Lots of mailbag questions this week, so let’s get right to them:
With all of the young, small forwards in the system, and with Drouin and Kucherov ready to be the 2 small forwards on the top six in 2 years, do you think that they attempt to re-sign St. Louis or do they let him walk when his contract expires next year? (Donnie D via BP Messageboard)
Yzerman haters won’t believe me, but I think it’s up to Marty. If Marty wants to play for another year or two, I don’t see how Yzerman keeps him off the roster (stop laughing, haters, it’s a lot harder to make Team Canada than it is an NHL club). This is coming from someone who wasn’t surprised by Marty’s omission from Team Canada. As long as Marty will accept a cap-friendly contract and is an asset on the ice, I don’t see why he’s not re-signed. I also, respectfully, don’t think Drouin is in the same “small” category as he’s basically about 6’ tall and plays with a big base.
Is Dylan Blujus  officially a bust? (Donnie D via Messageboard)
I talked a little last week about busts and Blujus. To recap, I don’t like labeling players “busts” until they’ve had every opportunity to succeed. It also depends on your definition of bust. For Blujus, he was taken with a treasured top-60 pick so he’s supposed to make it. We thought he could fill the hole in the system for a righty, offensive-minded defenseman. When he was taken, we projected him – if his development path continued to trend upwards – that he could in fact be that point-producing, 2-way righty D we’ve been craving for since Dan Boyle left.
His stock has dropped, in my opinion, and especially as it relates to his initial projection of a top-4, 2-way righty D who will put up a decent amount of points. I don’t have the luxury of seeing him all the time so I asked two professional hockey people in Ontario for their thoughts. One said he’s never been a fan and questioned if he’d have NHL impact. The other described him as “smooth” and said he could have top-4 upside. So… the short of it is the jury is still out. Personally, I think he gets a contract and eventually plays himself onto the bottom pair in Tampa. I wouldn’t put a lot of money on that just yet, though. I think he’s a long-term project.
I’m not surprised about either, and I don’t expect much of a return on either. I’ve actually thought that Pyatt could be a waiver casualty if Yzerman decides he wants Panik or JT Brown over Pyatt when everyone’s healthy again (if that happens). So, either nothing or very little (later rounder) for him. I like Pyatt’s speed and grit so someone might like some extra forward depth for the playoffs.
Aulie is a restricted free agent at year’s end and last week I said he’s not a lock to be qualified. Yzerman may get something like a 5-6 rounder for him or playoff run help for Syracuse. I’m not expecting much. Aulie hasn’t progressed as planned, mostly due to injuries. Fortunately for trade trackers, neither has Carter Ashton .
If Gudlevskis keeps up his play in the AHL and Vasilevski does cross the pond, as expected, to play in Tampa's organization next year would that spell the end for Lindback's time in Tampa? If no, what do you see his role being? (ChaseSpace via BP Messageboard)
Lindback is a restricted free agent at year’s end and I can’t see him being shown the door for nothing after all that Yzerman paid to get him. I think they re-sign him to a one-year deal for that reason and because both Vasilevskiy (official spelling) and Gudlevskis need to be getting lots of minutes in the AHL next year. The year after next will be interesting as one or both of those kids will be ready for NHL time.
My question is Barberio… what's happened to him? He's gone from Ahl dman of the year, to regular dumpster fire. Or was the upside never there? Long term does he fit in, if so, where? (bassassin via BP message board)
First, defense is the hardest position to learn at the NHL level and there’s a reason experts say it takes 200-300 games for a defenseman to learn the position (look at Hedman’s progression). However, you have to do enough and be trusted enough to stay in the NHL to get to 300 games. I do think Barberio has made incremental improvements in the last few weeks, but it’s been chaotic at times. A lot of times.
His initial upside was as a 5-7 defenseman with two-way ability, then he developed so well that rose to a top-4. His play in Norfolk for Jon Cooper was SO good the year he was AHL Defenseman of the Year that if you’d play that year’s film after this year’s film you’d think it wasn’t the same player. In my opinion, his upward trend was hindered by the lockout. I think he was a near lock (hello, puns) for Tampa that next year, but with the lockout and the Lightning needing sure-things to compete in a sprint-like shortened season, he was left to simmer in the AHL. He would have been better off coming off his Eddie Shore Trophy year and developed slowing in October of 2012. Even though he was a Second Team AHL All-Star in 2013, his game started to re-develop holes. Those are still apparent now, but magnified at the NHL level.
I think he has a future with the club, but likely as a PP specialist, 6/7 defenseman. I don’t know if he’ll find the discipline and maturity in his game that he had in Norfolk to make it as a top-4. As for longterm, he’ll be passed by Slater Koekkoek  soon, so offensively he’s behind Hedman, Carle, and Koekkoek as lefties, so is there even room for him? I wouldn’t be shocked to see him traded, but I do think it’s too soon to close the book on him completely.
How much has Dotchin raised his ceiling? How much as his skating improved? Looks like he has a lot of tools that we need, big, physical, right handed; and is producing on the stat sheet as well. (RSchmitz via BPMB)
I don’t know that he’s raised his ceiling as much as he’s become a safer bet to hit it. His skating as indeed improved, but the greatest improvement in his game is his overall 2-way impact, the key being he’s been afforded the time to use it in Barrie (*cough* Owen Sound burn *cough*). I still think he may be a poor man’s Cory Sarich in the future, which isn’t a bad thing. A nice, physical third pair defenseman. It’s not atypical for defensive-defenseman to have a breakout in their final year of juniors as they’re bigger, stronger, and smarter than a lot of their competition. In other words, I don’t expect him to play on the power play in Tampa, but I do expect him to get a contract with Tampa, which is step 1. I asked Dotchin at camp what kind of defenseman he is and what Tampa wants him to be and he said stay-at-homer. Tampa knows he can move the puck, though, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken him.
What about pro potential for james mullin and matt peca? (thefly via BPMB)
When Alex Killorn  hit the ground skating in Norfolk he lost our long-time “stealth prospect” tag. We tried to give it to Jimmy Mullin , a skill forward for the University of Miami-Ohio, but it hasn’t really stuck. Mullin hasn’t been able to stay on a scoring line this year and was a scratch for a game or two. TB retains his rights through next year (his senior year), so we’ll see if he gets a contract. If it’s between him and Peca for a contract, it’s probably Peca, who is undersized but gritty and skillful – the type Yzerman loves. Peca could turn pro at year’s end, but there’s really no need to. He’s still a big-time player for Quinnipiac, though he’s no longer on the first line with the Jones twins. I think he has the ability to be a top-9/12 forward at the NHL level. The fact he could make it on any line will help his chances. He’ll be in Syracuse for a while if he’s signed.
Ikonen had a good showing at the WJC and has been good in the OHL this year. Where do you see him over the next 2-3 years? (@geofitz4)
I like Ike. A lot. He was in a checking role at the WJC’s, so he didn’t put up the points he could have in a scoring role (like he plays for Kingston). He made a big impression at camp this year – a big impression. Mid/late round picks aren’t supposed to do that. He can play in Syracuse next year and I fully expect him to. After that, there are so many young players ahead of him on the ladder it may be 2-3 years before he gets to Tampa. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s an excellent complimentary winger who will do the dirty work on skill lines while having enough in his toolbox to contribute on the scoresheet. At the least, he’s a fine bottom-line energy player.
With Filppula seeming to be a great pickup, who are the best and worst FA acquisitions by the bolts in somewhat recent yrs? (@heftyt)
I think the Lightning fanbase is too hard on defensemen, so many won’t agree when I say Matt Carle . Can you see the team without him right now? If you think it’s no big deal, then who exactly are you going to plug into that top-3 role? And keep in mind that there is no defenseman tree outside the TBT Forum with a 300-games played top-4 who can move the puck and move that well in all four directions. Carle has put up points, eaten minutes, and he and Victor Hedman  are Cooper’s top defensive pair late in games. Hard to get better than that in recent memory outside of Filppula. But those mistakes!? Yeah, defensemen make mistakes, they’re just magnified more than the forwards. It happens. They’re humans out there, not Lidstroms. I also really liked Sean Bergenheim  for his role. Hated to see him go, but understood it completely.
As for the worst, it would have to be someone from whom much was expected, and they didn’t come close. I think Eric Brewer  was re-signed to be the kind of defenseman he showed after he came over from the Blues and in the playoffs, and he hasn’t been that top-3/4 shutdown, big-minute guy since. He’s settled into a third pair, PK role now, and he provides good leadership, but he was signed to be more. I think you also have to say Mattias Ohlund . No way he’s signed if Tampa Bay knows what happens just a couple years after he inks with the Lightning. He was good for Hedman, though. Alex Tanguay  was a bit of a disaster, too.
Part 2 coming on Friday.