Yesterday, we updated the Bolt Prospects.com prospects section to reflect our updated Midterm Rankings for the 2005-2006 season. Before the season our staff agreed that using the NHL Central Scouting Service's methodology of using tri-annual updated would offer our readers a far more up-to-date and precise accounting of the team's prospects' standing in the organization than the once-annual offerings of publications like The Hockey News and websites like Hockey's Future. On October 29th, 2005 we posted our Preliminary Rankings. The number in parentheses after each prospect listed in the Top-25 reflects their change in the rankings between then and now.
Regarding our criteria for deciding what constitutes a "prospect", any player under Lightning contract under 24 years of age at the start of the season who has played less than 41 games in any given NHL season to this point in his career is a prospect. Any prospect over 24 years of age who has played less than 41 NHL games in his career will be listed by Bolt Prospects as an "overage prospect". Among the players we currently list as overage prospects are, for instance, G Brian Eklund
, RW Norm Milley and G Fredrik Norrena
With that out of the way, here are Bolt Prospects 2005-2006 Midterm Rankings:
[b]1. D Paul Ranger
, Tampa Bay (NHL) [color=green](+1)[/color][/b]
Jake Goertzen has said he now believes that Paul Ranger is a future top-four defenseman. Bolt Prospects agrees. At age 21 he's already getting about 15 minutes a night at the NHL level and he has barely scratched his offensive potential as a professional. For that reason, we elevate Ranger to the #1 spot before he graduates as a prospect in the next month.
[b]2. RW Evgeny Artyukhin
, Tampa Bay (NHL) [color=green](+1)[/color][/b]
Artyukhin moves to the #2 spot in the organization before his own graduation as a prospect. Artyukhin's size and strength make him a formidable force on the checking lines and he has the speed to see spot duty on a scoring line and on the power play. If he continues to sharpen his passing and offensive instincts, watch out.
[b]3. D Andy Rogers
, Prince George (WHL) [color=red](-2)[/color][/b]
Rogers drops out of the #1 spot partly because of Ranger and Artyukhin's play and partly because his offensive game hasn't developed to the extent we thought it might after he led all Lightning prospects in scoring at Traverse City. A bum ankle might be part of the problem, but we want to see more progression from Andy in the second half of the season.
[b]4. LW/C Ryan Craig
, Tampa Bay (NHL) [color=green](+5)[/color][/b]
Craig's transition into playing minutes on the Lightning's checking line was seamless and he has the look of a player who will keep that role a long time. His skating limits what he can do on the rush, but he's outstanding down low in the offensive zone. The only remaining question is how much Craig's skating will hurt him on the defensive end.
[b]5. D Vladamir Mihalik, Red Deer (WHL) [color=green](+1)[/color][/b]
Mihalik's transition to North America has been far smoother than countryman Marek Bartanus
'. He's had a decent season for a bad Red Deer club and a decent World Junior Championships for an almost equally bad Slovakia team.
[b]6. LW Radek Smolenak
, Kingston (OHL) [color=green](+1)[/color][/b]
His offensive output to this point of the season has improved over last year which is something that didn't occur when Adam Henrich
was at the same point in his development in the OHL. It will be interesting to see how he responds to his late cut from the Czech WJC club.
[b]7. D Mike Egener
, Johnstown (ECHL) [color=red](-2)[/color][/b]
Egener's knees continue to be a source of trouble. He once again went down with an injury shortly after being demoted to Johnstown and has just recently returned to action for the Chiefs.
[b]8. LW/C Alexander Polushin
, Cherepovets (RUS) [color=red](-4)[/color][/b]
Polushin is healthy and playing for the first time in years, but Cherepovets is struggling and Polushin has cooled off considerably since the start of the season. The time for excuses is over. Polushin needs to produce in line with his talent.
[b]9. C Nick Tarnasky
, Springfield (AHL) [color=green](+2)[/color][/b]
The heart and soul of the Springfield Falcons, Tarnasky got a cup of coffee with the Lightning earlier this season. The hustle and intangibles are there with Tarnasky. Bolt Prospects just wants to see the rest of Tarnasky's game develop to match.
[b]10. D Matt Smaby
, North Dakota (WCHA) [color=green](+2)[/color][/b]
Smaby's been brutally physical this season after receiving some criticism last year from the Lightning for playing softer NCAA style hockey. His offensive output has improved as well, which is a welcome sign that Smaby is indeed progressing toward fulfilling his potential.
[b]11. G Karri Ramo
, HPK (FIN) [color=green](+2)[/color][/b]
Despite failing to beat out Tuukka Rask for the starting job for Finland at the WJC's, his performance against Team USA did exhibit his considerable athletic potential. At 19 years old he's already a regular starter at the SM-liiga level even despite missing a month with a knee injury this year.
[b]12. LW Stanislav Lascek
, Chicoutimi (QMJHL) [color=green](+8)[/color][/b]
The biggest positive mover in the Bolt Prospects midterm rankings is Lascek moving up 8 spots. Lascek has dominated the QMJHL offensively this season and has the playmaking and finishing skills the Lightning need. Lascek still needs a lot of work on his defensive game and his skating still leaves the question how effective he can be in the pros with less time and space. None of those questions were definitively answered as Lascek was held scoreless against the Czechs and Swedes at the WJC after having a two point game against the Russians.
[b]13. D Doug O'Brien
, Springfield (AHL) [color=red](-5)[/color][/b]
He entered the year with a good opportunity to win a job in Tampa only to be passed over by both Timo Helbling and Paul Ranger. His offensive output has only modestly improved despite playing for an improved Springfield club and Bolt Prospects still has some concerns about his agility.
[b]14. RW Marek Kvapil
, Springfield (AHL) (NC)[/b]
Kvapil has made a solid transition to the pro game and several of his goals this season have been of the highlight reel variety. Marek has an outstanding attitude and is very coachable and understands his defensive game must catch up with his offensive skills.
[b]15. LW Justin Keller
, Kelowna (WHL) [color=green](+2)[/color][/b]
Keller disappeared in his first Lightning training camp but has since reemerged as the WHL's leading goal scorer thus far this season. Some of the questions that Stanislav Lascek must answer about playing in the pros with less space and time must be answered by Keller as well.
[b]16. G Gerald Coleman
, Springfield (AHL) [color=red](-1)[/color][/b]
Coleman is at a crossroads at this juncture of the season. He played well early after inheriting Springfield's starting job from a stumbling Brian Eklund, but the team's terrible month of December mirrored an equally bad month for Coleman. It was unrealistic, to a degree, to expect Coleman to carry the starting job at the AHL all season given he never was a full time starter in junior. How will the rookie respond?
[b]17. RW Darren Reid
, Tampa Bay (NHL) [color=green](+2)[/color][/b]
Reid's hustle earned him a well deserved cup of coffee with the Lightning recently. His offensive output has improved this season and has shown himself to be an outstanding penalty killer for Coach Graham in Springfield. His recall did show that Reid needs some continued work on his skating if he is to stick next time at the NHL level.
[b]18. C Blair Jones
, Moose Jaw (WHL) (NC)[/b]
Jones has consistently been amongst the top-20 scorers in the WHL this season after being one of the Lightning's best scorers at the Traverse City tournament. He benefits greatly from playing on a Moose Jaw team packed with talent. How much of his production increase is due to his development and how much is due to his teammates?
[b]19. G Jonathan Boutin
, Johnstown (ECHL) [color=green](+2)[/color][/b]
Johnstown's lone All-Star representative, Boutin currently is amongst the ECHL's leaders in save percentage, GAA and shutouts. With Eklund and Coleman struggling in Springfield and Boutin already playing well in the AHL in an earlier call up, how long will it be before Coach Graham gives Jonathan Boutin a shot to be Springfield's starter?
[b]20. G Vasily Koshechkin
, Togliatti (RUS) [color=green](+5)[/color][/b]
Koshechkin's month of Novemeber is easily the stuff of legends as he racked up a string of shutouts en route to claiming the Superleague lead in GAA and save percentage. His December was very good as well as he helped Togliatti maintain its spot in the standings even though the team was gutted due to budgetary considerations. Now in January, the young team with an average age of less than 22 on many nights is starting to struggle in front of Koshechkin and his numbers are starting slip as a consequence. Can Koshechkin help Lada hang on? Either way, being a starter in the Russian Superleague at age 22 is an oustanding accomplishment, especially for someone playing for Togliatti's demanding Coach Vorobiev.
[b]21. LW/C Adam Henrich, Springfield (AHL) [color=red](-11)[/color][/b]
No prospect has fallen further than Henrich whose relationship with Coach Graham in Springfield seems contemptuous at best. Henrich's game to game/shift to shift inconsistency continues to dog him in the ECHL where he has failed to put up a point a game at a level he should be dominating.
[b]22. D Gerard Dicaire
, Johnstown (ECHL) [color=red](-6)[/color][/b]
The Falcons chose to sign John Adams to a PTO rather than recall Dicaire from Johnstown. That should tell you how fall out of favor the former Kootenay defenseman has fallen. Dicaire, who has been hampered by troubling medical conditions the past two season, is still struggling to refind the same offensive mastery of the game that once made him a favorite in the organization.
[b]23. C/RW Andre Deveaux, Springfield (AHL) (NC)[/b]
Deveaux's skating has improved and he was one of Springfield's best forwards in early December. A big, hard working player, it's probably only a matter of time before he gets a cup of coffee with the Lightning like Tarnasky and Reid have.
[b]24. RW/C Zbynek Hrdel
, Springfield (AHL) [color=blue](NR)[/color][/b]
Hrdel moves into the top-25 by virtue of his recent discovery of how to use his size in the offensive zone. Known as more of a perimeter player with Rimouski, Hrdel has started to play with more jam as a pro and that more than anything has helped him move up full time from Johnstown to Springfield.
[b]25. D Mike Lundin
, Maine (HEast) [color=red](-3)[/color][/b]
Mike's production has improved modestly over last season's but still hasn't shown a large leap over where he was as a freshman with Maine.
[i][b]Falling out of the Top-25:[/b]
LW Albert Vishnyakov
, Dynamo (RUS)
Vishnyakov was one of the big surprises of the early season but he fell off the face of the earth after the Karjala Cup until scoring a pair of goals at the recent European Champions Cup.[/i]