The 2006 NHL Entry Draft held on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia was one unlike any other in recent memory for the Tampa Bay Lightning. With speculation about possible trades swirling around the Draft Floor in Vancouver, talk radio shows from coast to coast and internet message boards worldwide, Tampa Bay did not make a trade on draft day electing instead to stand pat with the four picks it came with to Vancouver. The Lightning also drafted a goaltender in the first round for the first time in franchise history.
That historic player turned out to be Finnish net minder Riku Helenius
, who entered the weekend as the top goaltender in the draft according to the International Scouting Service and the top European goaltender in the draft according to The Hockey News.
"We don't think you can ever have enough good, young goaltenders, and we had Riku rated among the top 10 players overall and as the top goaltender on our list," Executive Vice President and General Manager Jay Feaster said on draft day. "When he was still available, there was no question we would take him. He's very polished, and we like his competitiveness and work ethic. He is also very mentally tough."
Helenius' 6-foot-3, 202-pound frame is an imposing force in the net, allowing him to make his Finnish Elite League debut as an 18-year-old. He had already achieved acclaim on the international scene with a strong performance at the 2005 World U-18 Tournament. He was given the Directorate Award as the tournament's best goaltender after posting a 4-1-1 record and 1.83 goals-against average with a .942 save percentage.
With its second pick, in the third round, the Lightning selected a defenseman tailor-made for the new NHL, Kevin Quick from The Salisbury (prep) School in Salisbury, Connecticut. His last name is quite fitting as he is regarded as a quick-skating offensive defenseman in the mold of current Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle.
"He's one of the most fluid skaters in this year's draft," Lightning Chief Scout Jake Goertzen said. "He is a very agile, puck-moving defenseman and is very well-suited for the new NHL."
He played in 28 games with Salisbury and scored three goals with 23 points. He was ranked as the 93rd North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and he has one more year of prep school remaining with Salisbury.
Choosing in the sixth round, Tampa Bay went in another direction on the blue line, selecting stay-at-home defenseman Dane Crowley from the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League. He is bigger than Quick at 6-2, 207-pounds, and split this past season between Swift Current and the Saskatoon Blades. He scored one goal and had 12 points in 71 games between the two teams in 2005-06 and has three goals and 26 assists in 151 career WHL games.
"He is a decent sized guy with good strength and he moves well," said Glen Zacharias, who scouts the WHL for the Lightning. " He's a defensive minded player with good character and a good team guy."
With their final pick of the draft (in the seventh round) the Lightning selected a familiar name, Denis Kazionov
, from Tver in the Russian Elite League. The name may sound familiar to Tampa Bay fans because the Lightning selected his brother, Dmitri, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Denis was the only forward selected by Tampa Bay in the draft after recording one assist in 26 games during his first year in the Russian Elite League.
"He is the bigger, stronger and younger brother of Dmitri," Goertzen said. "He's a real good skater along the lines of (Evgeni) Artyukhin. He has eye-popping speed."
At 6-3, 187-pounds Kazionov has good size and is regarded as a power forward who is best in the offensive zone. He plays physical and aggressive while using his strength well in front of the net.
"This weekend we addressed a number of areas that are going to serve us well in the future," Feaster said. "We added very good speed; we added a top-notch goaltender, and once again we built with character."
Lightning fans can be assured that Feaster and his expert scouting staff making the calls in Tampa Bay, character will remain at the top of the wish list when it comes to future Bolts. Players with the character and the heart of a champion.