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.
By Corine Gatti
NORFOLK, Va. - Norfolk defenseman Andy Rogers did not anticipate the difficulty or adjustments he would endure at the start of his professional career. Now, it's a fight to prove to himself and to the brass upstairs that he can move on.
Riddled with injuries and the usual lack of maturity found in many players, Rogers was slipping behind on the depth charts. After two seasons of moving off the radar, Rogers entered the final year of his three-year entry-level contract this season and the 22-year-old started to hush critics. Before the 2008-09 campaign, Rogers had a solid outing at camp for Tampa Bay. He climbed out of obscurity and moved up in the depth charts and prospect rankings during the fall. Rogersâ€™ skating developed further this season, along with working developing better gap control. The Calgary, Alberta native earned 16 to 24 minutes of ice time under the leadership of Norfolk coach, Darren Rumble, according to Admirals General Manager Mike Butters.
TSN.ca is announcing Team Canada's final roster for the upcoming World Junior Championship, and for the first time two Lightning draftees will be on the squad.
Two-way winger/center Dana Tyrell of the WHL's Prince George Cougars, a 2007 2nd round draft choice, is one of just 12 forwards named to the team. Goaltender Dustin Tokarski, a 2008 fifth round pick from Spokane of the WHL, is one of two goalies, joining Tri-City's Chet Pickard.
A character forward known for his work ethic, physical play, and scoring, Tyrell currently leads Prince George with 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points in 30 games. The 19 year old nicknamed "Whiskers" also serves as captain of the Cougars.
Tokarski leads the WHL in save percentage (.938) and shutouts (4) and is second in goals against average (1.97) to Vancouver's Jamie Tucker, who has now played in the minimum amount of games to be counted among that category's leaders.
The Lightning have not had a draftee on Team Canada since Brad Richards in 1999-2000.
Tampa Bay joins St. Louis, L.A., and Buffalo as the only NHL teams to place multiple prospects on the team.
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.
By Corine Gatti
Either they loved him or they hated winger/bruiser Steve Downie in Philadelphia. According to several postings and reactions of both Flyer fans and the American Hockey League Phantomsâ€™ bloggers â€“ most fans adored the 5-foot, 10-inch Newmarket, Ontario native. Some posted that they feared him on the opposing side after he was traded from Philadelphia to the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 7. At only 21-years of age, Downie has already amassed quite a reputation for seeing the penalty box and taking lengthy suspensions. The National Hockey League benched him for 20-games for his hit on Ottawaâ€™s Dean McAmmond during a preseason game with the Flyers last September. Downie's past has not eluded him. The American Hockey League suspended the winger for three games Wednesday after smashing Worchesterâ€™s defenseman Kyle McLaren from behind during the second period. Downie has only played six games with Norfolk.
The Downie package does have an upside. The right wing can play both sides of the rink. He is a strong skater and has the agility to put offensive numbers on the board, despite his frame. After the trade from the Philadelphia organization, Downie joined the Norfolk Admirals on their two-week road trip. He was paired with Zenon Konopka and notched three points during his first week.
By Corine Gatti
NORFOLK, Va. â€“ It is part of the life of an athlete. Being traded and packing up the suitcase to start over in an unfamiliar city is nothing new. Norfolk center Paul Szczechura experienced that last winter after being informed that the Iowa Stars traded him to the Norfolk Admirals. Shocked and disappointed, Szczechura turned his thinking around and his game around. â€œIt was a little rough in the beginning when I found out and left Iowa [Stars],â€ Szczechura said. â€œIt was around Christmas time and I knew I had to work harder.â€ Iowa had initially signed Szczechura to an Amateur Tryout Contract in March 2007 after finishing his collegiate career at Western Michigan University [CCHA]. He was signed to an American Hockey League Standard Playerâ€™s contract the following season. With that all behind him, Szczechura joined Norfolk undrafted and without an NHL contract.
But that didnâ€™t last.
Szczechuraâ€™s destiny and career took a turn for the better. The Brantford, Ontario native tuned into his own offensive rhythm and adapted instantly to an Admirals jersey. The Southeast seemed to smile down on the rookie, notching seven goals in his first 10 games with Norfolk. The center tied the Admirals for third on the team with 14 goals, and finished the 2007-2008 campaign by scintillating fans with 26 points in 24 games.A two-year NHL contract with the Lightning soon followed in April. What deemed to be a setback, the trade paid dividends for both Tampa and Szczechura.
Change was good.
Lightning 2008 sixth round pick Mark Barberio was featured today in the Moncton paper:
When the Moncton Wildcats acquired Mark Barberio in a trade midway through 2006-07, he was known as a defensive defenceman. But it seems his identity has changed since then.
He began to take on a new look last season when he was the surprise runnerup in team scoring with 46 points, including 11 goals, in 70 games. That made him the ninth-highest scoring defenceman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Barring injury, he will likely surpass those statistics this season and move into the top five in Wildcats career scoring for a defenceman. He has 11 points, including four goals, in 11 games.
"I don't want to be branded as somebody who's only a defensive defenceman or only an offensive defenceman,'' said Barberio. "I like to consider myself an all-around defenceman.
For the rest of this feature, please see the Moncton Times-Transcript by clicking here.
(PG Citizen) Dana Tyrell believes he belongs at a higher level, but that's not going to keep him from doing the best he can at this one.
Tyrell, the captain of the Prince George Cougars, will see his first home action of the WHL season when the Chilliwack Bruins arrive for a doubleheader -- games Friday and Saturday at CN Centre. Tyrell, now a 19-year-old and the longest-tenured player on the team, was on the ice last weekend as the Cats lost in Vancouver but rebounded with an overtime victory in Chilliwack.
"I definitely feel I can play there, and I could've played there this year," said Tyrell, who had a lengthy stay at the main camp of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
When Lightning prospects last took the ice, Tampa co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie squared off behind the benches in an intra squad scrimmage to close last month's Prospect Camp in Victoria, BC. But when Tampa prospects take to the ice September 13th in Traverse City, MI for the 8 team tournament, the owners will leave the coaching to the professionals. The Lightning announced that Norfolk Admirals head coach Darren Rumble will lead the year's Traverse squad along with Norfolk assistant coach Alan May.
It was also confirmed that the remaining player on Tampa's roster will be free agent invitee Luciano Aquino. The 5.10, 200 lbs right winger put up a gaudy 41-50-91 in 74 games last year for the IHL's Fort Wayne Komets enroute to winning the IHL Rookie-of-the-Year honors. Aquino is a 2005 7th round pick of the New York Islanders and is no stranger to offensive proclivities. He was a point-per-gamer for the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies in the 2006-07 season, and put up a tawdry 2.25 point-per-game average in his shortened final junior campaign for Brampton. Aquino's Fort Wayne teammate Matieu Curadeau recently signed a two-way AHL/IHL contract with Norfolk, and Aquino, who lists Tampa's Martin St. Louis as his favorite NHL player, will be given a long look by the organization whose system lacks an explosive right wing sniper.
James Wright's wake-up call came from NHL teams hitting the snooze button on him at their entry draft.
Wright, a Vancouver Giants centre, may be a pro-level skater already and that led to speculation that he could have been a second-rounder this past summer. That speculation, too, led to him attending the festivities in Ottawa with his family.
Wright, 18, has also had an up-and-down first two years with the Giants, thanks to an inconsistent battle level. NHL teams looked at that most of all, as he wasn't picked until the end of the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.