On Bolt Prospects, we've always advocated the wisdom of adding more emphasis to the Lightning's developmetal system and for the first time since the Fall of 2002, the Lightning will be holding a prospect camp. From a personal standpoint, I went to every day of that 2002 camp where I first got to watch a young defenseman from Oshawa named [url=paul-ranger]Paul Ranger[/url] who I went away convinced had a shot at making the NHL. Almost four years later the Lighhtning have done a lot to help fix what was, at that time, a dysfunctional developmental apparatus. They've been a regular at the Traverse City prospect tournament over the past three years and, more importantly, they've locked up a full affiliation with the AHL's Springfield Falcons. They've even gone a step further in buying into the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs giving the club additional developmental spots and the opportunity to take a flyer on undrafted free agents who have fallen through the cracks. The 20 tryout players who are being invited to this camp are part of that effort.
Those tryout players will be running a veritable gauntlet to try and earn a professional contract, most likely with the Springfield Falcons due to NHL roster limits. The first step will be using this camp to earn a spot on the Lightning's Traverse City prospect team. If they succeed, the next step will be to play well at the tournament and try to earn an invitation to Lightning camp. That task won't be easy though. Last year the Lightning carried 13 forwards, 7 defensemen and 4 goaltenders on their Traverse City roster. Of those, only three players were non-contract invitees. This year the field may be more open given the Lightning only selected one player from the Canadian junior ranks, but the Lightning's incredible new depth in their system may make contracts few and far between.
The Lightning's needs going into this prospect camp are the same as they were going into the June draft. The club still needs to fill role needs, particularly that of puckmoving offensive defensemen and centers. In the case of the latter, the player to watch might well be Chicoutimi center David Desharnais. Desharnais has been passed over by the pro ranks because of his Marin St. Louis-esque 5'6 1/2" stature, but there can be little doubt Desharnais possesses top flight skill. Playing on the same Sangueneens club as Lightning prospect [url=stanislav-lascek]Stan Lascek[/url] and Falcons contract player Maxime Boisclair, Desharnais has scored 215 points over the past couple of seasons. The Lightning have never been shy about signing small centers for their minor league ranks with Ryan Vesce and Eric Perrin both a part of the Lightning's recent minor league history and given Desharnais' familiarity with his teammates, he has an excellent chance to make inroads at this camp. Victoriaville's Alexandre Imbeault also could receive consideration as well as Springfield PTO player Mike Ouelette who got very little ice time at the end of the year with the Falcons after graduating from Dartmouth of the ECACHL. Given an opportunity with more ice time he could impress, although at 24 years old he is one of the oldest prospects at this camp. Not as old as 25 year old C/LW Dave Borrelli of Mercyhurst College.
On the blueline, keep an eye on former Danbury Trashers defenseman Don Grover. If the Johnstown Chiefs are unable to get Doug Andress back into the fold, they'll need an offensive defenseman and the former Northeastern University grad who had 41 points in 66 games in the UHL last season might fit the bill. Jonathan D'Aversa of Sudbury and Kyle Deck of Regina may also figure prominently in that conversation.
Between the pipes, [url=karri-ramo]Karri Ramo[/url], [url=kevin-beech]Kevin Beech[/url] and [url=riku-helenius]Riku Helenius[/url] should be locks for Traverse City. Former Devils 6th round pick Josh Disher was qualified by the Johnstown Chiefs and may get a long look after the Chiefs struggled with Mike Betz as their backup after injuries disrupted the organizational depth chart and left Johnstown having to look for emergency backups on multiple occassions. Beech, Disher and Pearce may be operating under a death sentence contract wise going into this camp though, with Vasily Koshechkin slated to come over next summer and Helenius two summers from now the numbers game may already be overwhelmingly against them.
Camp will also be key for prospects facing signing deadlines in the next year or two, including [url=pj-atherton]PJ Atherton[/url], Marek Bartanus, Dustin Collins, [url=chris-lawrence]Chris Lawrence[/url], [url=mike-lundin]Mike Lundin[/url] as well as Beech and Pearce. None of these prospects seem to be 100% locks for contracts at this stage and they need to have strong years to earn their contracts. Getting off to a good start at this camp and Traverse City would be excellent first steps. It's also the first chance for top prospect [url=matt-smaby]Matt Smaby[/url] to experience what the Lightning's drills and conditioning exercises are like. It won't fully prepare him for the torture of Camp Torts, but it will at least give the former North Dakota defenseman some idea of what is to come.