Erik Erlendsson covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Tampa Tribune.
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Top 10 Lightning acquisitions for 2008
Posted Sep 2, 2008 by Erik Erlendsson
Updated Sep 2, 2008 at 12:36 PM
Since Monday was a holiday, I wish everybody a Happy Tuesday.
We spent the weekend doing a couple of cookouts. Hamburgers, hot dogs and Brauts on Sunday, steak and baked potatoes on Monday. Of course, it wasn’t all fun and BBQs for the three day weekend since the Lightning jumped back to the spotlight by acquiring defenseman Andrej Meszaros on Friday and then signing him to a contract on Saturday and then there was the Vinny Lecavalier story where he talked about his shoulder and whether he thinks he’ll be ready for the season opener in just over a month.
Then there was the time outside Monday morning/afternoon doing the much-needed cleaning out of the garage - lots of tricycles, bats and balls not to mention finding a home for the street hockey gear - and putting down mulch in the front bushes. It wasn’t really a job I was interested in tackling on Labor Day, but outside pressures forced my hands. Plus, it was really needed as the area that is supposed to house cars had turned into a storage-only area since holding a garage sale back in October. And my wife is now happy that the van can fit inside the garage again - even if it is a tight squeeze - that will keep things inside the vehicle much cooler and cleaner.
So here I am, having finished putting away a load of towels when I thought to myself, you guys are expecting a Top 10 list out of me this week. There wasn’t much of a response to my Olympic countdown - unless you were a relative of mine piping in - and the tribune to the Icelandic handball team which captured a silver medal.
So rather than firing up the Wii today and keep the Olympic movement going forward, I figured I would put together my Top 10 list of new acquisitions for the up coming season and what kind of an impact they should have on the season.
And just to review, there have been 19 new faces added to the organizational roster - to this point - with two weeks left until training camp starts.
These are the 19 players who were either brought in or re-acquired: forwards - Evgeny Artyukhin, Brandon Bochenski, Adam Hall, Ryan Malone, Vinny Prospal, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Steven Stamkos, Radim Vrbata, David Koci, Zenon Konopka, Wyatt Smith; defense - Matt Carle, Andrew Hutchinson, Andrej Meszaros, Janne Niskala, Scott Jackson, Ty Wishart; goaltender- Olie Kolzig
Here’s my top 10 acquisitions in terms of impact:
10 - Evgeny Artyukhin - After two years back in his native country, the hulking Russian - who is a freak of nature at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds who can skate like the wind - returns. His impact won’t be felt much on the scoresheet and any kind of offensive development was likely stunted with his lack of playing time the past two years. But Artyukhin’s presence is going to be felt along the walls, especially when he gets in on the forecheck. Opposing defense who go back to get the puck are going to want to get rid of it as if it were a live hand grenade when Artyukhin is zeroing in on them along the boards. He’ll create turnovers, just don’t expect him to hit double-digits in goals.
9 - Andrew Hutchinson - Known primarily as a power play specialist, Hutchinson will likely make the team out of camp as a No. 5, 6 or 7 defenseman because of his ability on the power play, and the fact that he’s the only right-handed shot among the top nine guys battling for positions on the blue line. The 28-year-old was with Carolina when the Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2006, but had a minimal impact. Hutchinson spent all last season playing for Hartford of the AHL scoring 18 goals and adding 64 points while being named the Eddie Shore Trophy winner as the top AHL defenseman.
8 - Vinny Prospal - We all know this is a familar face to the lineup, but was one of the priorities of new ownership to bring back. Prospaly had a career year last year with 33 goals, most of those on the top line with Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis before Prospal was traded to Philadelphia. But Prospal has an uncanny history of enjoying strong seasons every other year, and this coming season is a historically down year. He will need to put that behind him as he reunites with the top line if Tampa Bay is going to make a postseason push.
7 - Radim Vrbata - Some say that there are many times they have seen Vrbata and suggest he was the most talented player on the ice. But he’s just never seemed to put all that skill together to put together a consistent career to this point. So that begs the question, was the 27-goal campaign with Phoenix last year his breakthrough? (The 27 goals was two less than the number of goals he scored the previous two years combined). Or is it just the case of a player putting together a career season in a contract year? And this will already be Vrbata’s fifth team in his young career. He needs to approach his goal output from last year while playing in a projected top-six forward role to alleviate some of those questions.
6 - Steven Stamkos - The overall No. 1 pick might be near the top of the list for just about every other team. But not this one, and that’s a good thing. I have yet to see Stamkos play live, but from what scouts and others I have spoken to about him, Stamkos will play this season and will have an impact. While I’m not sure he can approach the numbers put up by Patrick Kane or Sam Gagner from last year, Stamkos should be able to come in and center the second line and get close to the 20-goal, 60-point plateau, provided he gets to see some time on the second power play unit.
5 - Gary Roberts/Mark Recchi - I put both of these veterans in the same slot because they are going to basically fill the same type of role - that of a locker room presence who can still chip in offensively when called upon. Roberts has gained a reputation for taking young players under his wing, a role he said he relished in Pittsburgh the past two seasons. While Roberts won’t put up big numbers on the ice, he will play a big role with the team off the ice. Recchi showed in the second half of last year he is still capable of playing. Waived by Pittsburgh in December, Recchi finished the season with 40 points (including 12 goals) in 53 games with Atlanta. What Recchi will be asked to provide is the veteran leadership, steady play in likely a third-line or fourth-line role while taking some shifts in a top-six role, as well.
4 - Andrej Meszaros - Once he was picked up from Ottawa over the weekend, he immediately became the most experienced NHL defenseman on the Lightning roster when Filip Kuba was part of the trade to the Senators. Meszaros is a solid two-way player with some offensive upside, but has been on a decline since his rookie season. As of right now, he will almost certainly be placed into a top-2 role on defense and asked to log some pretty heavy minutes against top lines. If he can handle it, his impact will be tremendous; if not, an already shaky looking defense will struggle mightily.
3 - Ryan Malone - He was the biggest name acquired by the Lightning over the summer and will bring his rugged style of a power forward to Tampa. There is little doubt he’ll play in a top-six role, likely playing on the wing with Steven Stamkos. And while his offense is expected to be in the 25-plus goal range, it’s the all-around game in which Malone will make an impact. He’s a willing player who can stand up for his teammates, he is a grinder in the corners and along the wall and he’s willing to battle in front of the net, even willing to take a puck to the face like he did in the Stanley Cup finals. A lot of eyes will be focused in on Malone because of the six-year deal he signed.
2 - Matt Carle - A lot is going to be expected of the former Hobey Baker Award winner. He enjoyed a stellar rookie campaign with 11 goals and 42 points with the Sharks in 2006-07. But after signing a lucrative contract that kicks in this season, he slipped to two goals and 15 points last season while finding himself as a healthy scratch at times. So, the question is, will a change of scenery help him regain his rooke form? And since he was part of the trade that sent Dan Boyle to the Sharks, there will be expectations that he will have to take Boyle’s spot and post similar offensive numbers. Carle is capable and has a similar skill set, but scrutiny will follow his every stride.
1 - Olie Kolzig - While many believe Kolzig can’t handle the load of a true No. 1 by playing 60-65 games a season, he wasn’t brought to the Lightning to fill that role. Kolzig brings a tremendous amount of experience to the table and will serve as a strong mentor to Mike Smith, who essentially enters training camp as the No. 1 goaltender. But what Kolzig offers is a strong safety net as someone who can play in stretches if Smith falters, and though his numbers didn’t really show it last year, Kolzig can still play. And with Kolzig in the dressing room, it allows Karri Ramo to likely start the season in Norfolk were he can play two out of every three games to learn how to be a No. 1 goaltender. That means Kolzig’s impact is going to be felt throughout the organization, and the impact I believe will be immeasurable.