© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2003
47 JOHN GRAHAME
HT/WT: 6-2, 214.
HIS JOB: Solid backup. Coach John Tortorella never grew confident in Kevin Hodson, and it was evident in how few games he played. Tortorella likes Grahame's size. And that he was considered a possible No. 1 for the Bruins gave him instant credibility. A steal for a fourth-round draft pick.
HIS PERFORMANCE: When Nikolai Khabibulin struggled, Grahame provided a cushion that kept the Lightning from a free fall. When Grahame is on, his positioning is sound and he makes it look easy. Good puck-handler. Can get into precarious positions but was a great addition.
HT/WT: 6-1, 196.
HIS JOB: To be one of the world's best goaltenders. Maybe expectations heading into the season were too lofty, but Khabibulin had only himself to blame after the show he put on last season. Covers the goal post-to-post better than most and has one of the game's best gloves.
HIS PERFORMANCE: An argument can be made Khabibulin sparked and then carried the Lightning on it amazing run through the final quarter of the season. An argument also can be made he was the team's biggest disappointment through the first three quarters. Making consistent saves rather than the spectacular turned his season around.
3 MARC BERGEVIN
HT/WT: 6-0, 210.
HIS JOB: Insurance. Bergevin, who played with the Lightning from its inception in 1992 to '95, has the playoff experience to be the perfect fill-in if one of Tampa Bay's top-six goes down with injury, or if the defense's level of play needs a lift.
HIS PERFORMANCE: A trade-deadline acquisition, Bergevin was a healthy scratch the remainder of the regular season. He was a nice surprise for the Penguins, who expected the defensive-minded defenseman to play about 40 games. He played 69 of 70 before the trade.
HT/WT: 5-11, 187.
HIS JOB: To provide a spark on offense. Yes, Boyle plays the blue line, and Lightning coach John Tortorella said responsibilities there are not to be shirked. But Boyle's offensive skills gave Tampa Bay a consistent way out of the defensive zone, something it sorely lacked in the past.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Better than expected. Boyle not only showcased his offense (great shot, good passer) but worked on his defense and is no longer a liability. And he battles. Boyle is not afraid to get his nose dirty or get in conflicts for the puck along the boards for the puck. Leads the team in ice time.
HT/WT: 6-5, 239.
HIS JOB: The anchor of the defense. Cullimore is your classic stay at home player who clears the front of the crease and throws a big body check. An extremely hard worker, consistent and smart, he does not try to overextend himself.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Before being sidelined in early December because of surgery to repair a torn left rotator cuff, Cullimore was taking yet another step in his development. He returned to action March 27.
AGE: Turns 26 on Tuesday.
HT/WT: 6-4, 236.
HIS JOB: A mixture of offense and defense. Kubina is big enough to clear people from in front of the net and his slap shot is big enough to strike fear into goaltenders. Takes regular turns on the power play and penalty kill.
HIS PERFORMANCE: He still goes to the ice too much to break up plays, and his shot is way too good not to have more goals, but Kubina has gotten better defensively as the season has progressed. And his confidence has grown to where his pinches into the offensive zone have created scoring chances. Second on the team in ice time.
HT/WT: 6-1, 196.
HIS JOB: Like Bergevin, Laukkanen is insurance against injury or faltering play on the blue line. Unlke Bergevin, Laukkanen provides some offensive pop. He also has playoff experience that is invaluable for a young team.
HIS PERFORMANCE: It has been a tough season for Laukkanen who has battled an arthritic hip. Though he had a successful conditioning assignment at AHL Hartford before being taken off waivers from the Rangers, he was basically a body to be used in emergencies.
HT/WT: 6-1, 205.
HIS JOB: Mostly defensive but he got involved in the offense more than expected and his numbers are career highs. Paired with Dan Boyle most of the season, Lukowich was insurance if his partner decided to scamper into the offensive zone.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Stronger and stronger as the season progressed. He made great strides in the second half and began to take the body to great advantage. A fractured orbital bone under his right eye has put him on the sideline.
HT/WT: 6-1, 209.
HIS JOB: Defense, defense, defense. Neckar accepts and excels at a stay at home role. He does not shy away from body contact and is willing to get involved in battles for the puck along the boards.
HIS PERFORMANCE: There is never any question about Neckar's effort. He gives everything he has on every shift. An added element to his game has been the increased use of his stick, which has broadened his coverage area, especially around the net.
HT/WT: 6-3, 203.
HIS JOB: Not to be flashy but consistent. Pratt can hit and is willing to stand up for teammates when necessary. You may not notice him but that just means he is doing his job.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Pratt gets big ups for sitting out the first 13 games of the season as a healthy scratch, not making waves and then anchoring himself to the lineup when he got his chance. The best way to describe him: steady.
HT/WT: 6-1, 200.
HIS JOB: It was supposed to be depth as he was signed the day before training camp. As injuries piled up, it became insurance. Nothing flashy here, just good old-fashioned know-how and experience. Stay at home, cover the slot and clear rebounds.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Tampa Bay could not have asked for anything more. Rumble played just 19 games but filled in admirably while not sacrificing the team's level of play. As the season evolved into a series of healthy scratches, Rumble never complained. The ultimate team player happy for a chance.
HT/WT: 6-3, 203.
HIS JOB: Another stay at home player, but with the added ability to deliver a devastating body check. His assignment, which he readily accepted, was to balance throwing those checks while not taking himself out of the play.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Give Sarich an A on his assignment. As his positioning and confidence have increased so has the frequency of his checks, which are remembered for their board-rattling quality. Sarich, whom coach John Tortorella has called the team's most improved player, has even gotten involved offensively on a need-to-go basis.
15 NIKITA ALEXEEV
HT/WT: 6-1, 195.
HIS JOB: With speed to burn, Alexeev can put extra pressure on defenses with his approaches to the offensive zone. He can put pressure on offenses with his forecheck. And he can score if he gets around the net. The key is for him to get there.
HIS PERFORMANCE: It has taken some time, but it appears Alexeev is finally figuring out the effort needed to play in the NHL; not just first efforts but second and third. His speed is always evident, though his substantial skills with the puck pop out only intermittently. He is stronger thanks to an offseason weight program. His work ethic must make the same gains.
HT/WT: 6-4, 220.
HIS JOB: Veteran leadership. His presence has touched almost every aspect of the team's game. He is a staple on the penalty kill and will take faceoffs in the defensive zone regardless of what line is on the ice.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Stellar. Andreychuk's 16:26of ice time was much more than what coach John Tortorella was hoping he would play, but the coach said Andreychuk left him no choice. Andreychuk's 20-goal season was his 18th. Only Gordie Howe (22) and Ron Francis (20) have more. His 3goals are 11th all-time and his 59 power play goals are a league record. He was the league's fourth-faceoff man among those with at least 1,000 attempts, winning 58.37percent.
AGE: Turns 25 on Friday.
HT/WT: 6-1, 198.
HIS JOB: Provide energy, defense and chip in with a goal now and then. Need a willing backchecker? Clymer is your man. Need someone to man the point on the power play in a pinch? Call Clymer. That's a lot of responsibility for someone who was supposed to start the season in the minors.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Okay, so Clymer could have scored more, but why quibble with someone who gave everything he had every night. His starring role was providing a defensive element to a line that included Vinny Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal.
HT/WT: 6-4, 235.
HIS JOB: Dingman did a lot of the work that must be done but receives little, if any, credit. The grunt work such as battling for the puck along the boards and playing on a line that provides a defensive presence after your teammates score a goal. He also has enforcer duties.
HIS PERFORMANCE: One of the toughest Lightning players to knock off the puck, Dingman uses his body as a shield. Did not provide the offense expected and probably could have been more consistent overall, but made his presence felt physically and by standing up for teammates.
HT/WT: 6-2, 195.
HIS JOB: Multi-faceted. Fedotenko was expected to provide offense as well as defense. He also was supposed to play in all game situations. When Fedotenko is at his best, he is crashing the net and battling in the corners.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Spotty. Fedotenko got the 20 goals he was expected to score. But he also went through extended scoring droughts. He also lost his spot for a time on the Vinny Lecavalier-Vinny Prospal line and significant time on the penalty kill because of defensive lapses. That said, when he was going well, Fedotenko was a major contributor.
AGE: 23 on April 21.
HT/WT: 6-4, 207.
HIS JOB: That was the big question for Lecavalier coming into the season. But when coach John Tortorella said he was ready to use Lecavalier in all game situations, the parameters were clear. Lecavalier had to do a little of everything and do it all very well.
HIS PERFORMANCE: This season may be a turning point for Lecavalier who found his offensive stride while adding defensive elements such as backchecking and forechecking. Lecavalier still gives up the puck far too easily in the offensive zone, and still struggles with faceoffs, but he showed the dazzle that had been lacking the previous two seasons and is a more complete player than any time in his career.
HT/WT: 6-4, 220.
HIS JOB: To use his big shot to score 30 goals. Simple enough. But Modin's strength and big body also make him a natural for the penalty kill. The strong, silent type, he also was expected to begin developing into a team leader.
HIS PERFORMANCE: The Lightning wanted Modin to shoot every chance he got, but he is such an unselfish player, he just as often looked to pass or for a better shot or play. An excellent penalty killer, though he could have been more consistent on the puck. And goal totals were not enough.
HT/WT: 6-1, 194.
HIS JOB: Energy, defense and a goal now and then. Olvestad is a disruptor. He won't throw many checks but his energetic skating makes him a good forechecker, and he never gives up on a play. But life in the NHL is rough if you cannot contribute offensively, which was expected.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Olvestad turned into a depth player because he did not score. And coach John Tortorella said Olvestad's defense and energy seemed to take a step back as well. A great team guy who will do whatever is asked, Olvestad probably won't see much playing time in the playoffs.
HT/WT: 6-2, 194.
HIS JOB: Create offense by scoring goals and making pinpoint passes. Even more than that, Tampa Bay wanted Prospal to be opportunistic, to create offense on the transition and with turnovers. That meant solidifying a work ethic that came to the fore last season.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Prospal had a career season with highs in goals, assists and points. There were still bumps in the road with his defensive play, but Prospal more than made up for it by becoming Tampa Bay's best passer. If he would have taken more shots, he might have scored 30.
HT/WT: 6-1, 194.
HIS JOB: One of the team's best at seeing the ice, Richards can be the ultimate playmaker. His talent, though, demands he be much more, including a consistent 20-goal scorer and a little steadier on defense. He is expected to develop into one of the team's leaders.
HIS PERFORMANCE: The continuing maturity in Richards' game was evident in his willingness to shoot more (as he was asked) and how he adapted to the point position running the power play. His defense improved as the season progressed but that must continue, and faceoffs were still troublesome.
HT/WT: 6-3, 221.
HIS JOB: When the Lightning traded for Roy last season, all anyone could talk about was his ability to land a punch. Tampa Bay wanted him to do that when necessary, but the team demanded he be accountable defensively and score now and then. They wanted him to play, not just fight.
HIS PERFORMANCE: There were some consistency problems as the season progressed (and also some anger-management issues) but Roy did what was asked. He got better defensively and his 100-mph slap shot helped him to a career-high in goals.
HT/WT: 5-9, 181.
HIS JOB: Offensive whirlwind. No one knew if St. Louis could regain the form he showed last season before he broke his right leg. Guess what? He got better. St. Louis' terrific speed puts great pressure on defenses.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Hard to complain about a 30-plus goal season, but St. Louis set such a high standard before the All-Star break, a dip in scoring had some wondering if he was injured. St. Louis said it was a lack of energy, the only downside to what was a breakout season.
HT/WT: 6-3, 217.
HIS JOB: Be more than a rookie. Maybe that was unrealistic, but Svitov looked so good playing in the Russian elite league and during preseason, expectations became high. He has a terrific wrist shot and a defensive awareness not normally seen in first-year players.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Svitov got a rude awakening in the NHL, where he had trouble adjusting to the effort necessary to play at a high level. He had trouble with faceoffs and finishing plays. A rugged game and a willingness to play defense kept his ice time from disappearing and, as the season progressed, there were signs his development had finally begun. You will not see a prettier goal than the turnaround wrist shot he used March 15 to beat Montreal's Jose Theodore.
HT/WT: 6-1, 188.
HIS JOB: The dirty jobs; defending the opponent's top players, taking critical faceoffs, battling along the boards for the puck. That and teaming with Dave Andreychuk as a guide for the league's fourth-youngest team.
HIS PERFORMANCE: Despite the lingering effects of a groin injury that kept him out of 34 games last season, Taylor's defense was as strong as it has ever been and his faceoff winning percentage was one of the league's best. A few more goals would not have hurt.