Question of the week: Grade the new kids

Dear Faculty,

It is the middle of the season and time once again for mid-semester progress reports. As you know, we have with us this year some new students. It is important that we evaluate their progress for our files.o

Members of the "freshman class" of 2011-12 come to us from many different backgrounds. Six of them have also been affiliated with our sister institution, the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League [Mike Angelidis, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Evan Oberg, Trevor Smith, Dana Tyrell, and J.T. Wyman]. One was with us last season [Tyrell]. Two are transfer students [Oberg and Brendan Mikkelson]. One has been promoted from juniors [Brett Connolly].

Please let us know where these students currently stand. Information about how they complete their assignments will be added to their files for review at the end of the season.

Thank you,

[Very] Interim Dean of Questions of the Week,

CAustin

[Follow after the break for a peek at the students' files.]

John Fontana - Managing Editor / Raw Charge

As a collective group, I'd give them a B. Each player has brought strengths to the Bolts, and each player has filled a role when called upon. It's more difficult to assess a grade on an individual level. One to five games is hard to judge a player by. It's unfair to try to grade Evan Oberg (scant minutes played with the Bolts), Mike Angelidis (one game), or Trevor Smith (four games). Let me remark about the guys who have seen enough playing time to formulate an opinion upon:

Brett Connolly gets a C. It's his rookie season with vaulted expectations. He hasn't been spectacular, but he hasn't been horrible either. He was bounced to the WJCs when his team actually needed a scoring winger around after losing the assistant captain of the club (Martin St. Louis) to a freak injury. In a way, that summarizes Connolly's season: He's still a prospect in they eyes of the club, he's being treated as such even though he's playing in the NHL. The problem is, you can't go any higher than the NHL, and expecting Connolly to bounce between the top of the sport and the junior level marred his game more than helped bring the player along.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie is a B. I could easily say he's an INC with the other players whom I have neglected to grade, because eight games is hard to judge a player by... But Labrie has his niche - he's physical and has good hockey sense. Plus, anyone who overcomes like this kid has and also gets a hockey nickname like "Nacho Labrie" is doing all the right things.

Brendan Mikkelson is a B. Brendan was brought in when everything was falling down on the blueline and everyone was hurt. He's a plus-2 with no points in 12 games played with the Lightning this season. He hasn't been a defensive liability, even though he's had to learn a new system on the fly. That fact alone has made him an asset -- he's been dependable. You might want more points from your defensemen, but having a steady hand who doesn't score isn't detrimental.

Dana Tyrell gets a B. He never should have been sent back to Norfolk, but Mattias Ritola's contract status kept him with Tampa while Tyrell had options to return to Noroflk. Dana's season was cut short by injury, but when he played -- he filled the role of the gritty speedster which was asked of him.

J.T Wyman is a B. Wyman is another player who has had only a short stint with the Bolts, coming up in light of St. Louis' injury and sticking with the club. He's only got 10 games under his belt, however, with thanks to his pinkie injury. His tenacity fits the Boucher system to a T, and with the loss of Dana Tyrell to his knee injury, it's a needed asset now the lower lines.

Alexis Boucher / Sons of Andreychuck:

When looking at some of the young players that have cracked the Lightning's roster at some point over the season, it's probably easiest to break them down by letter grade.

A) Mikkelson & Tyrell : Mikkelson has been a huge surprise in that he was a largely unknown commodity. He has learned Boucher's system and is very capable at his position. He and Bruno Gervais have developed a fair amount of chemistry as a defensive pairing. Although Tyrell's season has been cut short due to injury, I give him an A for what we got to see. He's the type of player who gives up, battles physically, and is tough as nails.

B) Angelidis, Labrie, Smith, and Wyman would get a high grade but not top marks. Angelidis and Smith definitely impressed in their brief stints in Tampa. Smith is a very fast, strong skater. I would love to see him get more time at the NHL level at some point to see if his offensive success in Norfolk can translate. Wyman has done very well and Labrie has become a folk hero among Lightning fans. These four have bright futures.

C) Brett Connolly: I would have given Connolly a B based on his work before the World Juniors Championship. After the tournament, something happened. Whether it was the improved play of the teammates around him or just his inexperience starting to show, he hasn't been nearly as impressive. A lot of people seem to be down on him, but I still see an upside. People weren't very positive about Stamkos in his first season, but he has more than made up for it.

My main concern with Connolly was and is that he was not ready for the physical grind of a full year in the NHL. If he has a good summer and camp, I think he'll surprise people in a good way.

Evan Oberg gets an Incomplete. Mostly because I'm convinced he doesn't really exist.

Chad Schnarr / Bolts Prospects:

Angelidis - A

He's a workhorse and leader-by-example as captain of Norfolk and the Lightning's moment of the year may have been his face after scoring his first NHL goal on his first or second shift. You never have to question his effort or heart.

Labrie - A

Like Angelidis, he's going to give you an honest shift each time out. Norfolk misses him when he's not in their lineup because of his work ethic, physicality, and play along the walls. In Tampa he's done exactly what has been asked of him and Guy Boucher has pointed to his road to the NHL as being a story for everyone to pay attention to. His defensive responsibility plus his ability to protect teammates may land him in Tampa next year. It wouldn't hurt if he'd spend his summer at power skating camps, though.

Oberg - A

For what's been asked of him, I don't know how you can criticize him. He has six points in his last five games in Norfolk and as far as anyone knows, he's taking all the plane rides between Virginia and Florida in stride. Depending on what happens to the Lightning's defense at the deadline, he could be in Tampa for more than a few days later this season.

Smith - A

I'm giving out a lot of A's, but again, for what's been asked of Smith he has performed extremely well. He's an offensive leader on the ice and Jon Cooper told me in training camp that he puts a lot of value on veteran leadership being a big part of prospect development for draftees. Smith has been everything that's been asked of him, plus he's had some success in Tampa already. He's slowly playing himself out of the AHL.

Mikkelson - A

That's right, another A. What has he done except quickly learn what Guy Boucher wants out of a defenseman, play on the power play, make very few mistakes, and likely - buy or sell - enabled the Lightning to deal a pending free agent defenseman at the deadline and not feel like they're icing an incapable blueline afterward? A classic example of a trade working out for both teams involved.

Tyrell - B-

I've always been a fan of Dana, and because of that I expect(ed) more out of him. His initial demotion was more a case of contract status (no waivers), but in Norfolk he didn't show near the scoring ability that he showed previously in the AHL or in the WHL. He is a quick bottom-liner for the Lightning, but he has plenty of offense to offer, too. It's time for him to take the next step and be a guy who can fill in on a scoring line and the team doesn't skip a beat.

Wyman - A

Like the A's listed above, he's done what's been asked of him. He doesn't have the offense that Smith has, but he uses his size well and his motor is always running. It wasn't until guys like Wyman started showing up that the Lightning's overall effort became more consistent. Energy is contagious in hockey and the Bolts had little of it the first half of the year.

Connolly - Inc

It's so hard to tell. He's a scoring star trapped in a season-long class on how to play defense. My hope is he doesn't lose his identity, which starts with offensive confidence. He had it at World Juniors, but there hasn't been much of an opportunity since for him. He has a lot to learn, it's a shame he can't be doing it in the AHL. I'm anxious to see him (hopefully) join Tri-City for their playoff run later this year. Stamkos had a switch flipped in his rookie year when he stopped overthinking and just started "doing." It was borderline arrogance, but that's what players like he and Connolly need mentally. Hopefully Connolly can bring that back.

Matt Amos - Staff Writer / Don't Trade Vinny

Ya know what I say? Trade em. All of em. Right now. Put them all in a package with our next three first round draft picks for Roberto Luongo. Now.

Cassie McClellan - Managing Editor

This sort of question is really difficult for me to answer. While I do away game recaps and break down the game by what some of the players have done, when I look back, I see the team as a whole. So it's hard for me to extract out certain guys from how the team plays as a whole. Which is partly why I'm really bad about remembering specific events in certain games even just a couple of weeks ago. I tend to stick to generalties.

But, I'll give it a shot.

  • Angelidis: Incomplete; he played one game for the Lightning this season, and it's hard to make an assessment based upon one game. He looked promising, though.
  • Connolly: B; as a rookie, he was been expected to struggle a bit in his first year. That said, he's proven that he can skate with the big boys. However, he hasn't been terribly consistent, and has been slumping recently. Still, he's been better than average.
  • Labrie: B; for never having been drafted, he's fit in particularly well. He's a physical presence, but still manages to not make a lot of mistakes. So far, he's been a solid third/fourth liner.
  • Mikkelson: A; you would never have guessed that this was a guy who jumped from the minors directly onto a new NHL team. It took a bit for Matt Gilroy to figure out the way Guy Boucher wants the defense to play, but this unusual system seems to work very well for Mikkelson.
  • Oberg: Incomplete; right now, he's just a walking suitcase - the poor guy.
  • Smith: A; he might have played only four games, but he's fast and seems to set up plays really well.
  • Tyrell: C; not the best season for this guy. He was playing pretty average before his season-ending knee injury.
  • Wyman: A; the guy was a force when he was in the lineup, and looked like he'd been there all season long before he was injured.

Clark Brooks - Staff Writer Ridiculously Inconsistent Trickle of Consciousness

If we (and when functioning in the role of an academic, I tend to refer to myself with a professorial 'we') were grading these gentlemen on impact and stats as dynamic rookies called up to Tampa Bay to set the NHL on fire, we'd have no choice but to give most of them an F or an INCOMPLETE.

However, if we're grading them as supplemental role-players and hole-pluggers, which is what they are in most cases, the scale is different. So with that in mind...

Angelidis: A+ (One game, one goal. Kudos!)

Connolly: C- (Mr. Connolly, you are unfortunately a victim of setting your own bar too high with your performance in training camp and the first few games of the season. Unfortunately, we must grade on the whole. Hence, this.)

Labrie: A (Monsieur Labrie, we will always have a soft spot for big lugs who hit people and this is reflected in the grade we give you. Shhh, don't tell the others.)

Oberg: A+ (Mr. Oberg, as far as we can tell, your role is to go where you are told. In which case, EXCEPTIONALLY well done!)

Smith: B (We are aware that Mr. Smith is often present.)

Tyrell: C- (Mr. Tyrell, we are very disappointed in your decison to get yourself injured. VERY disappointed.)

Wyman: B+ (He works very hard.)

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