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Lightning lands on big target in first round
GM Jay Feaster says 6-foot-7 defenseman Vladimir Mihalik was too good to pass up at No. 30.
By TOM JONES
Published July 31, 2005
The big news for the Lightning on Saturday was it re-signed clutch scorer Ruslan Fedotenko to a one-year contract.
But when Lightning general manager Jay Feaster selected 6-foot-7 Slovakian defenseman Vladimir Mihalik 30th overall in Saturday's NHL draft, Canada's TSN analyst, Pierre Maguire, on air, immediately said, "Oh ... my ... gosh!"
"This guy is a bone-crusher," Maguire continued in an ominous voice. "He likes to kill people."
Feaster went into Saturday's draft with a strategy to take scorers, but when he found Mihalik available with the last pick of the first round, he couldn't resist taking what the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau calls "a giant on skates."
"We talked about wanting to help ourselves offensively, but we weren't going to pass over a superior player," Feaster said.
Turns out Mihalik was that superior player. He was rated 13th on the Lightning's list - way too high to pass up at No. 30. Of course, the first comparison is to another giant defenseman: Ottawa's 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara, who went from a raw project to a polished, elite player. "He truly has a Chara upside (potential) to him," Feaster said. "He's a lot like Chara. He's big, but he's not a fighter. He's a smart player who understands the game."
His education will continue next season, but not with the Lightning. The plan is for Mihalik to play junior hockey in Red Deer of the Western Hockey League for coach Brent Sutter.
"I can't think of a better place for him to get training in the way the pros play," Feaster said.
Mihalik, 18, spent last season playing for Presov in the Slovakian junior league. He had six goals with 10 assists in 23 games. He then moved on to Slovakia's secondary men's league, scoring three goals with an assist and four penalty minutes in 32 games. He improved as the season progressed, jumping from 42nd in the rankings among European skaters at midseason to 12th.
He speaks little English, but when reached at his home in Slovakia, he gave the appropriate response: "I'm very happy to be drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning."
And the Lightning was happy not only with its first pick, but the entire draft. According to Feaster, all of the picks were rated in the top 59 on the team's draft list.
The Lightning came into the day with six picks in the seven-round draft, but ended up trading choices, including its second-round choice in next year's draft, to acquire more picks Saturday. The Lightning ended up with nine selections and, true to Feaster's word before the draft, concentrated on offense, taking six forwards. The team also took two defensemen and a goalie.
After the first round, the Lightning used its next six picks to take forwards, including two third-rounders rated among the top 50 prospects by the Hockey News.
Radek Smolenak, a Czech left wing by way of Kingston of the OHL, was ranked 22nd by the Hockey News, which said, "his finishing skills are among the best in the draft." He scored 32 goals in 67 games.
Chris Lawrence, rated 44th by the Hockey News, is a 6-foot-4 center who still needs to fill out (he weighs 199 pounds) and become more aggressive. Still, he managed 11 goals with 40 assists in 68 games.
Overall, the Lightning selected five players ranked in the top 100 by the Hockey News. The Lightning had its top four picks ranked 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th overall.
And, interestingly, four of the Lightning's nine picks were from Slovakia and another was from the Czech Republic.
"Of our top four picks, we would've been happy taking any of them with our 30th overall pick," Feaster said. "We're really happy with the way it turned out. It was a good day for the Lightning."