Let me start by saying, the 2010 NHL Entry Draft afterglow really puts into focus just how amazing a job Jim Hammett and Darryl Plandowski did in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. To put it bluntly, they spoiled us. When you walk out of a draft with four guys who were probably among the top forty or fifty picks in the draft, it's exhilerating. But, not every year can be like 2009 or even like the 2006 draft when the Lightning used their first four picks on four pretty solidly touted prospects.
By the time the Lightning got to their second pick at sixty-third overall, the large majority of the quality known talent was off the board. That's the difference between a draft where you have three top sixty picks and another where you have just one, I suppose. So, the Lightning were going off the beaten path for much of day two to try to find potential NHLers and fill organizational needs. As a consequence, the quality of this draft class isn't going to be as immediately apparent, and right now it feels like the draft will live and die on the shoulders, or hips, of Brett Connolly.
Wow, what a night. Things went to plan for three picks and then everything descended into slow moving chaos. The Blue Jackets took the guy I, personally, thought the Lightning would end up with at the fourth pick, the Islanders took the guy half the internet thought was going to the Lightning with the fifth pick, and then the Lightning decided not to take the guy everyone thought they would take with the sixth pick, as Brandon Gormley and Cam Fowler spiraled down the draft board in the mild hockey equivalent of an Aaron Rodgers/Brady Quinn draft free fall.
What to make of Brett Connolly, though? There's absolutely no doubt his athleticism and skill are world class, or at least they were prior to his injuries. Connolly's agent wouldn't allow teams to perform an MRI on prior to the draft to verify its soundness, so one wonders how the Lightning made an informed decision about it. Between his hips and some talk of structural weakness in his hand, I seriously wonder if the Lightning have drafted a guy who will end up being a part time player like Buffalo's Tim Connolly. Adding to my fears was a post-draft interview on TSN that did nothing to disspell whispers I've heard about Connolly's attitude. He looked annoyed and bored, all at the same time, and I'm wondering what is going on in his head. Is he going to carry a chip on his shoulder into the rest of the offseason and training camp to show the world that not only are his hips healthy, but that he was indeed the best player in this draft class? Or is Connolly already a little burned out by the scrutiny that comes with being a premiere prospect? Seriously, after watching the interview and after my making a big deal of how badly Connolly came across, the BoltProspects staff reviewed several pieces of interview footage, and we've come to the unnerving conclusion Connolly may be incapable of emoting genuine happiness.
Smile, man. You just were selected in the top ten of the NHL draft.
Rumors have been swirling all week that Montreal first round draft pick Louis Leblanc may have already decided to leave Harvard University after one season with the Crimson. Montreal writer Pat Hickey penned a story for the Montreal Gazette on Wednesday claiming the speedy forward might be weighing whether to go to the QMJHL or sign with the Canadiens and play in the AHL for Hamilton. Compounding the intrigue was that Leblanc, whose junior rights were held by Chicoutimi, apparently had a preference to play for the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL so he could also attend classes at McGill University to continue his education.
Today, at the tail end of the QMJHL Midget Draft, Chicoutimi traded Leblanc's rights to the Montreal Juniors, along with a 3rd round pick, for Guillaume Asselin and a 2011 first round pick. That will only serve to intensify speculation that Leblanc may leave Harvard. If Leblanc leaves, he will add to a list of players not returning to the Crimson that already included graduating seniors Doug Rogers, Chad Morin, Alex Biega, Jack Christian, and Ian Tallett. While only Rogers, Morin, and Biega were serious contributors to Harvard last season, it's important to bear in mind the club has only won 9 games each of the past two seasons. Losing those players and their leading scorer, Leblanc, may be a death sentence for Ted Donato's club next season.
All that begs the question: what about Alex Killorn? Killorn, a 2007 3rd round pick of the Lightning, has been routinely singled out over the past couple of seasons as being one of the team's best young talents in prospect camps but has failed to garner much publicity playing for a sinking Harvard club. If Leblanc leaves, can the Lightning allow one of their ten best prospects to languish through another potential single-digits win season at Harvard? Would it be better for his development to sign Killorn and have him begin his pro career with Norfolk of the AHL? Expect new GM Steve Yzerman to seriously contemplate that option if Killorn impresses him as much at this summer's prospect camp as he has other Hockey Operations people with the Lightning in previous camps.
If Killorn were to be signed, he'd join fellow signees Johan Harju and Mark Barberio from an already strong class of incoming pros. The team could also still sign 2009 2nd round pick Richard Panik, who just completed his first World Championships appearance for Slovakia.
Hat tip to our Chad Schnarr, who has been following this situation closely on BoltProspects' Twitter feed.
Gary Shelton had an article in the Tampa Tribune today interviewing former GM and Lightning founder Phil Esposito. For those who may not have read my blog post a year ago when the Lightning were reportedly thinking of moving Vincent Lecavalier prior to the draft, and Espo put his foot down in opposition to it, I am an absolute fan of The Godfather. When he speaks, you better damned well listen. So when I read that, "(Esposito) has talked about a role, perhaps as a consultant, with Vinik," I say you're a smart man, Jeffrey Vinik. Nobody knows this franchise better than Espo, nobody cares about this franchise more than Espo, and nobody is a better salesman for hockey in Tampa Bay, either. That man could sell a Mitsubishi to Lee Iacocca, and talk the CEO of Pepsi into putting a Coke machine in his lobby. He's that good, and while his time in the GM's chair may be past, he still has a lot more to give to this franchise, and I think he needs his name on the Cup one more time.
On a rather sad note, today will mark the final game for the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs in Johnstown, PA. The franchise, owned by former NHL GM Neil Smith, has been plagued by financial problems for years and will be moving to Greenville, SC next season. Johnstown was the Tampa Bay Lightning's ECHL affiliate for three years between 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. Three of the Lightning's prospects who played in Johnstown have since seen time in the NHL: Radek Smolenak, Jay Rosehill, and Andre Deveaux.
I can honestly say that, outside of Norfolk Admirals fans, I don't think there's been an affiliate's fan base that was more supportive of their club than the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs. I'm sure this is a major blow for a town that has had some challenges over the past few years. Bolt Prospects salutes the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs and we hope that Johnstown, PA gets another franchise soon.