Where We Stand: August
First off, Bolt Prospects apologizes for being down last night. Unfortunately we had some technical difficulties with the ISP that our server runs on that took about 12 hours to remedy. The site is up and running again now and we don't foresee any related problems in the near future.
Second, stay tuned to Bolt Prospects over the next few weeks as we are expecting to get a glimpse at the preliminary roster for the Traverse City prospect tournament pretty soon.
With all of that out of the way, the flurry of free agent signings that came in the first three weeks of July seems to have subsided. The team now has 47 players under contract that will count against the 50-man roster limit, with Ryan Craig remaining to be signed who will be the 48th. For the most part the roster is set, which offers the opportunity to speculate on how the Lightning's organizational roster and lines will look at the NHL, AHL and ECHL level.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The top 12 Lightning forwards seem set, and it also appears from the outside that the team will not carry a 13th forward. The exact line combinations seem to be the only question marks left to be answered. My best guess is the two Czechs, Prospal and Hlavac, will probably play on a line together with Ouellet and St. Louis being the set of wingers on the other line. Exactly which set of wingers goes with which center remains to be seen. Beyond that question, the third and fourth lines seem reasonably well set and the Ward/Gratton/Craig third line in particular looks to be a colossal upgrade over last season's third line.
The Lightning's top 5 defensemen are also set, with the most fierce battles to be fought in training camp for the 6th and 7th defenseman jobs. Dan Jancevski, Bryce Lampman and Doug Janik are the veteran entries into the fray with Matt Smaby and Vladimir Mihalik. The darkhorse: David Schneider who was signed out of HPK in Finland and has shown the ability to produce offensively at a high level of play in the SM-liiga. That's 6 players vying for 2 spots, and there's nothing to say prospects Mike Egener and Andy Rogers won't be able to play their way into the discussion as well. If you believe the rumors in the local media, Jancevski has the early line on the 6th defenseman spot. My best guess is that the Lightning will carry Smaby as the 7th defenseman and wean him onto the NHL game slowly, similar to how they handled Nick Tarnasky last season. The Lightning have invested so many high draft picks over the past five years on their crop of big, stay-at-home defensemen and those investments need to start paying off. Smaby is considered the cream of the crop at this moment and, barring a major training camp catastrophe, I expect him to start his NHL career in the Fall.
In goal, as much as I'd love to believe that Karri Ramo will be given a fair and legitimate shot to make the Lightning, it looks impossible given the constraints of Marc Denis' contract. Ramo might very well be the best of the Lightning's top three goaltenders at the young age of 21, but it seems unlikely the team will put Denis through waiver and just as unlikely that they'll carry three goaltenders.
If the Admirals and Coach Stirling decide to carry 12 forwards in Norfolk, I suspect the 12 are pretty much set and the only question is how Stirling will mold his lines. Last season, largely out of necessity, Stirling put all his veteran eggs in one basket on the Springfield Falcons' top line. If he again chooses to go that route, his most impressive offensive weaponry could be arrayed on a line with Darche, Wanvig and Milley. Meanwhile a second line comprised of veterans Karl Stewart and Craig MacDonald will be in need of a right winger. Out of the batch of prospects the Lightning had in Springfield last season, there were few bright spots. Stanislav Lascek will be looking to rebound from an injury filled rookie season and might be a good candidate to be a playmaker on this line. Radek Smolenak and rookie Chris Lawrence might also have a chance to play on this line, in this scenario, and might be better suited for the role if this line eventually becomes the Admirals' third line over the course of the campaign. The team's third line might consist of second year pros Justin Keller and Blair Jones along with third year pro Marek Kvapil. The line played reasonably well together last November before Keller got hurt and Jones got recalled to the Lightning. Brandon Elliot looks to be a lock for the team's enforcer role with two out of Lascek, Smolenak and/or Lawrence rotating into the 11th forward spot.
The team's top 7 defensemen also appear to be set, for the moment, although that could change quickly after camp. As it stands, if Smaby or one of the other non-veteran prospects make the Lightning, the Admirals will have more than their compliment of veterans under the AHL veteran rule. That situation might be remedied by a trade or, more likely in my opinion, if one of the veteran defensemen are grabbed off of waivers. According to local newspaper reports, defenseman Doug Janik, for instance, had many offers from teams looking to sign him to a two-way contract. If he and/or Jancevski, in particular, fail to make the team out of camp it would not be surprising to see another team make them their #7 defenseman via the waiver process. The exact pairings for the corps are a little harder to pin down, but Schneider definitely looks to be on the team because the team will have little else in the way of offensive defensemen.
In goal, Norfolk fans will probably get the treat of watching a future NHL starter in Ramo begin his year in the AHL. He's too good to stay down in the minors all year though and I fully expect Jonathan Boutin to take over full time starting duties at some point over the course of the season. Boutin will need to make the most of any opportunity that comes his way. With Riku Helenius and Vasily Koshechkin lurking, Boutin needs to carve out a solid niche with the Lightning organization quickly if he's going to stick around.
Mississippi Sea Wolves
Under present conditions, the Lightning would be supplying 5 contracted players to Mississippi of the ECHL, which Claude Loiselle has said would likely be the maximum number the team would allot. If Janik or Jancevski are taken off waivers, however, defenseman Mike Lundin would likely move up to Norfolk as the team's 7th defenseman.
Zbynek Hrdel is likely playing out his last year in the organization a la Adam Henrich last season. The former 9th round pick has proven very little as a professional, and I suspect he's just waiting patiently for the chance to go back and play in the Czech Extraliga or another European club team. Jay Rosehill might be in the same boat, not necessarily because of poor play but because the numbers are so acutely stacked against him. Goaltending prospect Ryan Munce will be in the final year of his entry level contract and might be a casualty of Helenius and Koshechkin's potential entry into the organization.
Justin Fletcher might be the most interesting prospect to keep an eye on out of the 5. The free agent signee out of St. Cloud State played well in an ATO situation for the Falcons last season and has some offensive skills that the organization as a whole is lacking.