Tampa to Phoenix Expressway Continues
By: Chad Schnarr

Former Lightning and current Phoenix GM Cliff Fletcher is becoming Rick Dudley’s favorite trading partner. After acquiring goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and defensman Stan Neckar from Fletcher and the ‘Yotes in March, Fletcher and Dudley were at it again today. Dudley finally gave up on “Project Warriner” and shipped Todd Warriner, the one-time 4th overall draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques, to Phoenix for Finnish defensive specialist Juha Ylonen. This deal comes just weeks after Fletcher agreed to share the Springfield Falcons, the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, with the Dudley and the Lightning.

“Juha Ylonen is an extremely versatile player, capable of playing both the center and the wing,” Dudley said. “He’s outstanding defensively and he showed at the World Championships that he can contribute offensively. We like his character a lot and think this is a trade that makes us a better team right now.”

What the 6’1” 180 pound center did at the World Championships was lead the tournament in scoring with 5 goals and 9 assists for 14 points. The Czech Republic beat Ylonen and Finland 3-2 in overtime of the championship game on a golden goal by David Moravec. Ylonen notched an assist on the Finland’s first goal, then scored on the PP giving them a short-lived, 2-0 lead. He was named to the tournament’s second all-star team with current Bolt Pavel Kubina.

Ylonen has already been named to the Finnish 2002 Olympic squad that will compete in Salt Lake City. He will be counted on for his work on the penalty kill and shutting down the opposition’s top players.

The defensive role was one that was becoming familiar to Warriner, though he was drafted for his offensive abilities. Warriner’s offensive game failed to emerge with the Leafs in his home province of Ontario. Dealt to Tampa early in the 99-00 season, his play was erratic, but seemed to strengthen after being benched by Steve Ludzik for lack of effort. He quickly found himself playing on the top line alongside Vincent Lecavalier and good friend and roommate, Mike Johnson (now in Phoenix, too). His numbers went up, as did his ice-time. He wore the captain’s “C” for the final two games of the year when Lecavalier went down with a foot injury.

Needless to say, good things were expected from Warriner heading into the 00-01 season. Warriner started the year back with Johnson and Lecavalier, but was quickly demoted when he couldn’t produce. Even another mid-season benching didn’t ignite the 27 year-old’s game. He finished the year (-)13, with only 10 goals (21 points), down from the 14 goal, career-high, total he’d notched the year before. Warriner would go in spurts when he was one of the best on the ice, then disappear for 20+ games at a time. Warriner may have only survived the trade deadline because he was on the shelf with a left MCL sprain.

Todd Warriner grew up in Blenheim, Ontario under the close tutelage of his father, a demanding power skating instructor. The pride of Kent County excelled at baseball and track and was considered the county’s best athlete throughout his teenage years. When he finally hit the NHL, Warriner showed fantastic skating ability, but didn’t have the work ethic, grit and discipline to match. His downfall in Tampa was the same as in Toronto. He failed to reach his immense potential.

Juha Ylonen arrived in North America during the 96-97 season, and proceeded to score 20 goals with the Sprinfield Falcons. He made his NHL debut that year, going scoreless in 2 games. The next season he saw full-time NHL duty and has stayed there ever since.

Last season, Ylonen was third on the Coyotes in +/- with a (+)10 rating. That number was up from (-)6 a year ago, but down from a fantastic (+)18 two years ago. He scored a career-high 9 goals last season and added a career-high 38 penalty minutes.

Lightning fans can expect to see Ylonen on the third and forth lines this fall. Once thought to have 2nd line Center potential, Ylonen’s now counted on for his defensive and PK abilities. He is an above average skater, sound positionally, and is a responsible player. Like most, he plays better with confidence. Based on his WC performance, his confidence should be at a high level. Ylonen is not overly physical, but will take or give a hit when needed. Ylonen carried only a 41.1 face-off success rate (Warriner 50.5). He makes $625,000.000 per year ($125, 000.000 less than Warriner) and has only missed 12 games in the last two years with injury. He injured his shoulder last training camp, then missed five games in January due to a concussion.

Warriner has similar defensive abilities and likely would have found himself in the same position as Ylonen this fall with the Bolts. The difference between the two is Dudley and Co. will know what they’re going to get from Ylonen every game. They were simply tired of waiting on the enigma that is Todd Warriner.