By Pete Choquette
It's been a long, strange trip for Bolt Prospects to arrive at this year's Midterm Prospect Rankings. Between the end of the NHL lockout and an abbreviated training camp, call-ups, graduations, and trades, there's been a lot of movement in the rankings. One lesson learned from the first half of this season: no more standing still for Lightning prospects. Even first and second round picks can't afford to stagnate in their development with so much quality depth within the organization. More than that, the youth movement is already beginning in Tampa Bay with three prospects currently up with the Lightning and recently graduated Keith Aulie  also with the NHL club.
As always, this version of the rankings must come with a brief explanation of the rules. Players 24 years of age or older at what was scheduled to be opening night for the Lightning (prior to the lockout) are no longer eligible for the rankings and are considered overage prospects. For that reason, goaltender Riku Helenius  is no longer eligible. Among skaters, 41 NHL games in a single season or 82 career NHL games graduate a player from prospect status, making them no longer eligible for the rankings. Because Brett Connolly  played more than 41 games in the NHL last season, he is no longer eligible for the list. Goaltenders who accrue more than 30 NHL decisions in a single season or 41 career NHL decisions are also considered graduated and are ineligible. Last, but not least, NCAA-based players are eligible for list regardless of their age so long as they remain in school.
With that out of the way, here are the 2012-2013 Bolt Prospects Midterm Prospect Rankings...
(Stats as of February 19; previous rankings in parenthesis)
1. G Andrey Vasilevskiy, Ufa (RUS) (1)
Vasilevskiy maintains his top spot in the rankings on the strength of a solid, medal-winning performance at the U20 World Junior Championships and scintillating play during the first half of the year where he looked like a man against boys in the MHL. Since that time, Vasilevskiy has backed up Iiro Tarkki with Ufa's KHL side and has shined in spot starts. The Lightning view Vasilevskiy as their bluechip goaltender of the future and they backed it up by shipping Dustin Tokarski  out of town for journeyman Cedrick Desjardins .
Season totals (KHL): 8 GP, 4-1-0, 1 SO, 2.22 GAA, .924 sv%
Season totals (MHL): 27 GP, 20-6-1, 3 SO, 1.93 GAA, .930 sv%
Russia (WJC): 4 GP, 2-1-1, 1.81 GAA, .950 sv%
2. W Cory Conacher , Tampa Bay (NHL) (4)
Those who follow BoltProspects.com or AHL hockey should not have been surprised, but for those who didn't Conacher became an instant sensation exploding out of the gates once the lockout lifted for Tampa Bay. Conacher's speed and willingness to go to the high traffic areas earned him spot duty on the team's scoring lines and an impressive scoring streak to begin his NHL career. His scoring has waned somewhat of late, but his speed and style of play still remain well suited to the NHL and a productive career as a scoring liner.
Season totals (NHL): 15 GP, 5-9-14, +1, 10 PIM
Season totals (AHL): 36 GP, 12-16-28, +3, 56 PIM
3. C Tyler Johnson , Syracuse (AHL) (9)
Johnson remains firmly planted in the top five in the AHL in scoring despite a recent scoring slump following the long look he received in an abbreviated Lightning camp. Johnson brings world class speed and a laser shot to the table, making him one of the most dangerous players in the AHL today. Look for Johnson to follow the path of fellow mighty mites Martin St. Louis  and Conacher to Tampa Bay soon.
Season totals: 49 GP, 26-22-48, +23, 30 PIM
4. W/C Alex Killorn , Tampa Bay (NHL) (5)
It took a wait of more than five seasons, but the Lightning are finally getting to enjoy the fruits of their selection of former Harvard star Alex Killorn. The Montreal product who was selected out of prep school and went on to play four years for the Crimson was among the league leaders in rookie scoring in the AHL prior to his call up to Tampa Bay. More to the point, his north-south, shoot-first style made him one of the AHL's league leaders in shots on goal. That simple, meat and potatoes style of play makes him an ideal fit for the NHL game. We expect Killorn to have a long NHL career because of it, with the only question being whether he continues to refine his shot and offensive game to become a solid 20+ goal scoring liner at the game's top level.
Season totals (NHL): 5 GP, 2-1-3, +2, 4 PIM
Season totals (AHL): 44 GP, 16-22-38, +6, 32 PIM
5. RW J.T. Brown , Syracuse (AHL) (3)
One last victim of the NHL lockout was J.T. Brown, who was a near lock to make the Lightning in October but saw his opportunity to play for Tampa Bay delayed by a collarbone injury suffered in the AHL. Brown's 17 points in 26 games prior to his injury was solid, if unspectacular, but the collarbone injury coupled with another early season injury did nothing to quell concerns about his durability. He needs to get bigger and get in pro condition if he's going to survive in the pros. If he does, his speed and creativity make him a potential scoring liner with the Lightning.
Season totals: 26 GP, 6-11-17, E, 4 PIM
6. D Slater Koekkoek , Windsor (OHL) (2)
There's no way around it, it’s been a tough year for Koekkoek. The first round pick languished as captain of a bad Peterborough team where whispers, fairly or unfairly, of poor leadership dogged him until he was dealt to Windsor. Also, Koekkoek failed to make Canada's U20 World Junior Championship camp roster and to top it all off he had barely put his bag down in Windsor before he reinjured the same shoulder that cost him most of last season. So, concerns about attitude and durability abound with the Lightning hoping Koekkoek will rebound next year and become the mobile two-way NHL defenseman they drafted him to be. His ceiling remains high.
Season totals: 40 GP, 6-23-29, -24, 28 PIM
With Windsor: 2 GP, 0-1-1, +2, 0 PIM
With Peterborough: 38 GP, 6-22-28, -26, 28 PIM
7. RW Richard Panik , Tampa Bay (NHL) (10)
A poor man's Marian Hossa, Richard Panik has been dogged throughout his career with questions about his consistency. However, a steady and impressive second campaign in the AHL, punctuated by a November-long scoring streak, has propelled Panik all the way to the NHL. He has it all: above average speed, puckhandling skill to make Vincent Lecavalier  blush, and strength to make opposing defensemen cringe in pain. With the right attitude and opportunities to prove himself, watch out; the sky is the limit.
Season totals (NHL): 4 GP, 0-0-0, -2, 0 PIM
Season totals (AHL): 43 GP, 21-14-35, +19, 79 PIM
8. D Mark Barberio , Syracuse (AHL) (7)
After a patently ridiculous 61-point campaign with Norfolk a year ago, the reigning AHL Defenseman of the Year, Barberio, has come back down to earth a bit this season. With that said, Barberio is still on pace for more than 45 points this season having already hit 30 points in this campaign. His offensive instincts and ability to run a power play are sharp and still make him a prime candidate to be a valuable power play specialist at the next level.
Season totals: 50 GP, 7-24-31, +1, 34 PIM
9. RW Nikita Kucherov , Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL) (12)
One of the pleasant surprises of the year was Nikita Kucherov's decision to join Quebec of the QMJHL. And, although Kucherov was promptly dealt to Rouyn-Noranda, his first taste of North American junior hockey has suited him. At 2 points per game in the Quebec league and over a point a game in the U20 World Junior Championships, it's pretty clear why the Lightning made sure to sign the young Russian. He could use more strength and an extra gear, speed wise, but his skill level and shot are world class.
Season totals: 22 GP, 16-28-44, +11, 2 PIM
With R-N: 16 GP, 13-21-34, +12, 0 PIM
With Quebec: 6 GP, 3-7-10, -1, 2 PIM
Russia (WJC): 7 GP, 5-3-8, +4, 4 PIM
10. C Vladislav Namestnikov , Syracuse (AHL) (6)
Like Brown and Koekkoek, an early season injury has done nothing to quell durability concerns about slightly built Vladislav Namestnikov. However, when he's been in the lineup, the young 2011 first rounder has not looked out of place in the AHL, showing precocious ability to contribute on the power play and surprising quantities of jam. We would not at all be surprised to see Namestnikov break out in the second half for Syracuse similar to the late season rise of Ondrej Palat  a year ago for Norfolk.
Season totals: 21 GP, 3-5-8, -6, 22 PIM
11. D Radko Gudas , Syracuse (AHL) (11)
On the cusp of the NHL, and possessing one of the truly great beards in hockey, Radko Gudas has become an AHL folk hero. The blueliner is on a pace for a career high in points and leads the Crunch in both plus-minus and penalty minutes, two categories where he also figures amongst the AHL's league leaders. His play in abbreviated Lightning camp was just as solid as his resume, and he looks poised to make it to the NHL sooner rather than later.
Season totals: 47 GP, 4-13-17, +25, 189 PIM
12. LW Ondrej Palat, Syracuse (AHL) (14)
Once a longshot struggling just to earn a spot in the AHL, Czech born winger Ondrej Palat has steadily progressed into becoming a prime NHL prospect. The proverbial straw that stirs the drink, Palat combines good speed, deft stickhandling, and supernatural vision and passing ability to make his linemates successful. When you add to that Palat's ability to kill penalties and his surprising ability to hang in physically along the wall, and you have a well-rounded prospect.
Season totals: 43 GP, 6-29-35, +21, 35 PIM
13. G Jaroslav Janus , Bratislava (RUS) (13)
After backing up Dustin Tokarski for much of last season in Norfolk's Calder Cup-winning run, Jaroslav Janus returned home to Slovakia to join Bratislava, which moved this year from the Slovak Extraliga to the Russian KHL. The move has paid off for Janus, who as a KHL rookie has established himself as one of the best backstops in the league. Even before the season, Assistant Lightning GM Julien BriseBois expressed the Lightning's interest in bringing Janus back to North America, and his stock certainly hasn't diminished over the course of the year. Indeed, Janus' rise likely contributed to Tokarski's recent exit from the organization.
Season totals: 47 GP, 26-17-4, 2.17 GAA, .928 sv%, 5 SO
14. C Tanner Richard , Guelph (OHL) (18)
The Swiss assist machine, Tanner Richard, looks like one of the steals of this past summer's draft. After going undrafted in his first year of eligibility, Richard has captured attention with a strong two-way game accented by excellent speed, playmaking skills, and surprising willingness to mix it up physically along the wall. Richard also had a solid U20 World Junior Championships for Switzerland, often staring down the top lines of other nations in more of a defensive role. Richard looks like a player who could make it at the NHL level as a third liner with some ability to occasionally chip in offensively. His consistency must improve in order to reach hockey’s highest level.
Season totals: 43 GP, 8-45-53, +15, 90 PIM
Switzerland (WJC): 6 GP, 0-4-4, +2, 8 PIM
15. RW Brian Hart , Harvard (ECAC) (16)
Power forward Brian Hart has had a very good freshman season for woeful Harvard of the ECAC at the tender age of 18/19 years old. Checking in at well over a half a point a game, his excellent debut production helps explain why the Lightning elected to use their second round pick on "The Hitman" in last summer's draft. Hart's got good size and a big shot, drawing comparisons to longtime Team USA stalwart Bill Guerin. And, with another three seasons to develop at Harvard, who knows? He may get there.
Season totals: 23 GP, 4-11-15, +1, 10 PIM
16. D Dmitry Korobov , Syracuse (AHL) (20)
Finally, a bonus pick defenseman gone right. The Lightning quietly signed the big Belarusian, Korobov, out of the KHL last season, and he's proven his worth as a strong two-way competitor for the Crunch. Korobov has been among the league leaders in plus-minus throughout most of the season, and at nearly a half a point a game from the backline his offensive potential is nothing to sneeze at. Good size. Good poise. Good puck moving ability. These are the attributes that may get Korobov a shot at the NHL in the near future.
Season totals: 42 GP, 3-14-17, +23, 26 PIM
17. G Adam Wilcox , Minnesota (WCHA) (NR)
After languishing last year as a backup for Green Bay of the USHL and then later as starter for a subpar Tri-City squad, also in the USHL, Adam Wilcox has lit the world on fire as a freshman at Minnesota. Since returning to his home state, the athletic youngster has become a workhorse for the Gophers en route to posting an impressive sub-2.20 GAA. Playing for one of the top programs in the country, expect Wilcox to get lots of experience in tournament environments that will only help sharpen his skills and develop his game. With the Gophers net to himself, he has ample opportunity to continue to develop in college.
Season totals: 29 GP, 19-5-4, 1.85 GAA, .919 sv%, 3 SO
18. D Nikita Nesterov , Chelyabinsk (RUS) (21)
There's good and bad when considering the game of Russian defenseman Nikita Nesterov. At just 19 years old, the stay-at-homer has already established himself as a regular for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. He's also been a fixture on the top pairing of a very successful group of Russian juniors in several tournaments over the past couple of years. His offensive game hasn't shown up in the KHL as of yet, but he's put up decent numbers in the MHL and the WJC's in the past, and he shows good willingness to mix it up physically despite being slightly undersized. With all that said, when we see Nesterov against top competition we also see a defenseman who struggles at times to have the agility to keep up with onrushing forwards and who occasionally is overpowered by larger, stronger players. The Lightning have a lot of faith in Nesterov, but until we see improvement in those areas, we can't push all in.
Season totals (KHL): 35 GP, 0-1-1, +6, 14 PIM
Season totals (MHL): 2 GP, 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM
19. D Luke Witkowski , Western Michigan (CCHA) (25)
Western Michigan sits near the top of the CCHA standings this season due in no small part to the play and leadership of senior Luke Witkowski. Witkowski is a rock in his own zone, and may be a late bloomer offensively once he moves on past the conservative system played by the Broncos. Witkowski will get one last crack at winning another CCHA championship and possibly an NCAA tournament run before the Lightning make a signing decision this summer.
Season totals: 32 GP, 2-5-7, -7, 40 PIM
20. LW Nikita Gusev , Khabarovsk (RUS) (24)
When CSKA of the KHL decided to load up on NHLers during the lockout, Nikita Gusev found himself pushed out of Russia's top league. Too good for the MHL and unable to secure a spot with the big club, he spent extended time in the VHL, which is Russia's second tier men's league. But, after Amur Khabarovsk traded a first round pick to acquire his services, Gusev has posted nearly a half a point a game in the KHL, underlining his reputation as one of the best young offensive talents Russia has to offer. His lack of size remains a big concern, but the longtime teammate of Nikita Kucherov might well meet up with him again in North America.
Season totals (KHL): 30 GP, 4-9-13, E, 4 PIM
With Khabarovsk: 24 GP, 4-8-12, +2, 4 PIM
With CSKA: 6 GP, 0-1-1, -2, 0 PIM
Season totals (VHL): 15 GP, 7-6-13, -2, 2 PIM
21. D Artem Sergeev , Val-d'Or (QMJHL) (23)
Bonus pick defenseman Artem Sergeev has already posted career highs for Val-d'Or in the QMJHL after successfully earning an NHL contract from the Lightning in this summer's rookie camp. Possessing great mobility and a heavy right handed shot, Sergeev played the role of power play specialist on the second unit for Russia's U20 World Junior Championship roster. In all likelihood, he'll start his pro career with the Crunch next season where he'll try to continue to progress as a solid two-way defenseman.
Season totals: 45 GP, 6-25-31, +18, 51 PIM
With Russia (WJC): 7 GP, 0-2-2, +3, 0 PIM
22. D Dylan Blujus , Brampton (OHL) (19)
Although he plays bushels of minutes for the Brampton Battalion, defenseman Dylan Blujus has taken a step backwards offensively this year. While he’s improved his physical play, the Buffalo native has yet to piece together his mobility and his right handed shot into the end product the Lightning expected when they used a second round pick on Blujus in the summer's draft. He'll have another season in junior next year to try and earn a contract with Tampa Bay.
Season totals: 57 GP, 2-22-24, -7, 51 PIM]
23. W/C James Mullin, Miami-OH (CCHA) (15)
Also riding high in the CCHA standings has been James Mullin's Miami RedHawks. However, Mullin's offensive contributions have slid compared to his strong rookie campaign when he was well over a half a point a game player. We still like Mullin's speed and skill level, but we expected more from him this year. Fortunately, he still has a couple of years of NCAA eligibility to rebound.
Season totals: 29 GP, 4-7-11, E, 12 PIM
24. LW Danick Gauthier, Syracuse (AHL) (NR)
We all were happy to see the NHL lockout end, but Danick Gauthier may have been extra pleased because it finally afforded him the opportunity to get on the ice more for the Syracuse Crunch. The power forward hasn't squandered the opportunity either, showing ability to chip in offensively from Syracuse's lower lines. He's a bit of a project, but he shows promise.
Season totals: 25 GP, 5-2-7, E, 21 PIM
25. C Cedric Paquette , Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL) (NR)
With the departure of Dustin Tokarski, power forward Cedric Paquette checks in at the final spot in our top-25 rankings. Although lacking in speed, Pacquette shows no lack of will when it comes to crashing the crease to get his points. That ability earned Paquette a spot of Team QMJHL for the Subway Super Series against the Russian juniors, and it has the late bloomer at well over a point a game in Quebec league play. Last year he was a goal scorer and this year he’s more of an assist man. If he puts the two together he could be a threat to make the NHL someday in an expanded role. Like Gauthier, he's a project, but he shows promise.
Season totals: 55 GP, 24-49-73, +25, 89 PIM
No longer ranked: Dustin Tokarski (traded), Keith Aulie (graduated), Matthew Peca .
Contributing to these rankings: Pete Choquette, Chad Schnarr, Timothy Bennett, Michael Gallimore, Jeremy Houghtaling
For more from Bolt Prospects, follow us on Twitter (@BoltProspects).