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Spezza tempting, but not automatic

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001


TAMPA -- Is center Jason Spezza in the Lightning's draft plans?

Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends whether the No. 1 North American prospect, who NHL Central Scouting calls "a potential franchise player" has lost some luster.

Once projected as the draft's top pick, Spezza has been overtaken by Russian center Ilja Kovalchuk, and some say by Russian right wing Stanislav Chistov as well. There also is a school of thought that says Spezza, coming off a subpar playoff performance, might drop as far as fifth.

The Lightning picks third Saturday at National Car Rental Center in Sunrise. General manager Rick Dudley said if Spezza is available, Tampa Bay may take him.

"Is that an automatic? No," Dudley said. "We have certain arguments within the core (of the team) on that. It's a decision Jake (Goertzen, the head scout) and I will eventually have to make, but we haven't ruled that out yet. ... I still am a fan of Spezza's."

If Spezza is gone, the best guess is Tampa Bay will select Russian center Alexander Svitov.

The No. 2 European prospect is 6 feet 3, 198 pounds of attitude. He has been compared with New Jersey's Bobby Holik, and Dudley called him "probably more complete than any player in the top group."

But if Spezza falls, "Oh, there will be some talk," Dudley said. "It would be very close at that point."

Still, Dudley said he would be surprised if Spezza was available.

"I don't buy it," Dudley said. "I think everybody likes to take a player like him and kind of go up or down."

TRADE DOUBTFUL: Dudley, who has traded the team's top pick the past two seasons, said he has gotten offers for the No. 3 pick, but nothing has come close to his price.

"I've told people I'm not inclined to trade this pick, but if you want to make me an offer that blows my socks off, go ahead," he said. "People have called. ... They don't want to insult me but they don't want to go crazy either. But that's the way it's got to be because we aren't inclined to trade."

PLAYOFF HUNT: Can the Lightning make the playoffs next season?

"I don't think it's an impossibility," Dudley said.

But he obviously doesn't think it's a slam dunk either.

"The stars have to align in the right fashion and you have to be as injury-free as possible," Dudley said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility that with the goaltending we have, what has to happen is the defense has to step up a little and the forwards step up a little, and they can do that."

SPEAKING OF GOALTENDING: Dudley reiterated that Kevin Weekes is part of the Lightning's plan. The early blueprint is for Nikolai Khabibulin to play 50 games, Weekes 32.

"The other side of the coin is if Nikolai Khabibulin has a .923 save percentage and Kevin Weekes had a .933 save percentage, I think they'd probably split," Dudley said. "And Weeksie might play more games. And you know what? Who cares as long as we have that kind of goaltending."

PROSPECT HURT: The Lightning said Pavel Sedov, last year's fifth-round choice (161st overall), suffered a concussion and a broken left hand in an automobile crash in Russia.

Spokesman Jay Preble said a car containing Sedov and three friends was hit by a truck.\

DRAFT PARTY: The Lightning will host a draft party from noon-2 p.m. Saturday at Barnicle's in Brandon at the corner of Causeway and Providence Road.

Forward Ryan Johnson will sign autographs from noon-1 p.m., ThunderBug will make an appearance and Lightning broadcasters John Ahlers and Bobby "The Chief" Taylor will host draft coverage on WDAE-AM 620.

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