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by Lonnie Herman / Tampa Bay Lightning
In no other sport is it as difficult to reach the professional level as it is in hockey. There are literally thousands of prospects in the U.S., Canada and Europe and only a select few roster spaces available. Players have to fight their way up the ladder, rung by rung. The competition is fierce.

In this occasional series, writer Lonnie Herman profiles some of the junior players who have been selected by the Lightning in the NHL Entry Draft and are beginning the climb toward the NHL.

If your tooth aches while in Portland, Oregon, get in to see Dr. Payne, the dentist.

If you’re feeling blue in Huntsville, Texas, make an appointment to visit Dr. Looney, the psychiatrist.

If a loved one passes away in Ripley, Mississippi, contact Graves Funeral Home.

If you want to see one fast defenseman skate in Ann Arbor, Michigan, head for the Yost Arena on the University of Michigan campus and check out Kevin Quick.

Of course, you won’t be the only one watching Quick; the Tampa Bay Lightning are keeping a pretty close eye on him, too. That’s because Quick is one of the team’s premier prospects, drafted in the third round (number 78 overall) at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

The team looked to the high school ranks to tab Quick, who at the time the Lightning selected him was a junior at Salisbury Prep, in Connecticut. His game is a good fit for the new, speedier NHL style of play.

“He’s one of the most fluid skaters that were available in the draft,” Lightning Chief Scout Jake Goertzen said. “He is a very agile, puck-moving defenseman and is very well suited to the new NHL.”

“I really was hoping for a team from somewhere south, where it’s warm,” said Quick, a native of Buffalo who apparently had had his fill of northern winters.

At the time of his selection, Quick was a ripe old 18 years of age and had already led his school team to a New England Prep Hockey Tournament victory and had won a silver medal as a member of the USA Under-18 select team. Still, he arrived at the Lightning Prospect Development Camp in the summer of 2006 as a largely unheralded commodity. Quick turned some heads during those few days, however. Playing alongside the likes of Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin, both members of the current Lightning squad, Quick was named the “unofficial MVP” by General Manager Jay Feaster. In addition to his excellent skating ability, he showed great playmaking potential and, even more essential to the Lightning scheme; he won praise for his decision-making with the puck, a trait that defensemen usually do not develop until after many years of high level competition.

Although Tampa Bay might have preferred seeing him step up against a higher level of competition, Quick returned to Salisbury for his senior year to honor his commitment to the school. By November of ’06 Quick had chosen Michigan as the site to play his collegiate hockey, a move that Feaster heartily endorsed.

“That’s a great choice,” Feaster said. “Michigan is one of the best programs in the country. Kevin will be well-coached and well-developed there. I believe it is an excellent choice.”

The coach that Feaster praised is Red Berenson, longtime Michigan hockey mentor. A legend in the profession, Berenson coached in the NHL before compiling 600-plus wins in 23 years at Michigan, in addition to a successful 20-season NHL career as a player. Berenson, an astute judge of talent, is cautious about his new recruit, pointing out that Quick might have a bigger period of adjustment due to the fact that he’s coming from prep hockey, rather than a more competitive junior hockey program.

The first few weeks of college can be challenging enough, without the added pressure of taking a big step up in competition. Quick made his NCAA debut in an early October exhibition game, but sat out the first few regular season games as a healthy scratch. Once he cracked the lineup, Quick recorded his first collegiate point, an assist, in the Wolverines’ sixth game.

At 6-feet, 175 pounds, Quick still needs to grow into a defenseman’s physique, but the Lightning have targeted him to develop into a Dan Boyle-style power play quarterback. It’s a role the freshman relishes.

“I think I am an offensive defenseman, and also can play solid defense,” Quick said. “I can join the rush and create an odd-man advantage and still get back to play defense. My strengths are passing and skating.”

In the meantime, Quick’s development is slow and steady. He has a long way to go before he appears at the St. Pete Times Forum, but he has the skills to get there.

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