Last season saw the Tampa Bay Lightning post a 34-36-12 record which was good enough for fourth place in the Southeast Division, and 12th overall in the Eastern Conference. This has led them to selecting with the sixth overall pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles, Calif., June 25-26.
It was a season that saw the Lightning average 15,469 fans per game at the St. Pete Times Forum, which holds up to 19,758 for hockey games.
Over the course of an 82-game schedule the Lightning, under the guidance of general manager Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet, lost 100-man games to injury.
This would be the third season in a row that the Tampa Bay faithful have not seen playoff action. After being a city of champions earlier in the decade, this is an unacceptable result.
The Lightning won the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of the 2003-04 NHL playoffs. After that, the 2004-05 season was lost to the lockout, and the Lightning have not been the same team on or off the ice since.
The 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons saw them finish second in the Southeast Division, only to be knocked out of the playoffs in the first round both times. This past season and the year prior, were full of off-ice debacles between owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules.
Then this past season, Boston-based investment banker and former Boston Red Sox minority owner, Jeff Vinnik, bought the team and saved the players and fans from Barrie's and Koules' hijinks. Not liking the dysfunction and disarray he saw in the organization, Vinnik fired both Lawton and Tocchet on April 12, 2010.
This move wiped the slate clean, and last month allowed Vinnik to convince Steve Yzerman to sign a five-year GM contract to bring a culture of winning to the team.
Yzerman's first move as GM was to hire a new head coach in former Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) skipper Guy Boucher to a four-year contract.
Yzerman and Boucher have a long task ahead of them, but both men seem to be on the same page as Vinnik in terms of how to turn this team into a consistent winner for the long term.
I think this quote form Yzerman sums the organizational philosophy perfectly: "The big picture is trying to build the team so that it can be really good in a few years. I don't want to just make the playoffs. … My goal is the bigger picture and really setting this thing up going forward. My goal is to improve the team in the offseason, but I'm not going to do anything that jeopardizes the long-term plan of draft, develop, sign good contracts, and allow, led by Stamkos, these younger players to develop. We're a ways away from being a serious contender."
Although all is not lost, and there are some key pieces already in place on this roster, let us take a closer look.
As Steve Yzerman has indicated, he sees something special in Steven Stamkos and intends to build this franchise around his talents long term.
Why does Yzerman believe Stamkos is such a special talent? Only Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Rick Nash scored more than Stamkos's 55 goals before their 20th birthdays.
Stamkos also has the most goals by a former first overall pick in their second season ahead of names like Maro Lemieux, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Lindros, and Owen Nolan.
Also, Stamkos has formed a dynamic duo for the Lightning on the ice with veteran scorer-playmaker Martin St. Louis. As a pair they scored 80 goals this past season. That left them only trailing duos such as Danny Heatley and Patrick Marleau, as well as Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
Overall the numbers show that Stamkos should be a leader on this club for a long time. But he is not the only reason for Yzerman to look at this roster with some hope for the future.
Steve Downie is one of five players to score 20 goals as well as accumulating 200 penalty minutes in the same season. He is in good company with names such as Rick Tocchet (48 goals with 252 penalty minutes with the Pittsburgh Penguins, 1992-93), Chris Gratton (30 goals with 201 penalty minutes as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, 1996-97), Keith Tkachuk (52 goals with 228 penalty minutes with the Phoenix Coyotes, 1996-97), and Theo Fleury (24 goals with 216 penalty minutes with the New York Rangers 2001-02).
With Stamkos and Downie complemented by veterans Lecavalier and St. Louis, the foundation is in place in Tampa Bay to build upon. With 18 players signed for next season eating up $39.6 million of cap space. Steve Yzerman should have approximately $18.3 million to fill roster spots.
The Lightning also have $1.2 million on the cap until the 2014-15 season for the buyout of Vinny Prospal.
The forwards ranks need some filling out, as there are currently four players signed that could handle top six minutes. Those players include Lecavalier, St. Louis, Ryan Malone, and Stamkos.
A complementary scorer will need to be added to play along side Lecavalier and Malone. While restricted free agent Steve Downie should be resigned to provide grit to a line including St. Louis and Stamkos.
While the bottom six forward spots will also need to be addressed, as there are currently three forwards signed that could play at the NHL level in a bottom six role. Those players being Todd Fedoruk, James Wright and Adam Hall.
A combination of allowing some of their AHL prospects a chance to jump up to the NHL and signings of young NHL ready role players will be key to fill out the bottom six forward slots.
The top four on defence appears to be a fairly solid work in progress with Andrei Meszaros, Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, and Matt Walker. They also have Matt Smaby, Matt Lashoff and Scott Jackson signed for next season.
Paul Ranger is a restricted free agent and should be resigned for greater depth in their top four defencemen. Although they could stand to add another veteran defensive defensemen, or two, to help the development of the younger players and provide depth.
In goal Mike Smith, Dustin Tokarski, Jaroslav Janus, and Riku Helenius are all signed for next season. Smith is the only one with significant playing time at the NHL level.
Karri Ramo was to take on the back up role in Tampa this past season but he signed two year contract to play in the KHL for Avangard Omsk. Riku Helenius has also been returned to Europe, so that leaves Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus to fight it out for playing time at the AHL level.
Mike Smith is currently entrenched as the starter for next season, although he has not yet distinguished himself as a starting goaltender consistently at the NHL level. One possibility would be to resign Antero Nittymaki for another season as he showed well through the end of last season.
Another option would be to sign a 1A type goaltender, perhaps a veteran like Marty Turco would be a good fit. He would be a stopgap solution that would allow the younger goaltenders time to develop their games more fully prior to being thrust into NHL action.
Next we will take a look at the organizational depth that GM Yzerman has inherited in terms of prospects.
This past season HockeysFuture.com ranked Tampa Bay 23rd out of the 30 teams in the NHL in terms of their prospects. They have many solid prospects but not many that would be first line game breaking talents at the NHL level.
Some players that have been highlighted are Carter Ashton whom should be a first line power forward. Dana Tyrell and Alex Hutchings should become solid two-way players that can contribute on the score sheet enough to play a second or third line role.
Dustin Tokarski is the best goaltending prospect currently in the system and he is projected to be a future starting netminder in the NHL. Ty Wishart and Vladimir Mihalik are big defensive defensemen that should become top six defensemen in the NHL.
The lack of depth in the organization comes with the goaltending position. Riki Helenius and Karri Ramo are both playing in Europe for the forseeable future. Which leaves them with the aforementioned Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus in their farm system.
Both are projected to be number 1A or career backup goaltenders at the NHL level but they will take time to develop into those roles.
We will now take a look at who could be available for the Lightning at the sixth overall pick and who are the most likely players to be picked at that position. Remember five of these players will have most likely already been selected. That would leave Yzerman with six options to choose from.
If the pick were mine I would be hoping for Cam Fowler or Erik Gudbranson to be available, however I doubt this will be the case. Therefore my choice would be Brandon Gormley. The best way to build a contender is from the back end out. Gormley is noted to be an efficient puck distributor and a very intelligent player.
Read ahead for a look at eleven of the players that Steve Yzerman should be able to choose from. Please comment below on whom your choice as Tampa Bay Lightning GM would be.
The scouting report quotes for each player courtesy NHL.com
The 6'2", 181-pound 18-year-old right winger from Prince George, BC, Canada plays for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. NHL Central Scouting ranks him third among North American Skaters.
A hip injury kept Connolly to a shortened season. The 2009-10 season saw him play 16 games scoring 10 goals, nine assists, with 8 penalty minutes. The season before (2008-09) he played 65 games with 30 goals, 30 assists and 38 penalty minutes.
He played for Team Pacific in the 2009 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and won a silver medal. He then played for Team Canada again in the World Junior under-18 Championships scoring three goals and three assists in six games in 2009.
He was also named to play in the 2010 CHL Top Prospects game but had to withdraw due to injury.
Peter Sullivan from NHL Central Scouting had this to say of Connolly, "He puts the puck in the net, he's got good size, great on-ice awareness. He's not a crasher or a banger, but he finishes his checks. He does everything well."
NHL Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com in 2009, "He's going to be a special player. He's got it all. He can make things happen all by himself. He looks like he's going to be a natural leader. There aren't too many 16-year-olds that can step up and be a leader for a team, especially in the (WHL). He's just a young kid but he showed up to play every night for them."
Prince George Cougars head coach Dean Clark said, "Brett is a very gifted player and it's too bad we haven't been able to see more of him this season because of his injury. Brett can take over a game with his skill and puck control and he's also a very intelligent player. He has always been a dependable player at both ends of the ice, whether it be five-on-five or on special teams and he's a real competitive kid. When the game is on the line, he wants to be out there to make a difference."
Judging by what these and other scouts have being saying it is not a wonder that even an injury has not dropped this player further in the draft. He sounds like a Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks) type player.
The 5'10", 180-pound 18-year-old center from Oulu, Finland plays for the HIFK of the Finnish SM-Liiga, which is the top professional hockey league in Finland. The quality of play there is comparable to the American Hockey League. NHL Central Scouting ranks him first among European Skaters.
The 2009-10 season saw him play 43 games scoring 13 goals, 27 assists, with two penalty minutes.
In his six playoff games he scored one goal, six assists and zero penalty minutes.
He played in the World Junior Under-18 Championships in 2009 and 2010 for Finland. In both of those tournaments he won the bronze medal. He also competed for Finland in the World Junior Under-20 Championships in 2009 and 2010.
For the 2009-10 season he was awarded the Jarmo Wasama Memorial Trophy as the SM-liiga's top rookie. He was also awarded the Raimo Kilpiö Trophy as the league's most gentlemanly player. And just to top it all off he was voted as Finland's young Athlete of the Year for 2009.
NHL Director of European Scouting said this of Granlund, “Saku Koivu clone. He's small, but no one's told him he's small. He has a really good, winning attitude, works very hard. He's tough, and he has very good hockey sense."
Granlund is touted to be the best prospect to come out of Finland since Teemu Selanne entered the league with a bang with the Winnipeg Jets in the early 1990's.
The 5'11" 202lb 18-year-old centre from Yarosalvl, Russia plays for the HC Sibir of the KHL, which is the top European men's league. NHL Central Scouting ranks him second among European Skaters.
The 2009-10 season was his second in the KHL and it saw him play 42 games scoring 13 goals, 11 assists, with 18 penalty minutes.
He played in the World Junior Under-18 Championships in 2009 for Russia. There is was a tournament All-Star scoring eight goals and seven assists in seven games en route to a silver medal.
He also competed for Russia in the World Junior Under-20 Championships in 2010 scoring four goals and one assist in six games en route to a sixth place finish.
NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb had this to say of the impressive Russian forward, “Vladimir is very effective around the net with his excellent overall skill level and vision. He is a strong, mobile skater with a quick shot. He is not only a sniper, but also a good passer and playmaker. There are no real weaknesses in his overall game and he will be one of the most interesting prospects at the draft."
The interesting part will be to see how far he drops in the draft. Concerns have arisen in signing him to a contract to play in North America. His father, former Russian league scoring champion and Olympian Andrei Tarasenko, believes it is important that his son remains in Russia for the near future.
Of even more concern in all of this is Vladimir's father is also the Head Coach of HC Sibir, the team that hold's his Russian contract. This makes Tarasenko a high risk, high reward draft pick.
Just ask then General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets how hard it was to get Nikoli Zherdev over to North America and keep him here.
The "Russian Factor" will again play a part on where the highly skilled Russian players are selected in this years NHL Entry Draft.
The 6'3" 187lb 17-year-old center from Vancouver, BC, Canada plays for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. There he played alongside fellow top prospect Nino Niederreiter. NHL Central Scouting ranks him tenth among North American Skaters.
The 2009-10 season saw him play 71 games scoring 25 goals, 44 assists, with 53 penalty minutes.
In his 13 playoff games he scored six goals, 12 assists and 18 penalty minutes.
Portland Winterhawks head coach and GM Mike Johnston said, "Ryan Johansen has really good vision. He’s a prototypical big center—good hands, good vision, distributes the puck well, and protects the puck well in order to make plays. He’s a young kid who we use in a lot of different situations, the power play, penalty kill and key faceoffs."
NHL Central Scouting’s B.J. MacDonald has this to say, "He has good on-ice vision and also angles well on the forecheck. He has the intelligence to play power-play as well as penalty kill. He can be shifty and has the ability to beat a defenseman one-on-one. Once he fills out and gains more strength he could turn raw talent into a valuable center at both ends of rink. He has displayed nice playmaking capabilities and this should continue at the next level."
Ryan Johansen is another player who has good NHL prospects but will take more time to develop into an NHL ready player. His style of play and skill set has been compared favorably to current San Jose Shark Joe Thornton.
The 6'2", 203-pound 17-year-old left winger from Chur, Switzerland, plays for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He is nicknamed El Nino. NHL Central Scouting ranks him 12th among North American Skaters.
The 2009-10 season saw him play 65 games scoring 36 goals, 24 assists, with 68 penalty minutes.
In his 13 playoff games he scored eight goals, eight assists and 16 penalty minutes.
He played for Team Switzerland at the 2010 World Junior Championships. There he played seven games scoring six goals, four assists, with 10 penalty minutes. At the conclusion of the tournament was named to the tournament All-Star team.
He also played for Team Orr in the CHL Top Prospects game this past season.
Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire said, "Plays in Portland but showed the world how good he could be in the (World Junior Championship) playing for the Swiss National Team. And after that tournament he kept getting better. He's shifty, he's skilled, he has a good stride and he loves battling in the corner."
Portland Winterhawks head coach and GM Mike Johnston had more praise for El Nino.
"Nino is a combination of a power forward and scorer. He’s a guy who can play a very physical, very involved game. He has touch around the net, he has great instincts on where to be around the net and when he gets the puck on his stick he usually creates scoring chances or a goal. He’s a player who, personality-wise, is a great teammate, a real key focal point for the group. And he’s becoming a better two-way player."
Sounds like he can be expected to turn into a first line power forward in the NHL someday. With his size he could likely step into the NHL next season if need be, but as always a little more seasoning in the WHL would do his game some good.
The 6'4", 195-pound 18-year-old defenseman from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada plays for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. NHL Central Scouting ranks him fourth among North American Skaters.
He suffered from mononucleosis and missed 27 games of the 2009-10 season. The 2009-10 season saw him play 41 games scoring two goals, 23 assists, with 68 penalty minutes.
In his seven playoff games he scored one goals and two assists, with 6 penalty minutes.
He also played for Team Canada at 2009 Ivan Hlinka Tournament winning a gold medal.
Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire had these words to say of Erik, “Gudbranson to me is a guaranteed long-term NHLer. In my opinion, Gudbranson is another Chris Pronger-type, what he brings that (Pronger) really didn't do much of, though, is he'll fight. He is some kind of tough. Chris Pronger is mean and will hit you; Gudbranson will hit you and fight you. Pronger is three inches taller than Gudbranson, so maybe Dion Phaneuf would be an even better comparison."
He has tremendous size and would look great alongside current Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
The 6'1", 190-pound 18-year-old defenseman from Northville, Michigan, USA plays for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. NHL Central Scouting ranks him fifth among North American Skaters.
The 2009-10 season saw him play 55 games scoring eigth goals, 47 assists, with 14 penalty minutes.
In his 19 playoff games he scored three goals and 11 assists, with 10 penalty minutes, while helping lead his team to an OHL championship title and a Memorial Cup Championship.
He has also played for Team USA at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2008 winning a silver medal. He then played for Team USA at the IIHF Under-18 Championships winning a gold medal, where he was named the best defenceman in the tournament. He again played for Team USA at the 2010 World Under-20 Junior Hockey Championships defeating Team Canada for the gold medal.
Windsor Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner (a former NHL defenseman) said, “Cam’s vision, skating and passing are his greatest assets. He gets himself out of trouble with his feet and his mobility makes it very difficult for opposing players to get by him. Cam has good size and once he fills out, he will anchor an NHL club’s back end for many years.”
Director of NHL Central Scouting’s E.J. McGuire indicated, “He’s your prototypical offensive-defenseman. He's your (quarterback) on your (power-play), he's your great skating offensive-defenseman and he controls the puck with his skills. If you're looking for a comparison, think of Kaberle with the Maple Leafs. But in sticking with his country, maybe even a future Leetch or Housley.”
It might be a stretch for him to be available at the sixth pick, but there has been talk that he could drop with Erik Gudbranson garnering some attention to be taken ahead of Fowler.
The 6'2", 190-pound 18-year-old defenseman from Murray River, Prince Edward Island plays for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. NHL Central Scouting ranks him sixth among North American Skaters.
The 2009-10 season saw him play 58 games scoring two goals, 34 assists, with 54 penalty minutes.
In his 21 playoff games he scored two goals and 15 assists while helping lead his team to a QMJHL championship title.
He also played for Team Canada at Ivan Hlinka Tournament and also played for Team Orr at the 2010 CHL Top Prospects Game. He was disappointed by being cut from the World Junior Championship squad for team Canada.
NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau had this to say of Brandon, “He is what a lot of teams are going for, he's a good defenseman who can score and handle the puck, smart. Gormley has got the whole package. He's got a good shot from the point, an accurate shot, low and can be deflected.”
Moncton Wildcats head coach Danny Flynn said, “He's got a laid-back personality. He's got the maturity of a 30 year old. Take away hockey—he's just a rock-solid young man. He's got a number of great qualities. He's got really good size, he's 6'2", headed to 6'3", and starting to fill out. He's got outstanding hockey sense. He's got that poise, that innate ability to recognize when he has time and when he doesn't have time. … He plays a Nick Lidstrom style of game, he's smart and skilled and poised with the puck. The type of game he plays is similar to his. As you watch him and see how efficient he is you grow to like his game.”
He sounds like a sure-fire NHL player, but one that would need to finish his junior career and spend at least a year in the American Hockey League prior to entering the NHL.
The 6'5", 198-pound 18-year-old defenseman from Duluth, Minnesota, USA plays for the US National Development Team Program of the USHL. He has committed to playing for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team in the NCAA in 2010. NHL Central Scouting ranks him ninth among North American Skaters.
The 2009-10 season saw him play 26 games scoring four goals, 10 assists, with 26 penalty minutes.
He also played for Team USA at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in 2010, winning a gold medal.
NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee said, “Derek Forbort has good top-end ability at both ends (of the ice). He's smart and skates so well, he's almost 6'5" and he's got everything there in front of him. It's just a matter of filling out and getting more experience. He's probably a top-two defenseman in the NHL if he reaches his potential."
U.S. Under-18 head coach Kurt Kleinendorst said this of Derek, “Derek continues to improve every day. He is strong on both sides of the puck, but his offensive instincts are what really jump out.”
He has the size to play in the NHL, however continued growth and development in the junior ranks would make him a much better player long term. Bringing him to the NHL next season may stunt his development and injure his confidence moving forward.
The 6'1", 195-pound 18-year-old goaltender from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (born in Moncton, New Brunswick) plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. NHL Central Scouting ranks him first among North American Goaltenders.
He saw action in 62 games during the 2009-10 season with a 3.09 goals against average, a 0.914 save percentage and three shutouts. He recorded 16 wins, 34 losses and 12 overtime losses.
He also played for Team Canada at 2009 Ivan Hlinka Tournament winning a gold medal.
His brother Chet Pickard, also a goaltender, was selected by the Nashville Predators 18th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Chet is the bigger of the two brothers at 6'2" 210lbs and is two years older, currently 20 years of age. Both goaltenders play very similar styles though, stand-up positional play.
NHL Central Scouting's Al Jesen had this to say regarding Calvin, "He's a solid goalie, he’s not really a huge goalie, but he plays big. His positional play is excellent; he reads the play very well. He's a very confident goalie that plays calm and relaxed. He always seems to give himself a chance to stop the puck and always seems to know where to be.”
The Head Coach for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL said, “Calvin is the complete package both mentally and physically and will be a top flight goalie. He has proven during his 16 and 17-year-old seasons that is he is capable of a huge workload and still be the best player on the ice.”
He is a different goalie than American Jack Campbell. Much more of Pickard's game relies on his impeccable positioning and smarts. While Campbell is the more athletic goaltender.
The 6'3", 175-pound 18-year-old goaltender from Port Huron Michigan, USA plays for the US National Development Team Program of the USHL. He has committed to playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL for the 2010-11 season. NHL Central Scouting ranks him second among North American Goaltenders.
He saw action in 11 games during the 2009-10 season with a 2.21 goals against average, a 0.917 save percentage and one shutout.
He also played for Team USA at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in 2009 and 2010, winning a gold medal both times. He was also key to the USA's gold medal victory over Canada at the 2010 World Junior Under-20 Championships. There he was awarded the Best Goalkeeper Award.
NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen said, "He's got good size, doesn't beat himself and his positioning is very good. He has good quickness in recovery, but he's not all over the place. He'll make the saves."
U.S. Under-18 goaltending coach Joe Exter had this to say of Jack, “Jack has size, athleticism and he is fundamentally sound. He’s won on the big stage at both the World Under-18 and World Junior Championships.”
I had the chance to watch Campbell play at the World Junior's this past year and his athleticism is tremendous. The true test for him will come next season when he plays in the Ontario Hockey League and has to endure a full 60 game regular season.
I believe Campbell has more long term potential than Pickard. Both goaltenders are very good positionally, but Campbell is the more agile and athletic goalie.