|IRA KAUFMAN of The Tampa Tribune
Order up the Smirnoff and raise a glass for the Lightning Draft Class
The European invasion continued Sunday as Tampa Bay's draft harvest
swelled to 10 players. Half of the Lightning's draft picks are Russian
imports, including four of their first five players selected.
General Manager Rick Dudley said the draft crop tilted heavily toward
Europe and one look at Tampa Bay's new recruits seconds that emotion.
Besides adding Russian winger Pavel Sedov in the fifth round and Russian
goaltender Alexander Polukeyev in round eight, the Lightning drafted Swedish
playmaking center Johan Hagglund (fourth round) and Swiss center Thomas
Ziegler. Rugged defenseman Marek Priechodsky from Slovakia was selected
in the seventh round.
``We used to have half the draft coverage and now we have it all covered,''
Dudley said. ``I saw so many talented Russians this year, it was mind-boggling.
At this point a year ago, we were guessing. At no time this weekend were
The second day of the draft also brought in Aaron Gionet, a physical
17-year-old defenseman from British Columbia, and Brown University goaltender
Brian Eklund of Quincy, Mass.
``I think our staff did a very good job,'' head scout Jake Goertzen
said. ``We went with size and speed for the most part and as the draft
progressed, we adjusted.''
Dudley estimates the Lightning spent $2 million in scouting this season
and Russian players were targeted early and often. On one occasion, Goertzen
and goaltending coach Jeff Reese flew 2 1/2 hours out of Moscow to check
on the progress of 1999 draft pick Evgeny Konstantinov.
``Here we were looking at our goaltending prospect and we found ourselves
watching this other player in a men's league going against skaters that
were at least 20, some of them in their 30s,'' Goertzen said. ``This kid
was one of the best players on the ice. Rest assured there were no other
NHL scouts on hand in the building.''
That player turned out to be Ruslan Zainullin, an 18-year-old forward
selected by Tampa Bay with the 34th pick. Dudley said the Lightning would
have been tempted to take Zainullin at No. 8 if they had kept both of their
first- round choices.
The Lightning opened the draft by dealing the No. 5 pick to the Islanders
for 25-year-old goaltender Kevin Weekes and 19-year-old defenseman Kristian
Kudroc, the 28th player selected in the 1999 Entry Draft.
Weekes and Tampa Bay coach Steve Ludzik formed a powerful bond when
Weekes played for Ludzik on the International Hockey League's Detroit Vipers
in 1998-99. Dudley said he wouldn't be surprised if Weekes and Cloutier
alternate games next season.
``The respect is mutual between me and Coach Ludzik,'' Weekes said.
``He's a hard-working individual and a straight shooter. Those are qualities
I like, qualities that are getting harder to find in this business. His
honesty is refreshing and that's the way I like to be treated.''
Panthers assistant coach Billy Smith, who won four Stanley Cups as a
goaltender with the Islanders, is a big supporter of Tampa Bay's goaltending
``I've worked a lot with Kevin and he's a very good talent,'' Smith
said. ``Tampa Bay's got two very good young goalies now and I think both
of them will be elite goalies. The Lightning could have gotten a veteran
to work with Cloutier, but they went in a different direction with Weekes.
Yes, they've taken a risk, but isn't that what hockey's all about?''