As the countdown to the start of the 2007 Traverse City (TC) Prospects Tournament finally comes to an end tomorrow, the future is now for many of the prospects making up the Lightningâ€™s 2007 TC squad.
For the free agent invitees, such as Halifax Moosehead forward Colby Pridham, they are auditioning not just for the Lightning, but for scouts of every NHL, AHL, and ECHL team with roster holes to fill.
"Iâ€™m very excited," Pridham told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald before beginning his trip to TC. "Iâ€™m just trying to get myself known, not only to Tampa, but as a free agent there are going to be so many teams that are going to be there that maybe I can get my phone to ring a little more and get an AHL tryout with Tampa or somebody else."
Perhaps Pridham doesnâ€™t know it yet, but heâ€™s listed to go to Tampaâ€™s AHL training camp in Norfolk after TC. Anyone following the Lightning under General Manager Jay Feaster knows that roster spots are always subject to change under their meritocracy system.
Not everyone is on that list, either.
For some of the free agents, if they donâ€™t earn a chance to go to Norfolk, or donâ€™t earn a spot while in the AHL camp, theyâ€™re left scrambling for a job. A few may eventually return to juniors as overagers if spots are open (CHL teams are limited to three overagers per roster), while others will just hope to catch on with a minor-pro team.
Others, such as 2006 sixth rounder Dane Crowley , a defenseman with the WHLâ€™s Everett Silvertips, have fall-back options.
Crowley, who is a year older than most in his draft class, can return to Everett this year to help the Silvertips do what they could not accomplish last year under heavy expectationsâ€”win the league title. However, although heâ€™s content with returning to Washington, heâ€™s aiming for his first professional contract.
"I'm going to go out there with the mindset to make the AHL," Crowley told the Everett Herald. "I'd have absolutely zero problem with coming back [to Everett], I love it here. But we'll see what happens."
Crowley is one of 12 Lightning draftees on the TC roster, but one of only two defensemen without a professional contract. With the impressive corps of AHL-level veterans signed by the Lightning this summer in order to strengthen their first-year affiliate in Norfolk, Crowley will have to let his play create a spot for him with the Admirals. Not an easy task for a rookie.
If Crowley is indeed signed to a common AHL-ECHL two way contract (the Lightning has only two spots left in their 50-man NHL contract allotment, which are usually left open in case of injuries), he will likely find himself playing for the clubâ€™s ECHL affiliate in Mississippi.
The player would hold the cards in this case, however, so he could choose to turn down the minor league contract and return to Everett where he will be a team leader and is expected to flirt with a 50-point season. Crowley would then take his chances on a contract next summer when the AHL veterans currently on one-year deals may be gone and more spots are open.
The Lightning maintains Crowleyâ€™s rights through next spring, making returning to Everett the most likely option for him.
Starting on the ice tomorrow, however, his sights will be set on making the Admirals.
TC Notes: The Seattle Thunderbirds are reporting 2006 first rounder Riku Helenius , the Lightningâ€™s No.1 goalie for TC, will be in Tampa Bayâ€™s NHL camp. Helenius was not listed on the original Lightning camp roster â€“ which is limited to only a few prospects this year â€¦ Heleniusâ€™ backup in TC, Torrie Jung , has performed well for the Kelowna Rockets this preseason. He got the start against Regina on Sunday and allowed just one goal in 30 minutes of play â€¦ While he will not be in TC, rumors continue to swirl that Luca Cunti  will be playing with Chicago of the USHL this season. An official word may not come from the Lightning until after TC. Additional inquiries have been made into the Chicago Steel offices for confirmation. Cunti remains listed as a St. Cloud State commitment for the 2008-2009 season â€¦ Reminder: The Lightningâ€™s TC roster can be found at redwingscentral.com .