11 for 6: Cam Fowler
Although it's certainly possible the Lightning could spend their sixth overall pick on a goaltender, the prevailing wisdom is that the team will concentrate on the skating positions where the needs are much greater. On defense, where the club drafted potential star Victor Hedman a year ago, there remains work to be done to build up depth in the system. Just a year ago, the team looked like it was in fairly strong shape along the blueline. A rash of injuries in the 2008-2009 season forced several young blueliners to make their NHL debuts or assume expanded NHL roles and they performed well enough that the future appeared to be bright. That confidence in the long term health of the blueline was further bolstered by the expectation that young NHLers Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger would return from injuries and that would allow Hedman to work into the lineup at his own pace.
But last year was an abysmal season for the young blueline corps of the Tampa Bay Lightning that left the organization's confidence in its defense's future bruised. Paul Ranger left the team for still undisclosed reasons and it remains to be seen if he'll ever return and Andrej Meszaros looked like a shadow of the player who seemed to be catching on in December of the 2008-2009 season. Because of the void left by Ranger's vacant twenty minutes of ice time a night, Hedman was forced to play around twenty five minutes a night early in the season, and by the second half hit the rookie wall, causing an erosion in his decision-making and confidence. Matt Smaby, who looked like a world beater despite playing on a broken foot in the second half of the 2008-2009 season, seemed out of condition and played like he was a minor league defenseman again in 2009-2010. Down on the farm, Matt Lashoff reverted to the form that led the Boston Bruins to give up on him, Ty Wishart struggled in his own end, Vladimir Mihalik continued to develop only at a glacial rate, and Kevin Quick showed up to training camp out of shape and later in the year broke his foot. Outside of the emergence of Mike Lundin in Tampa Bay and the solid play of Scott Jackson in Norfolk, there were not a lot of successes on defense for the Lightning last year.
Further leading to anxiety is the new philosophy of Head Coach Guy Boucher, whose 1-3-1 system doesn't necessarily fit some of the team's slower footed defensive prospects. Under Jay Feaster and Jake Goertzen the club emphasized larger defensemen that could be mixed into a group dotted with smaller, more mobile blueliners. Under Brian Lawton and Rick Tocchet, there was a disjointed philosophy battle between Lawton's insistence on skating ability and Tocchet's insistence on toughness. Under Guy Boucher, the Lightning's blueline will need to have several defensemen with superb skating ability and with the aggression to push the play offensively. That favors the handful of smaller, mobile prospects selected in Feaster's time and the slick skating defensemen that Lawton brought in. It doesn't favor some of the bigger, more lumbering blueliners in the organization.
BoltProspects' seventh ranked prospect, Ty Wishart, unfortunately may fall into that latter category. Although he led all Norfolk defensemen in scoring last season, he's not overly fleet of foot, and his focus on offense last season came at the expense of his defensive game. Fellow prospects Vladimir Mihalik and Scott Jackson may also suffer because of the philosophy change. If there was ever a system that was not made for the painfully slow footed Mihalik, this is it, and despite the fact Jackson was a revalation playing twenty minutes a night on the top pair in Norfolk, his skating and simple meat and potatoes game is not ideally suited for the 1-3-1. Even freshly signed Mark Barberio out of Moncton may have some difficulty with the 1-3-1 despite the fact he put up big numbers on an aggressive Wildcats team that won the QMJHL crown. The common knock on Barberio, despite the fact he has above average hockey sense and skill and has played big minutes his entire junior career is that his unorthodox skating stride may eventually hold him back as a pro.
The big beneficiaries of the change could be Lashoff and Quick. Lashoff, whose brother incidentally plays in the Red Wings organization Steve Yzerman came from, is one of the most fluid skaters in the organization, but he struggles mightily with his positioning, decision making, and the physical game in his own end. Having the opportunity to play in a system that emphasizes his pushing forward more than a conventional NHL defenseman could be to his benefit, and it wouldn't be surprising if a good training camp gets him onto the team next season. Similarly, the 1-3-1 is a system that seems tailor made for Kevin Quick. In multiple callups at the end of the 2008-2009 season, Quick darted back into the Lightning organization's conciousness with a mixture of speed and audacity in the offensive zone that still hasn't shown up statistically anywhere he's been. Still, though, if he comes to camp in excellent condition and shows those same traits to Yzerman and a new coach, he could move to the front of the line in a hurry.
One other thing to keep in mind about the Lightning's defense is the almost unanimous lefty slant of the Lightning defensive corps. No, you didn't just accidentally wander onto Fox News or MSNBC's website. It's not a political issue, it's a dexterity issue. An inspection of the Lightning's organizational roster will reveal that, unbelievably, the only right handed defensemen the team has are impending unrestricted free agent Kurtis Foster and college based prospect Luke Witkowski, who plays for Western Michigan in the WCHA. That's it. The need for a long term righty point shot solution became clear once Dan Boyle was traded to the San Jose Sharks, and now that Hedman is in the fold it would be nice if the Lightning could find a right handed complement to pair with him. This draft is not as well stocked with right handed defensemen as the 2009 NHL Entry Draft when BoltProspects was hoping the Lightning would use one of their first three picks on one. However, it's something to keep in mind on the two days of the draft. Any lefty defenseman selected at sixth overall will eventually be competing with Victor Hedman for power play time in the long term, and conversely there's a vacuum of right handed options that definitely needs to be filled. Of the three blueliners who appear to be possibilities for the Lightning at the sixth overall pick, two are lefthanded shots. Will that make a difference on draft day?
Name: Cam Fowler
Born: 12/6/91, Farmington Hills, MI
Last Team: Windsor (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 5 (NA Skaters), ISS 3 (Skaters), RLR 6 (Overall), THN 3 (Overall)
Windsor (OHL), 55 GP, 8-47-55, +38, 14 PIM
Windsor (OHL) Playoffs, 19 GP, 3-11-14, -3, 10 PIM
USA (U20 WJC), 7 GP, 0-2-2, +8, 4 PIM
Entering the season Windsorâ€™s Cam Fowler was considered to be the best defenseman in this draft class, but his hold on the title has slipped this year despite posting a solid 8 goals and 55 points in 55 games for the Spitfires. Some scouts believe that Fowlerâ€™s numbers may be inflated because of the quality of the team he plays for, and that being surrounded by so much talent may have hidden the warts in his game. The positives are considerable. Fowler is an outstanding skater with good size and is an excellent puck distributor on the power play. His passing ability is top notch and he also excels at springing forwards on odd man rushes and breakaways with long stretch passes. The negatives, though, could see him drop in this draft as some have criticized Fowler for playing soft and not possessing the kind of shot you want from the quarterback of your power play. The fact he rarely found himself under duress defensively on a Windsor team that possessed the puck constantly also makes us wonder how sturdy his positioning and poise really are. If he was playing for Belleville, for instance, would he be considered as strong in his own end? Then again he did do well in more of a defensive role for the Gold Medal winning Team USA at the U20 World Junior Championships this season, so he's shown he can do the job when he concentrates on it. Can he do it while still making offensive contributions, too, though? For the Lightning, specifically, thereâ€™s one trait Fowler has that he canâ€™t control that might make him slightly less attractive: heâ€™s a lefty shot, and the Lightning presumably have their lefty power play anchor of the future in Victor Hedman. Therein lies the danger in Fowler for the Lightning and their scouts if they choose to select Fowler. Are they willing to invest a top ten pick in a player who would be, at best, taking power play time from Victor Hedman and who has some serious question marks defensively and in the physical game? Then again, on paper, Fowler probably fits the bill of what new Head Coach Guy Boucher needs to run his 1-3-1 system better than any other blueline prospect in this class. Fowler's skating ability may be the best of any player that will be selected this year, and he's definitely shown an ability throughout his junior career to push the pace offensively. If the other two top defensemen go off the board before six, but Fowler drops, expect the Lightning to have a tough decision to make. It's one that could possibly even lead to a trade down if another team that needs a defenseman feels compelled to jump up to get one of upper tier of prospects at the position.
Previous Prospect Profiles:
11 for 6: G, Jack Campbell