I hope some lessons were learned this season in the OK Hockey hierarchy. After spending the entire summer pointing the finger at the previous coach, GM, and scouts and slinging money around the free agent market like three drunken sailors on shore leave, I hope Oren Koules, Len Barrie, and Brian Lawton learned it takes more than flash to build an elite organization. Defense and coaching, for instance, are two very important components to any hockey team that OK Hockey neglected to adequately address heading into the season. When the club traded Filip Kuba to Ottawa for Andrej Meszaros, thereby making Paul Ranger the grizzled veteran of their d-corps, even Stevie Wonder could see trouble on the horizon for the Lightning. Lawton and Companyâ€™s reticence to address the obvious deficiency was puzzling, and turned out to be one of the ultimate downfalls of the season. And, of course, there was the unmitigated disaster of naming Barry Melrose the teamâ€™s Head Coach. Melrose could barely coach his way out a wet paper sack 13 years ago before he became a talking head on ESPN. What on earth possessed Oren Koules to believe his buddy had become Scotty Bowman in over a decade of inactivity, Iâ€™ll never know.
In case you were wondering, the Lightning have a 60.8% chance of receiving one of the top two picks in the NHL Draft Lottery to be conducted on Tuesday. The 2009 NHL Entry Draft is considered to have two top prospects: C John Tavares of London of the OHL and D Victor Hedman of MODO of the Swedish Elitserien. Hedman, in particular, may be a good fit for a Lightning team desperate for a legitimate number one defenseman.
The Lightning have an 18.8% chance of winning the lottery and moving up to the top pick, at which point they might select the offensively gifted Tavares and create an offensive trio in Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, and Tavares the likes of which would make even the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin envious. Or, the team could make a deal with the Islanders to move down to the #2 spot to take Hedman, who may be a more natural fit. Interestingly, the Islanders hold the San Jose Sharks' pick, which will be 29th or 30th in the first round, that the Lightning previously held before the Andrej Meszaros trade, and might be part of a fair package for the Lightning to move back a spot.
The lottery will be held at 8 pm on Tuesday and carried on Versus.
Tonight is a pretty special night for the staff here at Bolt Prospects. Tonight marked the 41st decision of the NHL career of Karri Ramo. It was also the 41st game of the season for Matt Smaby. Both are milestones for graduation from prospect status here at Bolt Prospects. Both young men are now considered NHLers in our eyes.
It's somewhat fitting that these two players should graduate on the same night. There have only been four players who have ever held the title of top rated prospect on this site. Smaby was the first when we debuted the rankings at the start of the 2005-2006 season. He held the title shortly for half a season before giving way to his teammate Ramo, who was standing on his head as a rookie for Springfield in the AHL. Ramo held the top spot before giving way to top draft pick Steven Stamkos, who graduated from prospect status earlier this season. Steve Downie earned the top spot in our Midterm Rankings shortly after Stamkos' graduation.
With the Lightning going on a bit of a run, picking up points in 8 of their last 10 games, the team has played itself out of the second position for the draft lottery and now sits 1 point above Colorado in the standings. Considering the Avalanche's talented young center, Paul Stastny, just broke his foot and will probably be out for the remainder of the season, the Lightning may end up locked into the third position in the draft lottery. That would mean the odds would overwhelmingly favor the club picking third or fourth in the upcoming 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Picking in one of the first two slots in this draft would be fairly easy. London center John Tavares and MODO defenseman Victor Hedman have rightfully dominated the draft discussion. Picking third is a different animal altogether. It's a scenario not unlike the 2001 draft when the Lightning lost out on the opportunity to draft Ilya Kovalchuk or Jason Spezza when Atlanta won the draft lottery and pushed the team down to pick number three.
The good news is, I don't think the Lightning are going to get stuck with a lemon like Alex Svitov if they don't wind up in the top two picks. There are quality players on the board that should add to the core of the Lightning rebuilding project. Here's my board thus far:
1.) C John Tavares, 6'0" 198 lbs, London (OHL)
2.) D Victor Hedman, 6'6" 220 lbs, MODO (SWE)
More on the flip
A quick update for anyone interested in upcoming prospect graduations...
Karri Ramo needs just 6 more decisions to graduate from prospect status according to our site's criteria.
Matt Smaby needs just 11 more games this season to graduate.
Noah Welch needs just 13 more games this season to graduate.
The Lightning have exactly 13 games remaining on their schedule. Bolt Prospects will issue its Final Rankings for the 2008-2009 season following the conclusion of all prospects' playoff seasons, and with prospects like Dustin Tokarski, James Wright, and Luca Cunti possibly poised to make some deep runs, it may be a while. Expect significant changes at the top of the list, though, with two of the only four prospects ever to hold the #1 spot (Stamkos and Downie being the other two) on our rankings likely to graduate by year's end. And then there's the playoffs...
It should be fun.