: 6’0; Weight: 174 lbs.; DOB: Apr 3, 1988
Acquired: 4th round, 107th overall, 2007

Fadden was bypassed in the 2006 draft, after having had a mediocre third season in the WHL. Originally touted as a potential early-to-mid round draft pick, Fadden muddled through the 2005-06 season, and was eventually traded to Lethbridge from Seattle, bringing only average offensive numbers to the table, below his skill level. The hard-skating forward emerged last year as a viable offensive threat, playing with renewed focus and passion, producing over 80 points. His turnaround was rewarded with a fourth-round draft selection.

Now that Fadden knows what he has to do – both physically and mentally – to compete at the higher level of play that the WHL brings, he appears to have taken a step forward. It will still be a long way for Fadden to go, however, if he duplicates last year’s modest steps forward, and continues to play a focused, responsible game (coupled with his quality offensive skills), he has the potential to the produce the organization’s next Chris Lawrence-esque turnaround.

Moving off the list

(6.) Vasily Koshechkin, G (age)
(16.) Karl Stewart, LW (age)
(19.) Dmitri Kazionov, C
(20.) Denis Kazionov, C

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.