Tampa Bay Lightning prospect pool had many standout playoff performances in 2014

By Chris Roberts

Cedric Paquette - Tampa Bay Lightning

Photo: Forward Cedric Paquette was one of several young Tampa Bay Lightning players who made their NHL Playoff debut in 2014. Paquette was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

As has been the case for the past few seasons now, the Tampa Bay Lightning had some breakthrough performances from prospects this year. Many of those strong performances carried over into the postseason, with several prospects positioning themselves well for the future.

Goaltending, in particular, was an area of strength with strong seasons from Andrey Vasilevskiy in the KHL and Adam Wilcox in the NCAA, and for both keepers that trend continued into the postseason.

Jonathan Drouin, again, had a stellar postseason in the QMJHL, but the Halifax Mooseheads simply were not as deep as last year to make a championship run, despite his best efforts.

The Lightning's AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, finished 12th in the competitive Eastern Conference and failed to make the playoffs, largely in part to injuries in Tampa, which forced the organization's hand in calling up young players – Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown, and others.

NHL

A few prospects got a taste of NHL playoff hockey and the intensity that sets it apart from other leagues. Most notably, Cedric Paquette, a fourth round pick in 2012, was a sparkplug for the Lightning, throwing his weight around and getting in first on the forecheck more often than not. He had no trouble mirroring the tenacious play that made him successful in the AHL, picking up 16 minutes of penalties in just four games as well as adding a pair of assists.

In two games, Kucherov showed flashes of his speed and talent, and scored a goal off a wrist shot directly in the slot, but was inconsistent at times.

OHL

Recently-signed Dylan Blujus helped lead an impressive and surprising playoff run for the North Bay Battalion. In 22 games, he scored four goals and added six assists, but his leadership and shutdown ability for the Battalion was impressive.

Another recently-signed rearguard, Jake Dotchin, continued a strong regular season into the playoffs. Through 11 playoff games with the Barrie Colts, the 6'3, 207 pound, former sixth round pick scored three goals and added two assists.

Last year's sixth round pick, Henri Ikonen, played just seven games due to his Kingston Frontenacs losing in the first round, but he finished second on the team in scoring, behind only Sam Bennett (2014), with six points.

QMJHL

Drouin's regular season was off the charts. In the postseason, he upped the ante. He played 16 games in the Moosehead's conference final-ending playoff run and scored 13 goals while adding 28 assists. His 41 points was far-and-away the team lead, ahead of Nikolaj Ehlers (2014), who had 28.

Adam Erne played just one game for Quebec in their first round loss.

NCAA

After posting another sub-two goals against average in his sophomore season and leading the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to a number one ranking, Wilcox could not do enough in the NCAA Tournament. He was between the pipes for Minnesota's three playoff wins, leading them to the finals against the surprising Union team, but surrendered six goals in that game. He was a Hobey Baker and Mike Richter finalist during the regular season.

Brendan O'Donnell and the University of North Dakota lost to Wilcox and the Golden Gophers in the semi-finals. O'Donnell, a sixth round pick in 2010, had one assist and was a plus-three through three games.

Matthew Peca and Quinnipiac's University lost 4-0 to Providence in the opening round.

Europe

Vasilevski, who recently signed an entry-level deal with the Lightning and will come to North America next season, became one of the KHL's top goaltenders this season. His playoff run was cut short with Ufa, but through 14 games, he posted a 2.24 goals against average and a sparkling .928 save percentage. In the World Championships this past May, he played in two games for the gold medal winning Russians, stopping 66 of 67 shots.