The Tampa Bay Lightning have claimed prospect forward Radek Smolenak on waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks and have reassigned him to the Norfolk Admirals, it was announced today by Lightning Executive Vice President & General Manager Brian Lawton.
Smolenak, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound left wing from Prague, Czech Republic, skated in one regular season game with the Blackhawks and recorded five penalty minutes on Thursday in Detroit. Last season, Smolenak made his NHL debut by playing six games with the Lightning, recording an assist and 10 penalty minutes while averaging 8:20 in ice time. He made his NHL debut on December 2 at Philadelphia and recorded his first NHL point with an assist in that game.
Smolenak, 22, ranked third in goals, fifth in points and tied for fifth in assists with the Admirals last season. In 71 games with the Admirals he recorded 24 goals and 25 assists with 165 penalty minutes. In 147 career AHL games between the Admirals and Springfield Falcons, Smolenak has 39 goals and 37 assists with 281 penalty minutes. He also has appeared in 43 career ECHL games between Johnstown and Mississippi, scoring 15 goals and 20 assists with 35 penalty minutes.
Smolenak was originally drafted in the third round (73rd overall) by the Lightning in 2005. He appeared in 132 games with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League from 2004-06, scoring 74 goals and 70 assists with 167 penalty minutes.
The Admirals and Manchester Monarchs will square off again tonight at Scope.
The official web site of the Chicago Blackhawks are reporting that the team has claimed Lightning prospect forward Radek Smolenak off waivers today. It was expected that the Lightning would be trimming their 40+ camp roster after Thursday night's preseason game in Winnipeg ahead of Friday night's exhibition scrimmage between the Bolts and Admirals at the Scope in Norfolk, VA. It is presumed that the Lightning placed Smolenak on waivers Thursday with the purposes of reassigning him to the Norfolk Admirals.
Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune is reporting that the Tampa Bay Lightning have inked prospect forward Radek Smolenak to a one year contract pending the receipt of a document from the KHL indicating his freedom from any contractual obligations. The gritty Czech winger, dubbed with the nickname "Smoke", signed a contract with a KHL team for the 2009-10 season back in May after his three-year entry-level contract with the Lightning had expired. However, Smolenak was recently cut from his KHL team during its exhibition season reportedly due to the team's limited number of import player roster slots. Tampa had retained Smolenak's NHL rights in June by filing a qualifying offer to the player. It seemed a contract was imminent when Smolenak's name appeared on the Lightning's 2009 training camp roster on Wednesday.
Stay tuned for more details as this story develops.
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.
Reports have surface on the Czech site iDNES.cz that Nizhnekamsk of the KHL has cut Bolt prospect forward Radek Smolenak from its pre-season roster. Smolenak had signed a contract with Nizhnekamsk at the end of May 2009 after his entry level deal with the Lightning expired. Smolenak's defection back to Europe came as a surprise after a somewhat successful six-game debut with Tampa during the 2008-09 season. The 22 year old left winger posted a career year bagging 24 goals and 25 assists along with 165 penalty minutes in 71 games for the AHL Norfolk Admirals after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Lightning. Heading into the 2009 summer, it appeared that Smolenak was poised to push for a Lightning roster spot in the 2009-10 training camp, but his decision to forego resigning with Tampa as a restricted free agent signaled that he wasn't interested in the possibility of returning to Norfolk.
"It all happened quickly. I joined the preparatory matches and trained, but the mood overall was very good. In the four games we'd succumbed, then head of the club announced that Neftekhimik issue a bit differently," Smolenak said in a loosely translated quote from the Czech web site. Smolenak further indicated he had no immediate plans as to the next stop for his hockey career, but the Bolts continue to hold his NHL rights after issuing the gritty winger a qualifying offer in June. With the trade of the speedy and physical Evgeny Artyukhin to Anaheim earlier this month, the Lightning may very well still be interested in getting Smolenak back to North America for the 2009-10 season.