Here's what we learned this week in communication with the Lightning:
2006 first round draft pick Riku Helenius  made a successful return from major shoulder surgery when he suited up for Finland at an Under-19 tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia last month. The Lightning was in attendance when the goaltender played his first game since early autumn, but Finland was on their heels all night and Russia scored two power play goals to beat Helenius and Finland 4-0. Finland didn't fare much better in Helenius' second game, a 5-1 loss to Sweden.
While the GAA may not look ideal for the first rounder, the Lightning said he played well. The important thing to look at here is he's playing again and is in good health. In fact, after missing nearly all the 2006-2007 season, a healthy Helenius is now working out twice a day.
The Lightning also watched prized goaltending prospect Vasily Koshechkin  in action for Russia against a large contingent of NHLers at the recent 2007 IIHF World Championship in Moscow. Although Koshechkin lost a starting role for the medal round, the Lightning was not discouraged: â€œVasily got off to a slow start and it cost him the starting job. It was a great experience for him, one that will pay off for him down the road.â€
If the Lightning had their way, Koshechkin would be in Brandon, Florida for camp this summer. However, itâ€™s out of their hands.
The Russians have not signed the new NHL/IIHF Agreement, so the only way Tampa Bay can sign him is if he's not under contract in Russia for next season. After speaking to Koshechkinâ€™s agent, Tampa Bay has learned Vasily appears to be under contract with Lada next year. It is believed he has one year remaining on his contract, which makes him a candidate to be signed next summer if nothing can be done this year. Another option here is if Lada releases Koshechkin before the signing deadline â€“ which is rumored to be a possibility.
On this side of the pond, the club remains in contract negotiations with former University of Maine defenseman Mike Lundin , who had 6 goals and 14 assists for 20 points in 40 games as a senior with the Black Bears. Lundin would bring a needed offensive dimension to the farmâ€™s backline if the two sides can come to an agreement.
Tampa Bay is also in contract negotiations with Mississauga IceDog Chris Lawrence , a center/wing who broke out this year with 47-41-88 and 113 penalty minutes in 67 games. He also had 3 goals and 1 assist in 5 playoff games before Mississauga was upset by Sudbury â€“ who went all the way to the OHL Finals. The improvement of Lawrenceâ€™s overall consistency â€“ a knock on him when he was drafted in 2005 â€“ was noted by the club. Perhaps the biggest need on the Tampa Bay farm is for gifted offensive forwards and Lawrence can certainly help the depth in that area.
Lawrence was one of two prospects (undrafted, North America) highlighted by the Lightning for their improvement this year. The other was recently signed WHLer and 2005 first rounder Vladimir Mihalik . The club was pleased that Mihalik logged a lot of ice time with Prince George, who often used a three-man defensive rotation including the 6-8 defenseman.
Another WHL defenseman, Everettâ€™s Dane Crowley , could be signed this summer, but the Lightning wants to continue to evaluate him through summer prospect camps and the Traverse City tournament. If Crowley, a sixth round pick in 2006, is not signed this summer, he can return to Everett as an overager â€“ a possibility Washington papers have noted in post-season articles â€“ and the Lightning would retain his rights for another year.
Finally, there has been a lot of speculation whether former Springfield Falcon and 2001 second round pick Andreas Holmqvist  will be offered a contract and be brought back to North America. The two-way defenseman, who was once compared to the Vancouver Canucksâ€™ Mattias Ohlund , took his game to another level this year in the SEL with Linkoping, scoring 7 goals and 20 assists for 28 points in 49 games. He was also leading the club in scoring at one point in their lengthy playoff run.
Holmqvist has not been offered a contract by the Lightning as of yet, however it definitely remains a possibility.
While a light went on with Holmqvist last year, he was not known for his character and effort while previously signed with the Lightning and playing with Springfield (2004-2005) and Pensacola (2003-2004) early in his career. This is likely playing a huge part in internal discussions about Holmqvist this spring. Even if the Lightning decides to offer him a contract, like many established European players, Holmqvist is not considered a lock to make the trek back across the Atlantic.