Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” – a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. As I continue my alphabetical journey, I bring you a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not static rules though, as I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Rulings: Keith Aulie (76 Career Games) and Brett Connolly (68 career games) have graduated.
2012 Draft Prospects Reviewed:
Slater Koekoek, Andrei Vasilevski, Dylan Blujus, Brian Hart,
Top Prospect: Vladislav Namestnikov, Centre
Born Nov 22 1992 — Voskresensk, Russia
Height 6.00 — Weight 170 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 1 #27 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Namestnikov comes from impressive bloodlines. His father, Yevgeni, was a journeyman pro who played 43 NHL games but mostly played in the AHL and old RSL (Russian Super League, precursor to the KHL). His uncle (mother’s side) is Slava Kozlov who scored 853 points in a long NHL career with Detroit, Buffalo, and Atlanta. Namestnikov has spent the last two seasons playing his junior hockey in London, and he was part of the Knights squad that won the OHL title and went to the Memorial Cup, only to lose the championship game in Overtime.
Namestnikov is an excellent skater. He has a very smooth, textbook stride and it allows him to have very good top end speed and acceleration. He is a very agile skater, with very good edgework. This makes him very shifty and elusive, beating defenders off the rush or in the offensive zone. He could use a bit more lower body strength in order to help him be stronger on the puck, and harder to knock off his stride.
Namestnikov is a talented offensive player with very good hockey IQ. He has great vision in the offensive zone, and makes great reads of opposing defences. He almost always makes the smart, effective play. Excellent stickhandling skills allow him to extend the play in the offensive zone waiting for teammates to get open. This is followed by a quick, accurate pass that often finds their stick when they do. Namestnikov is a deadly playmaker, who makes his wingers better around him. He also has decent power on his wrist shot, good accuracy and a decent release. It can be a weapon for him in the OHL, and even at the pro level, but Namestnikov’s real calling is as more of a playmaker than a sniper. Namestnikov is not afraid to go into traffic or go to the dirty areas of the ice to make a play.
Namestnikov is also defensively responsible, and understands the roll of a centre in his own end of the ice. He works hard to help with the backchecking duties and to cover a man down lown. His hockey sense also helps him in the defensive end, as his great anticipation causes turnovers.
On the boards Namestnikov works hard and engages in board battles, but he quite simply needs to bulk up and get bigger and stronger before he can win more. A year in the AHL refining his game would probably be a good thing for his development as well. Expect Namestnikov to challenge for a spot on the Lightning Roster in 2013.
Top Prospect #2, Mark Barberio, Defence
Born Mar 23 1990 — Montreal, PQ
Height 6.00 — Weight 201 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 6 #152 overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Barberio took his game to a new level in Norfolk this year. Leading the offense from the backend, he led the entire AHL in scoring by a defenceman, and was fourth in overall team scoring with 13 goals and 61 points in just 74 games. His contributions were a key component of the Norfolk Admirals record setting win streak, and their Calder Cup Championship.
Barberio’s offensive game is built on his intelligence and poise with the puck on his stick. He makes excellent reads and gets the play started from the blueline showing a natural ability to quarterback the powerplay. His passing and vision lead to excellent scoring opportunities for the Norfolk forwards. A quick and agile skater, Barberio walks the line and opens up shooting and passing lanes effectively. He has a hard and accurate slap shot which he can keep low to advantage of traffic in front, or rip top shelf on a one timer. Barberio has been known to take too many chances pinching, or leading the rush in the past, however he has really cut this down. He makes better decisions and still creates offense in these ways, he just does it more selectively and effectively.
Barberio’s defensive game has long been a question mark, even going back to his junior days. It was the improvement in this side of his game that really allowed him to have an offensive explosion this year. You see, there wasn’t much question about his offensive talent, but his riverboat gambling style, and a lack of upper body strength used to make him a defensive liability. He’s cleaned up those areas of his game, and as a result got a lot more ice time with Norfolk last season. He even played on the penalty kill.
Last season, Barberio went from a player that needed his minutes and matchups carefully monitored to the Admiral’s number 1 defenceman. This season Barberio hopes to continue that upward trajectory and make the Lightning squad out of training camp. He certainly has a chance to make the team, and the Lightning could use him with Matt Carle to give the team a big powerplay boost. Even if he can’t crack the opening day roster, expect to see Barberio as one of the Lightning’s first callups. He’ll be in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Top Prospect #3; Richard Panik, Right Wing
Born Feb 7 1991 — Martin, Slovakia
Height 6.02 — Weight 215 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 2 #52 overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
As a rookie for Norfolk, Panik had an impressive rookie season, scoring 19 goals and 41 points in 64 games. In the playoffs Panik scored the overtime winner in game 6 of the Admirals hard fought second round series with the Connecticut Whale. This goal would push the team into the Conference Finals, as the Admirals continued their run to the Calder Cup.
Panik is a talented skater. He has good top end speed and agility. He changes speeds effectively to create separation from defenders. He has good agility, and edgework, and makes quick precise cuts. This makes him extremely elusive and gives him the time and the space to create offensive chances.
Panik has hard and accurate wrist and snap shots. He’s a sniper, and his quick release often freezes goaltenders. Before they know it, the puck is in the back of the net. He’s also an effective playmaker off the wing, with the ability to thread a pass through a very tight space, and with good vision to find the open man. His hands are excellent, as he is able to stickhandle in a phone booth and has great puck protection and control.
Panik needs to continue to work on his defensive game, as it is what is holding him back right now. He needs to learn proper positioning, be more physical in his own end, and remember to keep his feet moving at all times. Once he can improve at this aspect of the game, he’ll get his NHL opportunity.
Sleeper Pick, J.T. Brown,
Born Jul 2 1990 — Burnsville, MN
Height 5.10 — Weight 170 — Shoots Right
Signed as a Free Agent March 2012
Coming out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Brown was the most sought after college free agent forward this past spring. Steve Yzerman scored a major coup in attracting Brown to the lightning. The young Brown would play in 5 games for the Lightning this year and then make team USA where he was used sparingly in 6 games at the Men’s World Hockey Championship this spring. Blessed with the athletic gene, Brown is the son of former Minnesota Vikings running back Ted Brown.
Brown may be only 5’10”, but he plays a rugged, physical game. Some might even call him a power forward. Brown has excellent skating, he has great balance and is very difficult to knock off the puck. His top end speed is very good and helps him to be an effective forechecker. He is often first on the puck, and causes mistakes and turnovers with his ability to pressure defencemen. He’s a punishing hitter who will relentlessly tire out an opposing teams defence with constant forechecking pressure. Brown also has good agility and edgework which help him to beat defenders one on one and cut to the net hard.
Brown is a goal scorer. He has good hands in tight, and a heavy shot from further away. His release is above average but could still be improved. His playmaking is decent as he has decent vision and some good passing skills but it is not the strength of his game. The biggest part of Brown’s game is the tireless work ethic and the willingness to play a robust game. This also helps him at the defensive end of the ice.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Brown was put in the NHL for 5 games immediately after signing. This is often a contract issue as it lets the top college free agents burn a year off their entry level contract and is often an enticement for a highly recruited player like Brown. He will still have to work hard in training camp and make the Lightning squad this spring. He certainly could make the big squad with a good camp, or he could end up starting the season in Syracuse in the AHL for further development and find himself being a mid-season callup. Brown’s future potential is to be a 2nd or 3rd line NHLer who brings energy to his team and secondary scoring potential.
The Lightning have done a great job in finding late round talent, or signing undrafted free agents. They have really built up a deep and talented group of young prospects. Many in that group were part of a late season, record setting winning streak for the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL. The Admirals would also go on to win the Calder Cup. This has shown the talent of players like: Cory Conacher, an undersized but skilled forward who led the team in scoring and invokes memories of Martin St. Louis; Tyler Johnson, another undersized but skilled winger with tremendous skating; Radko Gudas, a physical and aggressive defensive, defenceman; and Dustin Tokarski, a good young goaltender who is extremely fundamentally sound. With other prospects like Alex Killorn at Harvard, Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov in the KHL, and their impressive 2012 Draft crop the Lightning have built up some great depth in the system. It should be noted that the Lightning have changed AHL affiliates, and that this season their AHL prospects will be playing for the Syracuse Crunch.
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