Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dustin Tokarski Gets The Call

An extremely bad Photoshop I made earlier in the season for Twitter (based on a billboard in Norfolk)

If you’ve read any of my hockey stuff over the past year or so, you know I’m a bit of a mark for Dustin Tokarski.  Heck, he’s even one of the folks on my Personal Collection list, so you know I’m a fan.  Even back in 2010 I thought he’d be something to look forward to.That means I’m super excited about the news out of Channelside that he’s been promoted, right?  Not really.

The Tampa Bay Lightning organization hasn’t exactly been a hot bed for goaltending prospects over its 20-year history.  As a matter of fact, it’s been more like the place where young goalies go to disappear.  Every regime that has come through the Tampa Bay Area has had their “Chosen One” who would lead the team in net for the coming years. Names like Evgeny Konstantinov, Gerald Coleman, Riku Helenius and Zack Bierk (aka Sebastian Bach’s brother-in-law) have all been pitched to the fan base as a potential hot young goalie in the system.  The combined number of NHL games for them in a Lightning uniform – 31. The number of wins – 5 (all of them by Bierk).

If you look at the Lightning’s history of goaltenders that they’ve drafted, it’s not pretty.  The all-time games leader for Tampa Bay drafted goalies is Karri Ramo with 48, that is barely over a half of a season’s worth of games. Even for a relatively young franchise that’s pathetic.
Ramo did have one of the best masks in Lightning history - BRAINS!

Most likely it is because the organization has never concerned itself with using top picks to draft goaltenders. In the sixteen drafts that the Lightning have used their first round pick (they traded away their number one picks in 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2007), only once have they used it for a goaltender.  That was for Helenius in 2006 when he went 15th overall (with Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth still available). Only Tyler Moss (2nd round 1993) and Konstatinov (3rd round 1999) have been drafted in the top 3 rounds.

With that lack of top-end talents in the prospect pool it’s no wonder that they’ve never developed an elite starting goaltender in the NHL.  They have also had a tendency to rush whichever prospects they do have through their system and throw them into the fire with horrendous teams in front of them. Ramo was 20 when he appeared in his first game, Bierk was 21 and Coleman was 20 when he appeared in two games before being shipped out to Anaheim in the Shane O’Brien deal.

Tokarski has been in the organization since 2008 when he was drafted in the 5th round by the Bolts.  There was a lot of excitement about him early in his career as he dominated his last season in junior hockey, winning the Memorial Cup MVP and the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the top goaltender.  He was also the starting goaltender for Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships where he led them to their 5th straight goal medal (even if his play was uneven at best).
I have this card! Well not this exact one, but one just like it!

He immediately made the jump to the AHL where he won 27 games in his first year at Norfolk while sharing playing time with Helenius and Jaroslav Janus.  Tokarski would win 21 games in 2010-11 and seem to take a step back on the prospect depth chart as Janus and newcomer Cedrick Desjardins would look like they might have higher potential.

This season, with Desjardins out of the system, the battle for the future of the organization has come down to Tokarski and Janus. After splitting time earlier in the season, Tokarski has wrestled his way to the starting job and has matched his career best with 27 wins, 8 of which have come in his last 8 starts. The Admirals are in the midst of the playoff hunt in the AHL, mostly due to the outstanding play in net by their two keepers.

Before Tuesday night’s game it looked like the plan was simple.  Despite the uneven play of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon, Tokarski would stay in Norfolk and wet his teeth on AHL playoff pressure. Roloson will most likely be gone next season and Tokarski could enter camp with the chance of battling for the number one position with Garon or any other goalie brought in by Mr. Yzerman.  The kid, he is still 23, wouldn’t be rushed nor would he waste away on the bench.

Then, at about 7:47pm EST, Garon deflected an Erik Karlson shot with his glove. In doing so he shredded his groin like our cat shreds a newspaper. Immediate thoughts on the Twitter-verse were that Mr. Yzerman would be putting a call into the league and swooping in to take Marty Turco off of waivers.  Alas, it wasn’t to be.  They waited for the diagnosis and on Wednesday morning, in the shadow of the news that Peyton Manning was being released by the Colts, announced that Tokarski was getting the call up.

How much the young netminder plays in the next 3-4 weeks hasn’t been determined yet.  With the Bolts only 4 points out of a playoff spot, one has to think that the team will rely heavily on the veteran Roloson.  There are only two sets of back-to-back games left on their schedule (March 26,27 and April 4,5) so they may try to ride him down the stretch.  However, his play has been spotty at best throughout this season so there is a slimmer of a chance that Coach Boucher will give the younger goalie a shot.

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