It's going to be more of a fight than ever to make the Lightning, and the coach is pleased.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 7, 2000
Coach Steve Ludzik can't tell you who will be the Lightning's No. 2 center. He can't tell you who his No. 1 goaltender will be or if one will even emerge.
Second-line right wing? Can't say.
Fifth, sixth and seventh defensemen? Nope.
And Ludzik loves it.
"I think competition for jobs is what every organization strives for," he said. "I don't think the competition for roster spots in our organization has been hard in I don't know how many years. This year will be tremendously hard."
Ludzik figures that will make the players who secure the 23 roster spots even better.
The competition may be tougher than Ludzik anticipated, considering Tampa Bay's juniors and first-year pros advanced to tonight's championship game of a rookie tournament in Hull, Quebec. "A lot of the young kids are going to challenge for a job," he said. "We're up here outworking other teams and that's what we like to see."
"There are some people that are obviously going to be here, but it all depends," general manager Rick Dudley said. "There are incumbent people, but we had 19 wins last year."
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Lightning heading into camp, which begins Saturday, with 59 players, at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
GOALTENDERS: Will Tampa Bay have a clear No. 1, or will Dan Cloutier and Kevin Weekes play 41 games each?
The latter is Ludzik's "perfect world" scenario, and having two goalies of equal caliber should at least keep both on their toes.
Cloutier, who battled inconsistency and a persistent groin problem last season, is healthy and showing the athleticism that prompted Dudley to trade for him.
Weekes, with his fourth team in four seasons, can also be spectacular but hasn't hit a consistent stride.
Some think obtaining the goalies a year apart, both for first-round draft picks, was too expensive. Dudley doesn't think so.
Neither does Hall of Fame goaltender Billy Smith, who worked with Weekes when he played for the Panthers and said he would be "disappointed" if both Cloutier and Weekes do not become elite players.
He won't win a spot, but keep an eye on Evgeny Konstantinov. The 19-year-old Russian, a third-round draft pick in 1999, has been impressive in his two victories at the rookie tournament.
DEFENSE: This is where some of the best battles should take place.
The Lightning will bring 11 defensemen who played last season, and there will be at least nine other hopefuls. Ludzik will keep seven or eight.
With Petr Svoboda, Pavel Kubina, Cory Sarich and Paul Mara as absolutes, four spots, at most, remain open. If Andrei Zyuzin and Sergey Gusev are all the way back from serious injuries, the available jobs are down to two.
On the bubble: Jassen Cullimore, Ben Clymer, Bryan Muir, Marek Posmyk and Kaspars Astashenko, all of whom played last season.
Look for Cullimore and Muir to get the early nods to add some much-needed experience to the previously mentioned six, whose average age is 24. Take away the Svoboda, 34, and it drops to 22.
FORWARDS: Let's do the math.
With two goaltenders and seven defensemen (remember, Ludzik might keep eight), Tampa Bay can keep 14 forwards.
Vinny Lecavalier, Michael Johnson, Todd Warriner, Fredrik Modin, Stan Drulia, Brian Holzinger and Wayne Primeau should make the team. That leaves seven spots up for grabs, and here is where you need your scorecard.
Brad Richards, Ryan Johnson, Steve Martins and Thomas Ziegler will battle at center.
Jaroslav Svejkovsky, Martin St. Louis, Dmitry Afanasenkov and Sheldon Keefe are the best bets at right wing. Gordie Dwyer, Nils Ekman, Kyle Freadrich, Dwayne Hay and Alexander Kharitonov are on the left.
The jump from juniors to the NHL is daunting, but that won't stop at least three junior players from trying to elbow their way into the mix.
Richards and Afanasenkov, both third-round draft picks in 1998, should get the longest looks.
Keefe, like Afanasenkov and Richards, has been impressive in the rookie tournament, but Tampa Bay's 1999 second-round pick is unsigned, which somewhat lessens his chances.
Kharitonov and Ziegler, drafted in June in the third and ninth rounds, respectively, will get every chance to impress as both have played professionally in Europe.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Freadrich is the leading candidate to be an enforcer, if his skating has improved to where he can do a regular shift. Ryan Johnson, Martins, Svejkovsky and St. Louis have the speed Dudley and Ludzik covet.
"I know my guys will compete like pit bulls," Ludzik said.
REPORT DATES: Today -- veterans. Friday -- rookies.
PRACTICE SCHEDULE: 10 a.m.-noon daily Saturday-Sept. 21, except Tuesday and Sept. 14, when practice is 8-10 a.m.; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 22-30. Schedule subject to change.
PRESEASON SCHEDULE: Sept. 16 -- vs. Carolina Hurricanes at TECO Arena, Estero, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 -- vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Ice Palace, 6 p.m. Sept. 19 -- vs. Washington Capitals at Ice Palace, 7 p.m. Sept. 21 -- vs. Florida Panthers at Ice Palace, 7 p.m. Sept. 26 -- vs. Florida Panthers at TECO Arena, Estero, 7:30 p.m.
LEFT WINGS: Gordie Dwyer, Nils Ekman, Kyle Freadrich, Dwayne Hay, Alexander Kharitonov, Fredrik Modin, Todd Warriner.
CENTERS: Martin Cibak, Fedor Fedorov, Brian Holzinger, Ryan Johnson, Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Martins, Scott Nichol, Sean O'Brien, Wayne Primeau, Brad Richards, Jan Sulc, Thomas Ziegler.
RIGHT WINGS: Dmitry Afanasenkov, Nikita Alexeev, Stan Drulia, Matt Elich, Tony Iob, Mike Johnson, Sheldon Keefe, Dan Kesa, Dale Rominski, Pavel Sedov, Jaroslav Svejkovsky, Martin St. Louis, Samuel St. Pierre.
DEFENSE: Kaspars Astashenko, Ben Clymer, Jassen Cullimore, Aaron Gionet, Sergey Gusev, Michael Jones, Dan Keczmer, Kyle Kos, Pavel Kubina, Kristian Kudroc, Mikko Kuparinen, Mario Larocque, Paul Mara, Bryan Muir, Marek Posmyk, Cory Sarich, Brett Scheffelmaier, Kenton Smith, Petr Svoboda, Mark Thompson, Andrei Zyuzin.
GOALTENDERS: Dan Cloutier, Dieter Kochan, Trevor Koenig, Evgeny Konstantinov, Alexander Polukeyev, Kevin Weekes.
INFORMATION: Call the Ice Palace at (813) 301-6500.