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, Tampabaylightning.com 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.
Here’s a description of a player for your team: “Exciting, combining great speed and enthusiastic physical play; A veteran forward who has produced 795 points in 1,049 NHL games.”
He’d be a great addition to the Lightning, no doubt. Getting this player on your team would be the “no-brainer” of all time – but, it’s not possible. Those statistics and that description belong to Geoff Courtnall, a 19-year NHL veteran who retired in 2000. If you can’t have Geoff Courtnall, however, the Lightning are trying the next best thing.
On the theory that the genes don’t fall very far from the tree, the Lightning nabbed his son, Justin, in the seventh round (#210 overall), at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The seventh round is the final round of the draft, and Courtnall was the next-to-last player chosen, so admittedly, not too much has been expected from the 18-year-old. Jake Goertzen, Lightning Chief Scout, admitted at the time of the draft that the Courtnall pick was “a roll of the dice.”
Courtnall is considered to be a very good skater with good hands. In 2006-’07, Courtnall produced 5 goals and 14 points in 53 games, while playing for the Burnaby in the British Columbia Hockey League. Of late, Cournall is showing signs of being a late developer and has given the Lightning some reason to hope that he may blossom into that rare find, a seventh-round bargain. Playing in the BCHL for the Victoria Grizzlies, Courtnall has contributed 10 goals and 16 assists in 40 games. Respectable numbers.
Look for further improvement upcoming, however, as the Grizzlies have recently welcomed a new coach who is very familiar with Courtnall’s game, having already coached him in peewees, bantam and midgets. On December 27, his father, Geoff Cortnall, was handed the reigns as the new coach. Not that his work ethic has ever been called into question, but they’ll be no slacking for Justin Courtnall now.