Jones, Blair

Prospects and Stars to Highlight Lightning Pre-Season Home Opener

Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune has released the roster for the Tampa Bay Lightning's only pre-season home game Friday night against the Atlanta Thrashers. 2009 1st round draft picks Victor Hedman and Carter Ashton highlight six prospects that will get important starts in a star-filled lineup in front of an expectant home crowd. After playing 27+ minutes against Dallas Wednesday night, Hedman will get a chance to showcase why he was the #2 overall pick this summer. Ashton will line up on right wing alongside franchise center Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay on what presumes to be Tampa's top line. A heady start for the young power forward whom most believe is headed back Lethbridge for one more year of juniors. Forwards Paul Szczechura, Richard Panik and Blair Jones get their second consecutive starts after playing Wednesday against the Stars. Jones tallied the go-ahead goal in the third period before the Bolts succumbed to a shootout loss. Prospect goaltender phenom Dustin Tokarski will relieve Mike Smith for the third period and demonstrate to the home crowd as to why he won the 2008 Memorial Cup.

The expected forward lines for Friday's game are:

Alex Tanguay - Vincent Lecavalier - Carter Ashton
Ryan Malone - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Stephane Veilleux - Paul Szczechura - Richard Panik
Zenon Konopka - Ryan Craig - Blair Jones

Joining Hedman on the blueline for a second straight game are David Hale, Kurtis Foster, and Mike Lundin. Mattias Ohlund will be making his Lightning debut and Lukas Krajicek rounds out the Bolt defensive corps. Joining Tokarski in net is Lightning #1 goalie Mike Smith in his first game action since a concussion prematurely ended his 2008-09 season.

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9/16 Lightning at Stars

The Lightning's minor leaguers drop one in a shootout to half of the Stars' first stringers.

TB-3
DAL-4 (SO)

Antero Nittymaki allowed 2 goals on 15 shots through the first 40 minutes before giving way to Jaroslav Janus who allowed 1 goal on 11 shots in the third and overtime before going 2/3 in the penalty shot session for the overtime loss. All in all, a very good performance for a young man who has been challenged to earn a pro contract.

First Period
DAL 9:28, Eriksson 1 (PP) (Modano)
DAL 18:51, Richards 1 (PP) (Modano, Neal)

Second Period
TB 5:45, Fedoruk 1 (Mclean)
TB 19:31, Mclean 1 (PP) (Foster, Downie)

Third Period
TB 5:55, Jones 1 (Halpern, Miller)
DAL 16:46, Neal 1 (Richards, Eriksson)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
TB- NONE
DAL - Richards

Winners? Brett McLean, who is also looking for a contract, drops 1 goal and 1 assist. The Kurtis Foster experiment gets off to a decent start with a power play assist, a +1, and 4 shots on goal. Richard Panik earns 15 minutes of ice time, which is a team high for forward prospects not named Steve Downie or Drew Miller. And Janus? Probably got a contract.

Steve Downie had a helper and was +1 in 17:03 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 4 hits. Still my pick to win the job on the Lecavalier/Tanguay line.

Drew Miller had 1 helper and was +1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 16:43.

Paul Szczechura was -1 in 12:22 with 1 shot on goal and 2 hits. He was also 33% on draws. If there was a loser in this game, in the race to win a roster, maybe it was Szczechura.

Dana Tyrell was -1 in 12:09 with 2 shots and 1 hit. He had a breakaway opportunity shorthanded he was stopped on. Coach Tocchet said he wanted to see if Tyrell could kill penalties. Shortie breakaways don't hurt.

Martins Karsums had 1 shot and 3 hits in 12:55. He also was stopped in the shootout session.

Blair Jones notched a rebound goal and was +1 in 12:42 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot. He also was stopped in the shootout session. Tocchet moved Jones over to right wing with Halpern and Miller, which is ostensibly two-thirds of the likely third line. It was a good opportunity for Jones and he did pretty well with it.

Matt Lashoff was +1 with 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 18:36. No hits? Matt, brother, do you read the website? We need to see some jam, my friend.

Richard Panik had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:00. I find it fascinating he got more shifts and more ice time than guys like Tyrell and Karsums who are closer to the NHL, particularly on the power play. They have sky high hopes for this young man, clearly.

Oh, yeah. Victor Hedman? 27:15 in his first NHL preseason game. Are you kidding? 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 blocked shot. That's unbelievable, really.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Prospects To Highlight Lightning Exhibition Opener

The Tampa Bay Lightning take the ice Wednesday night in Dallas, TX for their first pre-season game against the Dallas Stars. Five of BoltProspects' Top 7 ranked prospects, including the top three ranked prospects, will help kick off the Lightning's 2009-10 hockey season. Highlighting the Tampa roster will be 2009 #2 overall pick, Swedish blueline phenom Victor Hedman. Hedman will be joined by fellow 2009 draftees Richard Panik and Jaroslav Janus. Forwards Steve Downie and Dana Tyrell along with defenseman Matt Lashoff round out the remaining top prospects that will be showcased in tonight's opener. Forwards Blair Jones, Martins Karsums, and Paul Szczechura represent three more Top 20 prospects that are fighting for roster spots on the Lightning's bottom lines with overagers Drew Miller and Zenon Konopka.

The expected forward lines for Wednesday's game are:

Drew Miller - Jeff Halpern - Blair Jones
Brandon Bochenski - Paul Szczechura - Dana Tyrell
Steve Downie - Brett McLean - Richard Panik
Todd Fedoruk - Zenon Konopka - Martins Karsums

Joining Lashoff and Hedman on the blueline are newcomers David Hale and Kurtis Foster along with former prospects Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin. Joining Janus in net is 2009 free agent acquisition Antero Niittymaki.

On Smolenak and Lashoff

Two very interesting and unrelated things happened today with the signing of Bolt Prospects #2 rated prospect Matt Lashoff and the release by KHL club Nizhnekamsk Bolt Prospects #17 rated prospect Radek Smolenak. Despite the wide disparity in terms of where they sit on the rankings, both prospects could still find themselves making significant contributions to the Lightning this season.

First, about Smolenak: the rumors I have heard suggest that Radek was pretty upset about not getting a recall in the second half of last season and I suspect that may have come up prominently in his discussions with the team before he left North America for the offseason. Given how quickly he signed with Nizhnekamsk once he left, I also suspect it would be fairly easy for there to be some bruised feelings on the Lightning's side too. With all that said, though, Smolenak's unexpected dismissal from Nizhnekamsk should be seen as an opportunity for both sides to potentially benefit after a short divorce, and I hope the Lightning are reaching out to Smolenak and his agent to let him know that there is still a place for him in the organization.

Smolenak is a player who is on the cusp of being an NHL player. His deficiencies are clear: he needs to get better defensively in his third of the rink and he doesn't have world class speed. That said, his strengths are equally clear in that he possesses considerably grit and physical bravery, especially around the opposing team's net, and a finisher's touch with a quick release and a razor sharp shot. The Lightning go into the 2009-2010 campaign with very little for certain on their lower lines. It's hard to envision anyone other than Jeff Halpern, Stephane Veilleux, and Adam Hall having a lower line job locked up in Tampa this coming season. The other three or four spots on the roster are open to a world class free-for-all, and a player with Smolenak's peculiar combination of grit and skill could find himself drawing a big league paycheck with a good camp. True, that assumes Smolenak has been training and conditioning properly and can shift his mindset from the disappointment of his release from Nizhnekamsk and any hard feelings that still linger with the Lightning toward leaving it all on the line to make the team. It also assumes that there are no legal entanglements in Smolenak's Russian deal and that he is a complete free agent and that the Lightning are interested in bring Smolenak back across the pond. But it's a possibility, and it's a possibility with very little downside as the worst case scenario would be the Lightning having Smolenak waiting down in Norfolk again playing for an AHL club that could desperately use his 20-30 potential goals at that level. If it's possible, and both sides are willing, they should make a fourth year for Smolenak in the organization happen.

And then there's Matt Lashoff, who was one of the few exciting reasons to watch a Lightning game late in a failed season last year after he was acquired at the trade deadline for Mark Recchi. I mention Lashoff as a bubble player not because I think he'll be sent down to the AHL, but because the numbers game may make it difficult for Lashoff to receive the ice time he needs to reach his considerable potential. Make no mistake, the skating ability Lashoff possesses is a rare and breathtaking assett. The kind of smooth, powerful acceleration that Lashoff has is special, and the fact he possesses soft hands and an ability to distribute the puck well makes him a potential force for the Lightning. But he finds himself at the bottom end of a logjam that includes new addition Mattias Ohlund and the returning Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros, who missed the second half of last season with injury. Lashoff has the ability to every bit as good as those three players and it's not hard to envision a future where he could become a perennial 30-40 point a year defenseman who is well capable of playing 20-22 minutes a night. True, to get to that time Lashoff must commit to paying attention to detail in his own end of the rink and to showing more edge and willingness to battle to win puck battles. But, the possibilities are almost boundless for Lashoff, and so it would be foolish for the Lightning to not commit to making sure Lashoff recieves every opportunity to reach his potential and equally foolish for Lashoff not to step up and make sure he makes clear to Coach Tocchet that he refuses to slip off the bubble.

Smolenak and Lashoff are just two of a host of young players, from Steve Downie to Blair Jones, who have the potential to contribute greatly to a revival in Tampa Bay starting next season. And, starting next month with training camp, a great story is going to be written by some of these players, and it's a story that I can't even guess the outcome of. Maybe that's why two obscure transactions in the dog days of August made me excited for hockey, and the promise of a new season. Let's get it cranked up.

Bolts Sign Lauri Tukonen; Resign Blair Jones

Confirming a story that broke earlier today, the Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed prospect center Blair Jones and right wing Lauri Tukonen, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced today.

Jones, whose 3 year entry-level contract expired at the end of last season, finished as the Norfolk Admirals’ second leading scorer last season and was the only player to appear in all 80 games. The Lightning acquired Tukonen’s rights from the Dallas Stars last November in exchange for defenseman Andrew Hutchinson.

Jones, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound native of Central Butte, Saskatchewan, set career highs with 20 goals, 34 assists and 54 points in 80 games for the Admirals last season. He ranked second in scoring, fourth in goals, second in assists and tied for second in power play goals (8) with Norfolk. He also established a new AHL Admirals franchise record with 271 shots on goal, ranking third in the American Hockey League. The 22 year old center has appeared in 155 games with the Admirals over the past two seasons, tallying 34 goals and 96 points. He ranks 12th all-time in AHL Admirals scoring and is just four points away from becoming the tenth player to record 100 points in his AHL Admirals career. Jones has appeared in 200 career AHL contests between Norfolk and the Springfield Falcons, recording 39 goals and 117 points. Jones was originally selected by Tampa Bay in the fourth round (102nd overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He has appeared in 24 career National Hockey League contests with the Lightning, recording one goal and three points.

Tukonen, a 6-foot-2, 198-pound native of Hyvinkaa, Finland, skated in 35 games in the Finnish Elite League last season. He scored five goals and 13 points in 21 games with Ilves Tampere while netting three goals and eight points in 14 games with Lukko Rauma. Originally drafted 11th overall by Los Angeles in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Tukonen, 22, has skated in five career games with the Kings (2006-07 and 2007-08). He has appeared in 185 career American Hockey League games with the Manchester Monarchs, tallying 36 goals, 103 points and 74 penalty minutes. Tukonen skated in three World Junior Championships for Finland from 2004-2006, collecting Bronze Medals in 2004 and 2006. In 2006, he finished third in tournament scoring with three goals and 10 points in seven games.

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