One Week Out of Ottawa

It's amazing how much can change in the span of a week. This was supposed to be simply a draft review follow up on my previous blog entry "Five Days Before Ottawa." But, as I mentioned in that article, with the new ownership shoes have been falling fast and furious in Tampa Bay. Since that time the Lightning not only conducted their first draft under the Oren Koules regime, but they also named Barry Melrose Head Coach, locked up Vaclav Prospal to a long term deal, and acquired the negotiating rights for Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts who are expected to ink deals tomorrow with the team. And there's still July 1st to look forward to on Tuesday.

How will these deals work out? Hard to say. Am I enthusiastic about having Vaclav Prospal signed to a contract that will end when he's 38 years old (and having to see his skating at that age)? Not really. Do I have any idea what Barry Melrose's system will look like after 13 years away from hockey? I'd be lying if I said I did (and I'd be lying if I said I was really enthusiastic about Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet's off-ice baggage coming with him). Does Gary Roberts still have any gas in the tank? If he does it'll probably be worth $5 a gallon by the end of this coming season. And, am I really stoked about potentially signing Ryan Malone to a 7 year contract worth nearly $4.5 million dollars a year after a 51 point season that was just 3 points better than Michel Ouellet's last campaign in a Pens uniform? The new ownership is definitely rolling the dice with all of these moves.

Now, that said, it's nice to be shopping for groceries at the Whole Foods rather than the Super Wal-Mart for a change. The thing about a guy like Malone is that he does have the potential to be a second liner, whereas bargain bin players like Jan Hlavac the Lightning signed in previous years due to PS&E's budget constraints had little chance of being legitimate NHL scoring line threats. And while I won't back off my statement that OK Hockey projects the image that the circus is coming to town, I would like to praise them on very professionally handling the draft. There's some temptation for new ownership groups to make gigantic splashes at the draft, and Koules certainly could've tried to climb the ladder to get another first round pick. That wouldn't have been wise for the Lightning given the assets they had on hand, however, so discretion was the better part of valor. Koules polished off his first draft by making a nice PR move selecting David Carle as well, which sends a nice message throughout the hockey community that this organization does have a pretty big heart. So, altogether, it was a pretty good weekend in Ottawa. I thought the Lightning's draft last year was deeper and more on point with what needs to be done to rebuild the forward depth in the organization with it's emphasis on smaller speed-oriented players, but the team did get a franchise player in Stamkos and some nice depth players at the goaltending and defenseman positions in this draft. No complaints there. Next year's draft, now that the Lightning will have a pair of second round picks, will be a bigger opportunity for the organization to replenish depth.

Anyway, on to the players:

1st Round (1st Overall)
C Steven Stamkos, 6'1" 180 lbs, Sarnia (OHL)
Rankings: CSS #1 NAS, Red Line #1 Overall, THN #1 Overall
61 GP, 58-47-105, 88 PIM

There's not much more that can be said about this young man that hasn't already been said. There has been some push back from a handful of people in the local media about the way the Lightning have marketed the young man so early in his career. With a player like Lecavalier at age 18 that would have been warranted, but Stamkos is about as bust-proof a prospect as has entered this league in the past decade or two. He is, simply put, the most well-rounded player the Tampa Bay Lightning have ever drafted. The comparisons to Steve Yzerman are nearly universal, and in my opinion they're nearly spot on. Red Line summarizes it best when they say he is an, "Elite, top-line centre people will pay to see." It really could not have worked out better for the Lightning to move Brad Richards and then immediately fill the gaping hole left by the deal with Stamkos who, when he develops, might well be a far better player than Richards because of the goal-scoring ability he brings to the table.

4th Round (117th Overall)
C James Wright, 6'3" 175 lbs, Vancouver (WHL)
Rankings: CSS #35 NAS, Red Line #76 Overall, THN #48 Overall
60 GP, 13-23-36, 21 PIM

The Lightning held the top pick in the 3rd round heading into day two of the draft but moved it to the Sharks in exchange for this pick, a 5th rounder, and a 3rd round pick next season, giving them the flexibility to offer a third round pick to the Pens if they could get Ryan Malone signed up prior to July 1st. Wright is a project pick, make no mistakes about it. Wright was chosen in the 1st round, 9th overall, in the 2005 WHL Bantam Draft by the Vancouver Giants but has been rather underwhelming since that selection scoring just 18 goals in 108 games with the team over two seasons. He's, frankly, not been the sum of his parts to this point in his career. He has a long stride with good top-end speed and handles the puck well at a full gallup, he has a good hard shot, and when he wants to battle he's actually quite strong on the puck for someone who is just 175 pounds. But, it hasn't translated to offensive success yet and Wright finished an abysmal 8th on the Giants in scoring last year. Red Line gave Wright the Roberto Duran "Hands of Stone" Trophy this year as the worst natural scorer in this draft stating that Wright, "Couldn't find the net with a GPS locator." You expect more from a 1st round WHL pick and the Lightning are gambling that part of the problem was a late season bout of mononucleosis and that Wright can show more over the next couple of seasons. Red Line panned the player, comparing him to Kris Beech while THN sees him more in a checking line, shut-down center type of role. We'll see next season which direction Wright goes in terms of his development.

5th Round, 122nd Overall
G Dustin Tokarski, 5'11" 185 lbs, Spokane (WHL)
Rankings: CSS #9 NAG, Red Line #129 Overall, THN NR
45 GP, 30-10-3, 2.05 GAA, .922 sv%, 6 SO

Other than Stamkos' selection, this was the Lightning pick that got the most attention from the hockey media on draft weekend due to Tokarski's near legendary play at the Memorial Cup stopping 53 shots to win the championship against a loaded Kitchener team. He doesn't have ideal size or athleticism and actually was undrafted in the WHL Bantam Draft, but he has that "it" factor you have to have to be a successful goaltender because the position is so much about the six inches between your ears. Red Line remarked that among this year's draft class of Tokarski was, "Mentally, probably the toughest goalie in the bunch." That matters quite a lot between the pipes, and Lightning fans need look no further than Karri Ramo to see the truth in that. At the bare minimum, he's probably going to be a whale of an AHL goaltender and a future backup guy in the NHL who brings a lot of character and battle factor to the table on any given night, and there's a chance he can go even further and become a starter in the league.

5th Round, 147th Overall
RW Kyle De Coste, 6'1" 178 lbs, Brampton (OHL)
Rankings: CSS #115 NAS, Red Line #274 Overall, THN NR
66 GP, 10-12-22, 48 PIM

Kyle De Coste's selection marked the first, "Who?" of the afternoon from the Bolt Prospects staff. De Coste, who was a 5th round pick out of the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs team in the 2006 OHL Priority Draft was one of the younger prospects available for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. De Coste's youth and his ability to stick in the OHL at the age of 16 caught the Lightning's attention and De Coste told the Brampton Guardian the team feels he could be a sleeper with plenty of upside. Considering this is the same group of scouts that found Nick Tarnasky under a rock in Lethbridge, we'll certainly have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

6th Round, 152nd Overall
D Mark Barberio, 6'0" 201 lbs, Moncton (QMJHL)
Rankings: CSS #134 NAS, Red Line #36 Overall, THN #59 Overall
70 GP, 11-35-46, 75 PIM

This was probably my favorite pick, personally, of day two. Barberio was Cape Breton's 1st round pick, 12th overall, in the 2006 QMJHL draft and was traded to Moncton in early 2007 where he was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team. This past season he appeared for the QMJHL in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge despite being snubbed for the CHL Top Prospects Game. Barberio fell like a rock in this draft because the general perception around the scouting community is that he doesn't skate well enough to be a good pro. Ordinarily that would be a big red flag for me, but in the 6th round Barberio had major value and I think this was a great pick, and there was even some talk going into the draft that he might even sneak into the 1st round because his maturity level and his hockey sense are that good at 17 years old. Red Line named Barberio the second most underrated player in this draft class and the 10th best player in the class in terms of hockey sense saying Barberio, "Always distributes the pick to the right place at the right time." That wasn't always the case this season, mind you, but it should be kept in mind Barberio was a 17 year old playing nearly 30 minutes a night for the Wildcats. Red Line went on to compare Barberio to the Sharks' Craig Rivet, but I am reminded of another late round Lightning defenseman with a bad skating stride who managed to make it to the next level and become a 30+ point a year two-way guy. Pavel Kubina, anyone?

6th Round, 160th Overall
D Luke Witkowski, 6'2" 180 lbs, Ohio (USHL)
Rankings: CSS NR NAS, Red Line NR, THN NR
58 GP, 3-10-13, 139 PIM

Witkowski was the second, "Who?" of the afternoon. The Holland, Michigan native is slated to play for Western Michigan in the NCAA ranks next season, and has only recently switched to defense after playing forward for much of his youth. So, again, the Lightning have grabbed a project they feel has room to grow because of inexperience who already has decent mobility and plays a rugged game.

7th Round, 182nd Overall
RW Matias Sointu, 5'10" 154 lbs, Ilves Jr. A (FIN)
Rankings: CSS #42 ES, Red Line NR, THN #93 Overall
41 GP, 21-19-40, 38 PIM

If Tokarski was "The Tick" then Sointu was "The Flea" in this draft. Despite having good wheels and finisher's hands, Sointu fell to the 7th round of this draft because at 154 lbs he can get knocked down by a stiff breeze. Still, the Lightning believe Sointu might have the desire to mold himself into an NHL player and the organization told Bolt Prospects that Sointu considered coming to North America to play in the CHL this season before deciding to stay in Junior A in Finland. He appeared for Finland at the U18 World Championships, scoring 3 goals, and should be in the picture for a possible U20 World Championships appearance this coming season. If he can bulk up and if the Lightning can get him to North America, he has some tools to work with and was solid value in the 7th round.

7th Round, 203rd Overall
D David Carle, 5'11" 180 lbs, Shattuck St. Mary's (USHS)
Rankings: CSS #60 NAS, Red Line #68 Overall, THN #70 Overall
55 GP, 10-35-45, 59 PIM

Selected in what was largely a humanitarian gesture, the Lightning took D David Carle with their final pick of the 2008 draft. Carle, who probably would have gone in the second or third round, pulled his name from consideration the Friday before the draft after medical tests revealed a heart condition that could mean sudden death if he continued to engage in strenuous athletic activities. Lightning owner Oren Koules, whose son played with Carle at Shattuck St. Mary's prep school, ordered the scouting staff to select Carle both as a reward to Carle and on the slim chance Carle might have a less serious condition which might allow him to continue playing hockey next season at the University of Denver. The odds, according to Carle, are just 1 in 100 but if by some miracle Carle is cleared to play at some point, the Lightning will be getting a sold offensive defenseman prospect. Carle's scouting report from Red Line report glows with praise for his skating and acceleration, balance and strength, hockey sense, and consistency both on and off the ice.