Question of the Week is a weekly feature that poses a question to Raw Charge writers and other writers within the Boltosphere, discussing the ins and outs of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last week, the Raw Charge question of the week asked Bolts bloggers and RC writers their opinions on the ups and downs of the first half of the season. This week, we step away from the Lightning, and moving to the subject of Lightning prospects. The question:
Who do you think is an important prospect in the Tampa Bay Lightning system, and why?
With a few big names in the prospect line-up, including Brett Connolly, Dustin Tokarski, and Carter Ashton, the Lightning is building a deep system that extends to the prospects, solidifying hopes that the Lightning turn-around is here to stay.
But it isn't just the far-away future, as the season continues, it's always a surprise what injuries will lead to prospect call-ups, and it's somewhat fun to see who can jump right into the NHL, etc.
Follow the jump to see who Raw Charge has their eye on, and for a bit of Lightning prospect name dropping. I'll give you a hint. It has a lot to do with who's in net.
There are a lot of players in the Lightning system that I've got my eye on, but the one guy that I am holding out for and rooting for is Alex Hutchings, a right wing currently playing for the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.
Hutchings, a 4th round draft pick in 2009 termed as a "ten bell steal" by Boltprospects.com scouting report, put up big numbers throughout his career with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. This is his first professional year and he hasn't had the same success in limited playing time with the Everblades this season so far (full career stats from Hockey DB). He's currently on injured reserve and has been since early December.
While Brett Connolly and Carter Ashton, Richard Panik and Dustin Tokarski get most attention in the prospect department, it's Hutchings that I have the most interest in.
I think that Dustin Tokarski is an important piece for the Lightning, as prospects go. He's already a proven winner - he's won a gold medal with Canada at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship and the Memorial Cup with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League in 2008. So as a junior player, he's done well under pressure.
And, let's face it, there's always a question about goaltending on just about any hockey team in every hockey league. Rarely is it a position that fans and teams feel comfortable with. Most teams are looking to upgrade their goaltending, no matter how well they're doing.
So I think that developing quality goaltending from drafting well and working with them is important. Why go searching for a goalie when you've already got one or two good ones in the system, right? So Tokarski, a proven winner under pressure, is going to play a key part in the Lightning's future. Especially since he's only 21, and has plenty of time to work on his game before the Lightning will need him on a full-time basis.
(Disclaimer - I already consider Cedrick Desjardins as an NHL backup. He's not yet, I know, but he will be next season. Which is why I'm talking about Tokarski instead of Desjardins. Desjardins's spot is pretty much assured, it's just a matter of time, while Tokarski's roster spot on the Lightning isn't so sure yet.)
Dustin Tokarski. As for the why, well that's because I first heard of him when the Spokane Chiefs made their run tin the 2008 Memorial Cup. Then he had a strong performance against the Americans and the Russians during the 2009 WJC that made me think that this kid could one day be very good. He looked great under pressure. I was thrilled when the Lightning drafted him and think with enough experience he is a bright spot in the goaltending future of the team.
The team has a bunch of quality prospects at forward, but the one guy I'm keen on is the young goalie in Norfolk, Dustin Tokarski. No surprise that I would root for the kid who backstopped Canada's last World Junior gold medal team, but there's more than just desperate nationalism in picking "Tik" as a vital Lightning prospect; it has more to do with the fact that Tampa Bay has never drafted and developed a game-stealing goaltender of its own. And since all of its team goaltending records are held by players who only spent a few years here (we're looking at you, Khabibulin), it would be great if the Bolts could patiently develop its own franchise goalie capable of carving a place in team history.
Tik is plugging away down in Norfolk, and he's not nearly ready for regular NHL work, but Steve Yzerman will probably do right by the youngster. Detroit let Jimmy Howard take all the time he needed to find his game in thje AHL before moving him to the big Wings, and I think Yzerman may have been influenced just a little by his time in Detroit. Here's hoping that in 2015, Tokarski is in the discussion for the Vezina... and the Hart... and the Conn Smythe.
Every year in training camp, regardless of the team or sport, there's always one guy you've never seen before who stands out for some reason or another. For me, this year, that guy was Richard Panik. As the Bolts 2nd round selection in the 2009 Entry Draft (52nd overall), he's obviously a highly regarded prospect and not some grinder who just happened to catch the spotlight during camp with a few days of spirited play. No, what made him stand out to me was how quickly and naturally he seemed to grasp Coach Guy Boucher's offensive system, as though he was ideally suited to execute it. He made things happen every time he saw the ice in the first few scrimmages during camp and Boucher singled him out more than a couple of times in his remarks to the media.
At 6'2", 200 lbs, with above average speed and all-around offensive ability, development of his defensive game answers some lingering questions about his focus and work ethic that popped up after he was injured late in the '08-09 season would seem to be his biggest roadblocks.
In case you missed it, check out last week's question, the Boltosphere's reflections on mid-season highlights and lowlights.