Pete Choquette's blog
Today Hockey's Future released their top-20 rankings for prospects in the Lightning organization. Consider this post an open thread for discussion of the article.
Personally, while I have some quarrels with one or two of the rankings, it must be said that the improvement between HF's last stab at the rankings, when they left Justin Keller and Vasily Koshechkin off their list altogether, and this article by Phil Laugher is tremendous. Unlike previous attempts, this list has all the major players in the Lightning organization, sans perhaps Jonathan Boutin, in the field of discussion, and that alone is light years ahead of what HF put out in the past. It's good to see the pressure Lightning fans brought to bear on HF management had positive results and that perhaps their product is on the road back to respectability.
For those wondering when Bolt Prospects' Preliminary 2006-2007 Rankings will be released, those are scheduled to be published in October at the conclusion of training camp and the exhibition season. We've learned over the years that Traverse City, and training camp, and the exhibition games rarely follow conventional wisdom and that the only true gauge of where one prospect grades out relative to another is to see them go head to head in a competitive environment. Fortunately, we're only just a shade more than two weeks away from the first practice in Traverse City when it all begins.
It's a story we didn't really cover a week ago, but the Lightning have named Ryan Belec their new VP of Hockey Operations for the Johnstown Chiefs, a sort of hockey liason similar to the role Claude Loiselle has been assigned with the Springfield Falcons. Not so coincidentally, the move was made around the time of the Lightning's prospect camp, an affair which cost the team $100,000 as they assembled not only many of their own top draft choices for conditioning and evaluation but 20 tryouts vying for potential contracts organization wide. It's not until you look at the numbers game playing out in the organization that you fully understand where this is headed. The Lightning are turning their entire minor league organization top to bottom into a developmental machine for young prospects.
Last season the Johnstown Chiefs did what they've always done under the command of GM Toby O'Brien. They scrambled to recruit journeymen ECHL players to add to a group of regular Johnstown based players in the hopes they'd gel with a sprinkling of players that might trickle down from the AHL. Not so this season. Already, with the number of contracts already held by Lightning players/prospects as well as contracts held by the Springfield Falcons it appears at least a dozen prospects are already pencilled in for jobs in Johnstown. That makes no mention of potential signees out of the group of players the Lightning invited to their Traverse City team as well as to Springfield Falcons training camp. It would be no surprise if as many as 3 or 4 other prospects were signed by the Falcons or Chiefs and placed in Johnstown.
That means this year's edition of the Johnstown Chiefs will be dominated by youth with only a smattering of veteran players around them. The skill level of the team should increase although there will be a corresponding loss in experience. The goal, however, is clear. The team appears to be serious in their move to identify and develop as many potential NHL talents as possible with a view towards finding players they can plug in to the big club at a moment's notice. And, given the nature of the salary cap in today's NHL, it seems a wise move. Young talent plays at a cheaper price and having young talent is the only sustainable way to keep a high priced core with players like Lecavalier and Richards taking such a large percentage of the budget over the long term.
The biggest hurdle the Lightning will have to jump to make this new model of development successful is to get their players to disregard the stigma that has long been held about the ECHL being an inferior league. Already the team's goaltenders have seen the benefits of playing at the ECHL level but will these benefits become apparent in their ECHL level skaters as well? The Lightning are apparently banking on it with high profile prospects like Radek Smolenak looking more and more like they will be in a Chiefs uniform to start the year. If they can convince these prospects of the benefit of playing on a scoring line at the equivalent of the AA level rather than sparing checking line ice time at the equivalent of AAA the Lightning may very well succeed in crafting what could be a model developmental system for the rest of the NHL to emulate.
According to Erlendsson's column for tomorrow's Tampa Tribune, Evgeny Artyukhin's handler through this mess of a situation is none other than notorious agent Mark Gandler. Meet the NHL's equivalent of football agent Drew Rosenhaus.
Google Gandler's name and you'll find a festering rash of stories highlighting the kind of greedy and unprincipled behavior which turns fans off to pro sports and makes their collective skin crawl. Most notable in his career was Gandler's part in the one year holdout of former Senators center Alexei Yashin, complete with accusations of racism hurled at the Ottawa front office, and Yashin's subsequent cashing in to the tune of a 10 year multi-million dollar deal at the hands of foolish Islanders GM Mike Milbury. More recently, Gandler was involved in the messy court entanglements surrounding young Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin. Sadly, in much the same way that Rosenhaus seems to have cornered the market on talent coming into the NFL from South Florida, Gandler, a Russian expatriate now working out of New Jersey, controls a large percentage of players coming out of the former Soviet Union. Artyukhin is just one of the newest of a list of players that includes other NHLers like Yashin, Semin, Ruslan Salei and Vitaly Vishnevski of the Ducks who, you guessed it, is now demanding a trade after the Ducks apparently hurt his feelings in arbitration.
Evgeny Artyukhin, do yourself a favor, seek other representation. In trying to squeeze an extra $150,000 out of the Tampa Bay Lightning Gandler has potentially burned your bridge to an organization which has bent over backwards to develop you. I know how GM Jay Feaster feels about you personally. I know the pride he feels in you when he crows about how he filed one of the first scouting reports on you from the U-18s in your draft year. When he says he feels like you and Gandler have spit in his face, don't take it lightly, he means it. And, believe this, you're too young and not nearly established enough after a 4 goal rookie season to have an agent making personal enemies on your behalf. Think about that the next time Gandler tries to whisper in your ear.
With Jay Feaster's announcement of which players will be invited to join the Lightning's Traverse City prospect team, I figured I'd take a rough stab at what the roster will look like. To the best of my knowledge, players are only elligible to play in Traverse City twice, making players like Mike Egener and Andy Rogers ineligible to play this year. The rule narrows the field of potential candidates considerably, which is why you see so many free agent forwards invited to the camp this year.
As of roughly 7pm tonight, Bolt Prospects has registered 7,056 hits from non-staff members in the last 72 hours with people looking in to see the latest news on prospect camp. Two or three months ago I would've thought we were hot stuff just to break 3,000 hits in a week, and we'll probably have 12,000 or so hits easily this week (in the middle of the offseason, no less). I am humbled and deeply thankful to all our readers and I know when I speak for all the BP staff when I say just how appreciative we are of the web community that's coming together here. It's one thing to say it's going to happen and chart it out on paper, it's quite another to see it all come together. This is too cool.