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Who's ready to step up?

With the NHL draft's first round Friday and six more rounds Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, minor-league systems throughout the league are about to be restocked.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published June 21, 2007


With the NHL draft's first round Friday and six more rounds Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, minor-league systems throughout the league are about to be restocked. Perhaps not as much, though, for the Lightning, which seems more likely to trade draft picks and prospects to find NHL-ready players. So exactly what players are in Tampa Bay's pipeline to The Show? Who is ready to take the next step? The St. Petersburg Times, after discussions with Lightning general manager Jay Feaster, assistant GM Claude Loiselle and head scout Jake Goertzen, came up with this depth chart showing who's closest to being ready:

Forwards

Player Pos. Ht Wt Age Drafted Overall Comment
Blair Jones C 6-2 193 20 2005 102 He will battle for a fourth-line job. Consistent work ethic and preparation are essential whether he is with Tampa Bay or AHL Norfolk.
Karl Stewart LW 5-11 185 23 Undrafted Tons of energy, forechecks and hits anything that moves.
Kyle Wanvig RW 6-2 210 26 2001* 36 Has the muscle and desire, but must learn to play within the team concept.
Norm Milley RW 6-0 195 27 1998** 47 Had 26 goals last season for AHL Springfield, but has just two goals and six points in 29 career NHL games.
Marek Kvapil RW 5-11 175 22 2005 163 He has the tools. The question is will he buy into the work ethic and two-way sensibility Tampa Bay coaches expect?
Justin Keller LW 5-11 185 21 2004 245 A quick skater, he scored 13 goals last season in 60 games for AHL Springfield after jumping from juniors.
Chris Lawrence C 6-4 212 20 2005 89 If Lawrence, with 47 goals last season for OHL Mississauga, stops his occasional disappearing act, GM Jay Feaster believes he can help solve the Lightning's lack of scoring depth.
Radek Smolenak LW 6-2 180 20 2005 73 There are similar hopes for Smolenak. But as head scout Jake Goertzen said, "He has to learn the rest of the game."
Brandon Elliott LW 6-4 235 23 2004 158 Converted defenseman is not afraid to use his size.
Stanislav Lascek RW 6-0 195 21 2005 133 A playmaker who struggled after his promotion from ECHL Johnstown to AHL Springfield.
* Wanvig drafted by the Wild ** Milley drafted by the Sabres

Goaltenders

Player Ht Wt Age Drafted Overall Comment
Karri Ramo 6-2 192 20 2004 191 He needs a bit more seasoning, but the Lightning feels he has all the tools to be a No. 1. Confidence and attitude make his game even better.
Vasily Koshechkin 6-6 224 24 2002 233 Koshechkin, who played last season for Russia at the World Championships, could have a similarly short route to the NHL if the Lightning can sign him. He will play in Russia next season for Kazan.
Jonathan Boutin 6-2 192 22 2003 96 Very athletic and very quick, he quietly has become one of the team's most well-respected prospects.
Riku Helenius 6-3 202 19 2006 15 The No. 15 overall pick in 2006 has a lot to prove after missing last season with a shoulder injury. Don't be surprised if the Finn plays a season as a North American junior.
Ryan Munce 6-2 185 22 2003* 82 Acquired last season for a fourth-round draft choice, he went 6-3-1 in 17 games for ECHL Johnstown with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
* Munce drafted by the Kings

Defensemen

Player Ht Wt Age Drafted Overall Comment
Matt Smaby 6-5 202 22 2003 41 The Lightning desperately wants him to make it to the big team next season. A summer workout program is supposed to bulk him up to NHL standards.
Andy Rogers 6-5 201 20 2004 30 His main quest? To stay healthy after overcoming hip and ankle problems.
Vladmir Mihalik 6-8 241 20 2005 30 If he harnesses that big body, improves his skating and stick work, Mihalik, who will be at AHL Norfolk's camp after two junior seasons, could zoom up this chart.
Justin Fletcher 5-11 180 24 Undrafted Coming off four years at St. Cloud State, he is a puck-mover. He signed a one-year, two-way deal after scoring three goals in last season's 10-game amateur tryout with AHL Springfield.
Kevin Quick 6-0 175 19 2006 78 He can pass and, boy, can he skate. But the player just out of high school and on his way to the University of Michigan needs size and strength. The Lightning will hold his rights while he is in school.