FoxSports Releases Their Lightning Top-10
A bit of disclosure ahead of time: Chad and I worked for Shane Malloy when he was online editor at HockeysFuture before the print version of HockeysFuture failed and he was deposed by the current regime at that website. To his credit, Malloy dreams big which is why he has since landed gigs with FoxSports, NHL.com and segment time on XM Center Ice while the folks at HF are still struggling to get articles posted (let alone quality articles).
Anyway, he wrote FoxSports' list of the Lightning's Top-10 prospects.
1. Stanislav Lascek
2. Vladimir Mihalik
3. Andy Rogers
4. Ryan Craig
5. Radek Smolenak
6. Matt Smaby
7. Paul Ranger
8. Justin Keller
9. Doug O'Brien
10. Gerald Coleman
HM: Mike Egener
First of all, I don't know if Malloy reads our website, but he's definitely heard our cries about the name obsessed hockey media not recognizing the Lightning are building up quality depth by making good draft picks in the late rounds. It was so nice to read a rankings article from a major media outlet that actually had a clue in that regard. True, he misses the boat with the usual boilerplate line bashing the team's goaltending depth, but this article is a 1000% better reflection of the state of the Lightning's system versus the kind of uninformed drivel you'll find coming out of THN and HF these days. A media organization actually doing some research and arriving at the objective conclusion that the Lightning do indeed deserve some credit; what a concept eh?
Getting down to some of the finer points of the article, look folks, by now you all know how I feel about this bogus tag of the Lightning not having goaltending depth. When Chad and I first wrote about that three years ago on HockeysFuture we had no idea it would become unbreakable conventional wisdom that would dog this team for years to come even after the goaltending situation had improved. Karri Ramo has been a first or second round caliber draft pick the Lightning stole in the sixth round of the 2004 draft. I would put him in a tier with Finnish goaltending prospects like Hannu Toivonen, but because he's a late round pick who has seen minimum exposure in the international tournaments he flies under the radar, with the exception of THN's rankings which are derived from a list given by the Lightning organization itself. Also, you have Vasily Koshechkin who has been nothing short of a sensation in Russia this year as the second best netminder in the Superleague. Again, here's a player who was a late round pick who received little international exposure as an under 20 player, so he flies under the radar. Then there's Gerald Coleman, who he gives a top ten spot and then pegs as a career backup, which I find a little strange. True, I've never been terribly high on the guy but I do think he might be able to be a tandem starter some day in the league. Jonathan Boutin, of course, has the kind of ridiculous upside that once he matures and becomes more consistent could make for a whale of a player. Heck, even Morgan Cey and Kevin Beech have had solid seasons in their respective levels of hockey. Do we lack for a marquee name? Yes. Do we lack for depth? No.
His decision to elevate Stanislav Lascek to the organization's number one prospect is a bold one. We at Bolt Prospects would like to see Stan prove his wares at a level where the checking is tighter and he has less time and space to operate than he does in the go-go Q. Particularly, his struggles with the speed at the Traverse City tournament give us pause. Mind you, he'll probably be in our top-ten final rankings due to the graduation of Ranger, Artyukhin and Craig, but we're not quite ready to stamp him number one. But, we do understand.
He's dead on when he says we could use one or two more offensive minded defenseman prospects. Ranger and Dicaire are the only pure offensive guys in our top-20 and they're still adjusting to life in the pros. Mike Lundin hasn't quite become the offensive juggernaut we hoped and the Lightning would do well to find another offensive defenseman or two with Pavel Kubina's contract expiring this summer, Dan Boyle's the next and Darryl Sydor looking longer in the tusk than Snaggletooth.
Could we use more center depth? Sure. Could Shane have mentioned Blair Jones was the 6th leading scorer in the WHL? I think that would've been a fair point to raise.
Are Lightning fans the only ones who realize how incredible Paul Ranger's ascension to becoming a reliable every night defenseman at age 22 has been? He's got 15 assists already this season at a time in his development when most young blueliners are still trying to figure out how to tie their skate laces and he's doing it on a pairing with Dan Boyle who takes more risks than a Hollywood stunt man on most nights.
Did Evgeny Artyukhin fall off the planet when this list was crafted?
All that said, this was a far more balanced article than most the mainstream hockey media have been churning out about the Lightning's prospect system. Perhaps we should forward it to Tom Jones so he doesn't have to write anymore melodramatic screeds about "an organization at a crossroads." When you consider where the Lightning came from with their dysfunctional developmental apparatus in the minors just three years ago to where they are now, I can't imagine how anyone can fail to see the Lightning's system as anything but one on the rise.