Despite the fact the team graduated a large number of prospects last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s system remains flush with high-end prospects.
Jonathan Drouin is still the organization’s prized jewel and one of the top offensive prospects in the game; Andrey Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, is perhaps the best goaltending prospect in hockey and the Lightning are fortunate enough to be patient with him as Ben Bishop and Evgeni Nabokov will split duties between the pipes in Tampa Bay this season. Prospects on the blue line include flashy, offensively-oriented Anthony DeAngelo as well as former first round pick, but injury-troubled Slater Koekkoek.
1. (1) Jonathan Drouin, LW, 9.0C
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2013
It is a no contest when attempting to decide who the best Lightning prospect is – Jonathan Drouin is, far and away, the organization’s most skilled young player and he should be one of the top rookies in the NHL this season.
The shifty winger has offensive instincts well beyond his years, but can sometimes be caught trying to do too much with the puck. Still, he managed to post a career high in points with Halifax last season, despite being without Nathan MacKinnon (COL). His goal scoring total was down 41 to 29, but Drouin was able to make those around him better, recording 79 assists in just 46 games.
The Lightning are strong on the left side, but Drouin could earn himself a role on the top two lines with a good training camp – it is, after all, where he will be the most successful.
2. (2) Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2012
A big goaltender at 6’3 and 200-plus pounds, Vasilevskiy has already proven himself against some of the world’s best shooters, albeit in small samples – he played two games for Russia at the World Championships this year and allowed just one goal. However, in his first full season in the KHL, he was named the league’s rookie of the month multiple times and showed a consistency that has been improving since he was drafted in 2012.
In the playoffs, Vasilevskiy took the reins for Ufa, starting 19 games and posting a 1.99 goals against average and .934 save percentage.
Following the season, it was announced that Vasilevskiy will be coming to North America for the 2014-15 season. He has the ability to play in the NHL this season, but, because of the Evgeni Nabokov signing, he will be afforded a chance to continue developing with Syracuse of the AHL.
3. (NR) Anthony DeAngelo, D, 8.5D
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2014
Once you get past his apparent attitude issues and his suspension related to a racial slur last season, Anthony DeAngelo is a talented blueliner.
His poise with the puck is one of his biggest assets, making him an ideal powerplay quarterback – his hard, accurate shot and vision complement that poise quite well. He earned himself a potential first round draft selection with his breakout 2012-13 campaign with the Sarnia Sting in which he recorded near a point-per-game. Last year, he improved upon that standard with 71 points in 51 games.
He will play for the Sting once again this season and will be expected to improve defensively and get stronger.
4. (3) Nikita Kucherov, RW, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2012
Already a veteran of 52 NHL games, Kucherov is close to graduating from his status as a prospect; last year, after 17 games in the AHL, the Russian winger was called up to Tampa Bay as an injury replacement and fit in admirably, scoring nine goals and adding nine assists.
He is not the strongest player on the ice, but his speed and quickness make him a threat every time he is on the ice. He also possesses a quick shot which has the ability to fool opposing goaltenders.
Outside of Ryan Callahan, none of the Lightning’s right wingers are really guaranteed a spot on the roster; Kucherov, along with Richard Panik, both of whom earned significant playing time last year, are the favorites to earn a spot this year. Kucherov has already proven himself an effective scorer at the AHL level, scoring 13 times in just 17 games.
5. (4) Vladislav Namestnikov, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2011
Though he has fallen to number five on the Lightning’s top 20 prospect list, it is less a result of his own performance and more due to the inclusion of Anthony DeAngelo.
Namestnikov improved drastically on a mediocre rookie season in the AHL last year. His second year in the league, the Russian pivot scored 48 points in 56 games. He has been getting more comfortable offensively in the league, and his defensive zone instincts are already NHL-level.
Unless he has an outstanding training camp with Tampa Bay, he is almost assuredly set to begin another season with Syracuse of the AHL; he should, however, earn time as an injury call up.
6. (NR) Dominik Masin, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2014
The Tampa Bay Lightning will get a chance to keep a close eye on recently-drafted defenseman Dominik Masin. A native of Czech Republic, Masin will be suiting up for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL this season; he was selected by the team 25th overall in the recent CHL Import Draft.
Masin was a rock on the blue line for the Czech Republic U18 world junior team earlier this year, collecting three assists in seven games and captaining the team to a silver medal. The 18-year-old is already 6’2 and 190 pounds and plays a physical game. In 39 games with HC Slavia Praha’s U20 team, Masin racked up 102 penalty minutes; he also picked up 33 penalty minutes in just five playoff games. He will by no means be an offensive dynamo for the Petes this season but should be able to contribute offensively while playing a big role on the team’s penalty kill.
7. (7) Slater Koekkoek, D, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2012
If not for injury troubles, Slater Koekkoek would be much higher on this list. The all-around defender has a booming shot from the point to go along with strong offensive instincts and has a knack for laying big open-ice hits.
Yet, the 20-year-old has been unable to play a full season since 2010-11, his rookie year in the OHL. For the past three years, he has had season-ending shoulder injuries. He will be healthy and ready for training camp, but should end up in Syracuse of the AHL for the season, where his goal will be simply to stay healthy.
8. (8) Adam Erne, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2013
A big-bodied winger, Adam Erne plays with a combination of skill and toughness. In 48 games for the Quebec Remparts last season, he recorded 62 points and 65 penalty minutes. His 6’0, 209 pound frame can irritate defenders along the boards and he doesn’t mind throwing around his weight in the open ice.
He needs to learn how to control his aggression, however. He was suspended three NHL games for a pre-season hit on Vladimir Sobotka last year, and last year with Quebec, laid a punishing hit from behind on Jonathan Drouin, but escaped suspension. He was also suspended in 2013 internally by the Remparts. Discipline and improved defensive zone play will be his focus with the Remparts this season, his last of junior eligibility.
9. (NR) Johnathan MacLeod, D, 6.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2014
The second of two 2014 second round selections the Lightning used on defensemen, Jonathan MacLeod is not quite as polished as or offensively talented as Dominik Masin. That said, at 6’2 and 200-plus pound, the American defender has some impressive attributes, namely his size and physicality.
He is best described as a safe, stay-at-home rearguard who plays his position well and does not take too many chances offensively. That is not to say he is void of offensive talent either, as he scored five goals and added six assists in 51 games with the USNDTP last year. He also accumulated three points in seven games at the U18 world juniors.
MacLeod will begin his NCAA career as a freshman with Boston University this year.
10. (9) Cedric Paquette, C, 6.5B
Drafted 4th round, 101st overall, 2012
Cedric Paquette was perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the Lightning organization last season; the former fourth round selection was passed over in his first year of draft eligibility and then improved drastically in his final year of junior.
He is not physically overpowering, but his ability to get involved physically and get under opponents skin is impressive, and was on display in last year’s NHL playoffs, when he was often seen crashing and banging into Montreal Canadien forwards. Offensively, he accumulated 44 points in 70 games with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch as a rookie. He is expected to battle for a spot among the Lightning’s bottom-six forward core, but could be served in a more offensive role with the Crunch.
11. (11) Andrej Sustr, D, 6.5B
Signed as a free agent, March 21st, 2013
Having already played a handful of games in the NHL, Andrej Sustr’s greatest asset is his size. If he were 6’0, he would not be ranked this high, but nonetheless he is 6’8 and 225 pounds.
His skating is average at best, but Sustr’s size makes him a strong presence in front of the net and a force in the corners. A big target, he has a knack for making goalies’ jobs easier by getting in front of the puck. He displayed an offensive presence in his final year of NCAA hockey with the University of Nebraska-Omaha by collecting 25 points in 39 games and has 15 points through 65 games split between Syracuse and Tampa Bay. He played 43 games with the Lightning last year, but the addition of Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman, Sustr will likely battle Mark Barberio for the seventh defenseman spot.
12. (NR) Brayden Point, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2014
The organization that helped turn Martin St. Louis into a star player has shown no qualms about drafting undersized forwards and the Lightning did just that with the selection of Brayden Point in the third round of this past draft.
Point had some of the more impressive point totals amongst CHL draft-eligible players last season with 91 points in 72 games. What is more impressive is the fact that he was the Moose Jaw Warriors leading scorer by 36 points. Listed at 5’9 and 161 pounds, he is by no means going to fit a power-forward mold, but his speed and shiftiness with the puck makes him a dangerous playmaker. As evidenced by his 36 goals last season, he is also a proven goal scorer.
13. (19) Kristers Gudlevskis, G, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2013
The Lightning’s drafting of Latvian-born Gudlevskis in 2013 was a little peculiar given the team’s depth at the position and top prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy on the way, but it proved smart when, just a year later, Gudlevskis was making an appearance for the Lightning in a playoff game.
The big, agile goaltender – he is listed at 6’4 and 190 pounds – played at all three levels in the Lightning organization last year, in addition to playing for his country in both the Olympics and World Championships. His time with Tampa Bay was brief, but he proved himself capable in the minor leagues, posting a sub-2.00 goals against with Florida of the ECHL and a 2.68 goals against and .901 save percentage with Syracuse in the AHL.
The arrival of Vasilevskiy pushed Gudlevskis back a notch on the organizational depth chart, so it is unlikely he sees any time in the NHL this year, but he will get his share of starts in the AHL.
14. (15) Adam Wilcox, G, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2011
Not to be forgotten, Adam Wilcox is another promising young goaltender in the Lightning organization. Since being drafted in the sixth round of 2011, the Minnesota native played a season in the USHL and is now entering his third campaign with the hometown University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Wilcox has started the majority of games in his first two seasons with the team and finished both seasons with a sub-2.00 goals against average. Last season, while his goals against average rose from 1.88 to 1.97, his save percentage improved, going from .921 to .932.
He does not turn 22 until October and is still eligible for one more NCAA season, which should give the Lightning ample time to see what they have with Wilcox and where he fits in with their crowded goaltending depth.
15. (16) Dylan Blujus, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2012
A steady, consistent defenseman who has posted between 25 and 35 points in each of his four seasons of junior hockey, Blujus was at his best in last year’s OHL playoffs in which he helped the North Bay Battalion surge all the way to the finals before bowing out to the Guelph Storm. Blujus had 10 points through 22 playoff games, and was a steady force in the defensive end.
At 6’3 and 200-plus pounds, he is an imposing force on the ice, but, for the most part, has the ability to play a clean game, racking up no more than 57 penalty minutes in each of his four OHL seasons. Blujus will begin his pro career with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL this season, after signing an entry-level deal last year.
16. (13) Henri Ikonen, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 154th overall, 2013
After scoring 121 points in 115 games over the past two years with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, Finnish forward Henri Ikonen will begin his first season as a pro this year in Syracuse.
Not a terrific skater by any means, he gets by with his hockey sense, nose for the net, and defensive-zone play. He picked up two assists in six games with Syracuse toward the end of last season, and did not look too out of place in doing so.
17. (14) Matthew Peca, C, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2011
A small, but pesky forward, Matthew Peca is set to begin his fourth and final season at Quinnipiac University. Like the majority of smaller players who are drafted, Peca has offensive talent and has been proving so each of the past three seasons, in which he has topped 30 points every year.
More of a playmaker, he has been an effective goal scorer for the past two seasons, scoring 15 and 12 goals. Despite his size – 5’9 and 165 pounds – the Lightning would be wise to sign him following his senior season.
18. (18) Brian Hart, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2012
A winger in the power-forward mold, 6’3, 212 pound Brian Hart has posted 18 and 15 points in his first two seasons with Harvard University. Harvard struggled last season, so Hart’s decrease in production is not a big concern, but he will be expected to help carry the load for the Crimson this season.
Hart turns 21 in November, and still has some time to get accustomed to his growing frame. If his offensive production improves this season, he may be ready for pro hockey by 2015-16, though it would not be a surprise if he decided to finish his four-year college career.
19. (NR) Ben Thomas, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2014
Ben Thomas emerged as a legitimate NHL prospect with an impressive 2013-14 season in Calgary of the WHL, particularly with his improved confidence and offensive production from the back end.
He was thought of as a mobile, steady defender prior to the beginning of the season, having spent the previous season in the AJHL, recording just eight points. However, in 72 games with the Hitmen, Thomas scored seven goals and added 24 assists in a top-four role. The 6’1, 190 pound Calgary native has two more years of junior eligibility.
20. (NR) Cameron Darcy, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 185th overall, 2014
The Lightning could have waited until July 1st and try to sign Darcy, who would have been a free agent, but after posting 82 points in 65 games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL, but the team felt it necessary to secure his rights. The 6’0 winger plays with an edge that could make him an effective bottom-six winger going forward.
Darcy has yet to earn a pro contract, but will be attending Tampa Bay’s main training camp in hopes of doing so.