Hereâ€™s a bold statement: the Tampa Bay Lightning are fully capable of becoming Stanley Cup champions within the next five seasons. With two legitimate franchise centers in longtime stalwart Vincent Lecavalier and star wunderkind Steven Stamkos and a bevy of young goaltenders headlined by the ultra-competitive Mike Smith, the Lightning actually have many of the key components necessary to become an elite NHL team. That may seem like an insane statement coming off of a year that the Lightning finished second-to-last in the league, but between their core pieces and a bevy of other young complimentary players like Paul Ranger, Andrej Meszaros, and Matt Lashoff, the future in Tampa Bay is brighter than anyone is giving the team credit for. However, for the Lightning to reach their full potential, they must keep Lecavalier and they must capitalize on their draft position in the deep 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Make no mistake about it: this is the most important draft for the Lightning in 11 years. The 1998 draft was critical for the 2004 Stanley Cup team in supplying two core players (Lecavalier and Richards) and four players (including Dimitry Afanasenkov and Martin Cibak) overall to that championship roster. That draft seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime talent grab for the team, but with three picks in the top-60 in a talent rich year for youth, the new Lightning scouting staff might be set up to bring in an equally impressive fistfull of NHL talent. If they do, the Lightning may be just a few years away from reclimbing the ladder into the ranks of the NHL elite.
With the elimination of Rimouski in the Memorial Cup tournament, the 2008-2009 season has finally come to a close for all of the prospects of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. While the Lightning's record in 2008-2009 at the NHL was disappointing with the team finishing second to last in the league, the play of the team's youth was a bright spot. The team graduated three prospects this season: star center Steven Stamkos, physical defenseman Matt Smaby, and athletic netminder Karri Ramo. In addition, several other prospects made their NHL debuts this season, and most did not look out of place at hockey's top level. As a result, even with the graduation of three prospects, our Final Rankings for 2008-2009 reflect a solid roster of talent among the team's top prospects, which will only be added to in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft where the Lightning will hold three picks in the top sixty of the draft including the second overall pick.
As is customary, for those who have never read our rankings reports before, Bolt Prospects' rules are fairly simple. For skaters, a player is considered a prospect if they are less than 24 years of age on opening night of the Lightning's season and if they have not played 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games. The same age standard applies to goaltenders, but their thresholds for graduation from prospect status are different: 30 or more NHL decisions in a single season, or 41 or more career NHL decisions. NCAA players are still considered prospects at the age of 24 or older for as long as they remain in school. Bolt Prospects will issue a Supplementary Rankings Update in late June after the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Without further ado, here are Bolt Prospects' 2008-2009 Final Rankings:
With about a month to go in the regular season over in Europe, and a little over a couple of months left to go in North America, the 2008-2009 season has turned out to be a good one for the prospects of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Asked to buoy the Lightning's sagging playoff hopes and to compensate for a spate of injuries on the top club's blueline, the team's youth has served admirably and done their part to help right the ship for Head Coach Rick Tocchet's club. Heading into the stretch run of the season, it looks like the youth in the Lightning organization may be priming for a big finish, capping a 2008-2009 season that in many ways has been a validation of the work that's been done by the club's scouts and developmental people, past and present.
Today, Bolt Prospects is releasing its Preliminary Prospect Rankings for the 2008-2009 season. Eight prospects make their debut in the Top 25 since the end of the 2007-2008 season. Half of the debutantes enter the list via the 2008 NHL Entry Draft including the #1 overall pick. The other half enter the list via various trades and acquisitions made by the new Lightning ownership.
Just a reminder of the rules: a prospect is any player under the age of 24 on opening night of the Lightningâ€™s NHL season that has not played 41 or more games in an NHL season or more than 82 games in their NHL career. For goaltenders, the games thresholds are slightly different. Netminders will be considered prospects if they have not achieved 30 or more decisions in an NHL season or 41 decisions in their NHL careers. In addition, all college players will be considered prospects, regardless of their age, until they graduate. Players over the age of 24 on opening night that have not graduated are considered overage prospects.
With all the legal disclaimers out of the way, lets begin:
1. C Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay (NHL)
Despite a slow start to his rookie campaign, Stamkos remains the clear consensus choice as the Lightning's top prospect. It's only a matter of time before Stamkos, with his world class speed and shot, becomes one of the game's elite forwards. We just hope the Lightning can finally figure out the right linemates and role to put Stamkos in a position to succeed.
The Lightning prospects turned in an impressive defensive effort but drop their first game 1-0 to the Thrasher prospects in the opening match of the Traverse City Prospect Tournament today. Dustin Tokarski started in net for the Bolt prospects and went the distance, stopping 20 of 21 shots and looked sharp throughout the match. The only black mark was defenseman Paul Postma's even-strength blast from the left point in the first period. Atlanta's Chris Carrozzi stopped 26 Lightning shots including a great left pad save on a Chris Lawrence turnaround from the slot with 46 seconds remaining. Lawrence is wearing the 'C' for the Traverse City squad.
Ty Wishart led all Bolt prospects with 6 shots on goal and was a visible physical presence on the blueline, using the hip and shoulder on more than one occasion. Wishart was paired with Norfolk Admiral Daryl Boyle, and saw plenty of PP time. Tampa's top line consisted of Mitch Fadden centering Lawrence and Dana Tyrell. Lawrence and Boyle both fired 4 shots at Corrozzi. Free agent backliner Jeff May was paired with Mark Barberio. Free agent invitee centerman Brett Parnham was the only scratch.
See the boxscore for the remainder of individual stats, but the real story was the goaltending battle between Tokarski and Corrozzi. The Lightning three stars of the game were Tokarski, Wishart, and Boyle.
This game will be shown as tape delay Sunday night at 8pm ET on the NHL Network. The Lightning play their next game Sunday night at 7:30pm CT against the Detroit Red Wings prospects.
In-game reports courtesy of Mike Morreale who is blogging the Traverse City tournament at NHL.com