With expectations comes pressure; pressure to succeed and meet said expectations. So far, the young Tampa Bay Lightning squad has met and surpassed most expectations, proving last year’s playoff appearance was no fluke—far from it.
Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ben Bishop, and Victor Hedman have been the pillars for the Lightning this season, but the team’s young depth has served them well with key contributions from rookies like Andrey Vasilevskiy and Jonathan Drouin.
Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, 20
A former first round pick, Andrey Vasilevskiy came to North America prior to the start of the 2014-15 season as one of the most highly-touted young goaltenders in the world. Thus far, he has spent the majority of the season in Syracuse, but when called upon in Tampa, he has played above expectation.
Vasilevskiy was recalled from Syracuse in December and started four games with the Lightning, posting a 3-1 record, while only allowing seven goals. Unless either Bishop or backup Evgeni Nabokov go down to injury in the second half of the season, it is likely Vasilevskiy finishes his season in Syracuse, where he currently owns a record of 13-5-5, along with a save percentage of .918.
Jonathan Drouin, LW, 19
Drouin does not turn 20 until March, but already the prized prospect is finding a home in the NHL. No, he has not exploded onto the scene like former Halifax teammate Nathan McKinnon did last year with Colorado, but Drouin has been a nice complement to whichever line he plays on.
Through 38 games, the 5’11, 192 pound winger has scored just twice, but has contributed 16 assists and currently sits 10th in team scoring. In two games with Syracuse, Drouin proved he was above the level of competition, and the Lightning have been able to ease Drouin’s transition into the NHL thanks to their wealth of forward depth.
Vladislav Namestnikov, C, 22
The former London Knight has NHL—level skill and work ethic, but was a product of the numbers game in Tampa Bay, a team with excellent depth at center. Namestnikov suited up in 26 games for the Lightning this season before being sent back to Syracuse; in those games, the Russian pivot scored three goals and added four assists in limited ice time.
Cedric Paquette, C, 21
While Namestnikov’s decent play was unable to earn him a permanent spot on the Lightning roster, Paquette’s combination of grit and scoring ability has helped him earn his keep.
Paquette suited up in four playoff games for the Lightning last season and provided energy on seemingly every shift. He began the 2014-15 season in Syracuse, but was recalled after just five games in which he scored seven points. Since, Paquette has dressed for the Lightning in 39 games, scoring six goals and adding six assists, while also being a regular member of the team’s penalty kill unit.
A pair of Syracuse defensemen have recently suited up for the Lightning, making their NHL debuts. With veteran Matt Carle out due to injury, room has opened up on the Lightning blue line—Nikita Nesterov has played in eight games for the Lightning, recording two assists, while 24-year-old Luke Witkowski recently played in his first career game.
2015 World Junior Tournament Update
The Lightning had three players participate in this year’s World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.
Brayden Point, the team’s third round selection in the most recent NHL Draft, helped the Canadian team capture the gold medal with a pair of goals and two assists in seven games. The undersized pivot spent time as the team’s 13th forward, but was moved up in the line-up with the injury to Robby Fabbri (STL).
A couple of the team’s defense prospect—Anthony DeAngelo and Dominik Masin—also participated for their respective countries. DeAngelo played second pairing minutes for the Americans, scoring twice and adding one assist in five games. Following his return to the OHL, DeAngelo was dealt from the Sarnia Sting to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Masin, meanwhile, made the Czech Republic team as an 18-year-old, picking up one assist in five games.
Tampa Bay Lightning Prospect of the Month
Despite the fact that Vladislav Namestnikov no longer finds himself on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster, it has not stopped him from proving he belongs there. In 20 games since the beginning of December for the Syracuse Crunch, Namestnikov has scored eight goals and added 11 assists. He has given an offensive lift to the Crunch, recording a point in all but five games he has played in. He has also been a valuable member of both the power-play and penalty-kill units, scoring three powerplay goals, as well as one while shorthanded.