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Esposé – Young Prospects On The Rise

by Phil Esposito / Tampa Bay Lightning

Being a former general manager and the first of the Lightning when the team came into existence in 1992-93, perhaps I, as well as the other 29 general managers around the league, can appreciate most what a job Steve Yzerman has done in building the depth of our minor league system.

Usually guys take a few years to really figure out whether their respective Draft was a success. Or in our case right now, at least, whether or not our scouts did a good job of identifying talent of free agents, who in contrast, went undrafted.

Fortunately for our club, we’re seeing a little bit of both of that right now.

I like what we have here in Tampa Bay. I really do.

We have a nice mix of veterans and young guys, which in my mind, creates the perfect balance.

If you have too many older guys, your team is not going to be successful long after this season or next. Then I look at a team like Edmonton, with remarkable young talent, but they keep finishing last in the league because the majority of them are 19, 20, 21 years old. There’s maybe but one or two veterans there to show those guys the way.

You look at us though, and we got two of the best in Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis. We all know what Marty has done to help Steven Stamkos’ game, and you got a bunch of guys right behind Stamkos who are coming up, who will also have the privilege of learning from guys like him.

There’s been five or six guys who have come up from that team in Syracuse, and to tell you the truth, I really like all of them.

Alex Killorn, for one, has played extremely well and he’s really fit in. He’s a little older, but he plays with confidence and has some experience at the college level, the AHL level, and now he’s making the progression right to the NHL, and has found some success here albeit in just a few games.

Cory Conacher, in my mind, might be the greatest find of an undrafted player since Marty St. Louis.

He’s played very, very well, and I’m a little surprised he’s still not playing with Stamkos, but I understand what Guy Boucher is doing. He’s trying to find some line combinations that work.

As far as Ondrej Palat goes, I think he’s very good defensively and is reliable. He’s good offensively too, but I think he just needs to improve in that area and be a little more aggressive on the forecheck.

Then we have Richard Panik, who I think is a very good offensive player. He’s got a lot of speed and he’s big, and let me tell you this, he reminds me of a guy who can come off the wing real fast with a lot of speed like Rick Nash does. That’s what makes Nash so good in my mind, and I see Panik coming along in the same way. I think he will be a permanent impact player on our team real soon. Maybe not this season, but real soon.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie is a big body that can utilized efficiently in front of the net, we’ve seen him fight a few times, and the kid is just really happy to be here. You can see it off the ice for sure, but you can see it on the ice too. He digs hard in the corner for pucks, he’s a guy who everyone likes to have around, and he works hard and wants to make contributions to this team.

Radko Gudas who we saw the other night is another big, strong kid. I liked what I saw against the Panthers and I remember watching both him and Mark Barberio at training camp maybe two or three years ago, and I was really impressed.

I think a lot of people were surprised by how good of a skater Gudas is because of his size, but I think he’s a fluid skater and a very good stay-at-home defenseman who has more speed than even I thought.

I really believe there’s a lot more in the pipeline too than what we’ve seen.

If anything, all of this in my mind is refreshing.

Since Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards were drafted in 1998, we didn’t really have any draft pick for 10 years until Stamkos was picked that made an impact.

Now, some of that was my fault, because I hired some of the scouts who I thought would be a good judge of talent.

But it’s a tough thing to do, and like I said, you really don’t know how successful any Draft will be until several years down the road. And the Draft is a funny thing. It can either make you look like one of the best general managers in the game, or it can make you look horrible.

Luckily here in Tampa Bay, it looks to me like we have the first of those two.

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