By Mike Gallimore
With a national holiday Wednesday, promising a lighter workload and an afternoon excursion to see the Rays looming, the Lightning's prospects and invitees took to the ice for several sessions Tuesday morning and afternoon. As GM Steve Yzerman took the time to stress, this camp is strictly a tool for presenting the culture of professional hockey, getting a feel for each player's conditioning, abilities and, in the case of returning participants, progression and provide some structured learning opportunities.
The NHL free agency period starts July 1 and while the Lightning were active in past years, the shallow pool of players available this year may mean they spend more time observing than participating.
Itâ€™s no secret the Lightning need a defenseman and Assistant General Manager Julien Brisebois recently told the Syracuse Post-Standard the team plans to add two blueliners before the fall. A look at the numbers says thatâ€™s true.
Lightning Head Coach Guy Boucher frequently dresses seven defensemen and the team could easily carry eight on the roster throughout the year.
Expected to start the season on the Tampa Bay defense are Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer, Brian Lee, Brendan Mikkelson, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Keith Aulie. The first hole is in the top-4, where someone like free agent Ryan Suter of Nashville would fit perfectly. Of course, heâ€™d fit â€œperfectlyâ€ on to 29 other NHL rosters, too.
The Lightning were bombarded with injuries on the backline last year, led by veteran Mattias Ohlund missing the entire year with knee problems. While Ohlund is trying to make a comeback, that may not happen until next year â€“ if at all. The bottom line is Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman likely isnâ€™t counting on any contribution from the veteran Swede.
Speaking of Yzerman, he recently told the Tampa Bay Times that if he canâ€™t get defensive additions through free agency or trade, he could look to the AHL for help. The options there include frequent flier Evan Oberg, reigning AHL Defenseman of the Year Mark Barberio, or hard-hitting Radko Gudas, who was arguably Norfolkâ€™s best defenseman in their Calder Cup run last season. Gudas is also a right-handed shot, which is craved by Tampa Bay.
Lightning Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray said repeatedly this week that the club has about 15 players it views as a tier above the rest of the 2012 draft class. Heâ€™s gone as far as saying they are comfortable with their top-15, there are no ties in the rankings, and his staff is confident they will get a great player with pick 10 and one of their top-15 will be available with their second first rounder, No.19.
With as unpredictable and dividing as this draft is, Murray and the Lightning appear set to let their list do the deciding for them.
Itâ€™s Murrayâ€™s job to take the philosophy and wishes of the NHL general manager, in this case Steve Yzerman, and formulate his list. A few weeks ago, Murray said Yzerman requested the list be made of players who will make an impact at the NHL level someday with an emphasis on skill, hockey sense, and compete level.
Yzerman has to assume his coach, Guy Boucher, will be his coach in a few years when these teenagers are ready for the NHL, which means they have to be fast enough to fit into Boucherâ€™s up-tempo style. Heâ€™s also not scared to take an injured player if it means heâ€™s going to end up with an NHLer in a few years. Weâ€™re not convinced Yzerman likes to swing for the fences, as former GM Jay Feaster used to say, by taking a player who while having a high ceiling, doesnâ€™t also have an NHL floor.
Unfortunately, Bolt Prospects has been unable to scrape together the funds to a reputable hacker (oxymoron?) or Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, not Jeremy Renner) to obtain â€œthe list,â€ so weâ€™re going to have to guess.
Based on Yzermanâ€™s criteria, we feel the Lightning may be targeting the following 15 prospects as their â€œbest available for the Lightning.â€ It does not mean best overall for everyone.
Best. Prospect. Season. Ever.
After each of the previous six seasons in which we've posted Final Rankings for the Tampa Bay Lightning's prospects, we've had the opportunity to look back on the year and celebrate the progress the organization has made in cultivating and developing its youth. Steady improvement has been made year-to-year as we've tracked the achievements of the team's young players around the world.
This year, the team reached heights we never imagined 6-1/2 years ago, with 9 of our top 10 prospects winning championships in their respective leagues this season. The Lightning's depth has our rankings bursting at the seams, with a few prospects that could make it to Tampa Bay next season surprisingly finding themselves on the outside of the top 10. Bottom line: we have no idea how the Lightning's developmental organization is ever going to top what they did this season.
Then again, with a large bag full of top-60 picks in this year's NHL Entry Draft, perhaps the seeds of the Lightning's next great prospect season are less than two weeks away from being planted.
With the graduation of Brett Connolly from prospect status, it's finally time to release Bolt Prospects' 2011-2012 Midterm Rankings. While difficult for the Lightning at the NHL level, this season has proven to be incredibly exciting for the development of the team's prospects. The Lightning have never boasted such incredible depth in the system, and that depth extends to overage prospects like Trevor Smith, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, and J.T. Wyman, who have made positive contributions to the big club during injury recalls. The team should also be excited about the performance of AHL signees like Philip-Michael Devos and Cory Conacher, the latter of whom is a lock to earn an NHL entry-level contract from the Lightning very soon.