Things will be heating up for the Lightning in the coming weeks. Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis visit Las Vegas later this month for the NHL Awards Ceremonies – Stamkos, with 51 goals last season, tied Sidney Crosby for the Rocket Richard Trophy and St. Louis is up for the Lady Byng Trophy. Kurtis Foster is also up for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. On June 25, the NHL Entry Draft will get underway and the Lightning own the sixth overall pick. (Incidentally, I have heard the team may be hosting a watch party on the night of the 25th at the St. Pete Times Forum – stay tuned to tampabaylightning.com for more details). As well, General Manager Steve Yzerman will be hiring a coach sometime soon – during his press conference on May 25, he stated that he’d like the head coach to be in place by the time the free agency period begins, which is July 1. Obviously, I’ll be covering all of these topics, but for this week, let’s answer a couple of questions from fans.
Gerard Gallant is an old buddy of Yzerman’s and is presently the outstanding coach of our QMJHL team in Saint John, New Brunswick. (We lost in the league final to Moncton). I heard a rumor that he is in/has been to Tampa recently. Might he be a member of your coaching staff next season?
Saint John, N.B.
Let me respond by first informing you that I am not privy to any of the organization’s internal discussions about the head coaching position (or any other). So my information is limited to what has been reported, which, at this point, is mostly speculative. Therefore, I have no idea if Gallant is in the mix. Still, some of the names that have surfaced are current minor league or junior coaches, including Gallant. (As you probably know, Gallant, a former Lightning player, also has NHL head coaching experience with the Columbus Blue Jackets). I think it’s great if Yzerman is in fact looking to the American Hockey League or the Canadian Hockey League for candidates. There are a lot of talented coaches working in those leagues who just need the opportunity to show what they can do at the NHL level. I would not be surprised, however, if he’s also talking to candidates with more extensive NHL coaching experience.
One other note – you asked about Gallant as a member of the “coaching staff”. Typically, a head coach, in conjunction with the GM, picks his assistants. So expect the full staff to be named once the head coach position is filled.
Do you know what kind of year Carter Ashton and Richard Panik had? Were either or both strong enough last year to indicate a reasonable shot at the big team?
Thanks. Donn S.
The Lightning are very excited about both of these prospects. Ashton, who was the 29th overall pick in last summer’s draft, is a power forward with a nose for the net. He had a very impressive camp with the Lightning last fall. After returning to junior hockey, he totaled 51 points in 65 games for Lethbridge and Regina last season. He joined the Norfolk Admirals once his junior season ended and added one goal in 11 games. After selecting Ashton the Lightning used their next pick on Panik, who was taken 52nd overall. He, too, had a solid camp last year, showing off his excellent skating ability and great hockey sense. He posted 41 points in 60 games for Windsor and Belleville last year, then tacked on one assist in five games with Norfolk. The assist, by the way, came on Ashton’s goal. Panik also represented his native Slovakia at last month’s World Championships. Here’s a link to a terrific article about Panik and the Slovaks that Alan Adams wrote for iihf.com during last month’s tournament:
Are Ashton and Panik ready to make the jump to the Lightning? Certainly, look for them both to be back at training camp this September. Given a chance to wow the coaches in practice and in preseason games, anything is possible. But both still have junior eligibility for one more year and Steve Yzerman spoke during his press conference last week about the importance of being patient with young players and allowing them to properly develop. Plus, most junior players don’t turn pro until age 20, so it certainly wouldn’t be a knock against either one of them if they are given another year of experience in junior hockey.
Relating to this topic, last week the Lightning did sign defenseman Mark Barberio to an entry level contract. Barberio, the Lightning’s sixth round pick in 2008, had a stellar season for Moncton of the QMJHL last year. The offensive defenseman recorded 60 points and was a plus 39 in 65 regular season games, then produced 22 points in 21 more playoff games. (As the first letter writer referenced, Moncton beat Saint John in the QMJHL Final). I’m very interested to see the 20-year old Barberio in camp this fall.
Great questions this week. As always, please email any questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.