Tampa Bay Lightning prospects run deep at every position

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Anthony DeAngelo leads all CHL defencemen with 71 points in 51 games this season. (Courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Photo: Anthony DeAngelo leads all CHL defencemen with 71 points in 51 games this season. (Courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

Owning quality NHL-bound prospects at all five positions, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be set for the future. Beyond top prospects Jonathan Drouin, Andrey Vasilevskiy and Anthony DeAngelo, many of the organization’s prospects are ready for the next level, with recent call-ups Luke Witkowski and Nikita Nesterov performing well in the NHL.

1. (1) Jonathan Drouin, LW, 9.0 C
Drafted: 1st round, 3rd overall, 2013

Often looking dangerous offensively as a rookie this season, but with only two goals in 49 games, Jonathan Drouin has proven that he is likely to become a top-line winger in the NHL. Despite his inability to find the back of the net (he has just a 3.7 shooting percentage), the 19 year old has 22 assists—fifth among all forwards.

Though he often looks dangerous in the offensive zone, he has had trouble contributing consistently, going at least three games without recording a point on four occasions. His ice time has also fallen to below 10 minutes a game, and if the Lightning choose to add pieces prior to the deadline, his even-strength time may slip. The Lightning have brought the highly-skilled winger along slowly, and it should only benefit his development.

2. (2) Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, 8.5 C
Drafted: 1st round, 19th overall, 2012

An agile goaltender with a big 6’3 frame, Andrey Vasilevskiy immediately endeared himself to his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates—making a number of highlight-reel saves through his nine games in the NHL. Vasilevskiy has a 4-2-1 record to go along with his 2.13 goals against average and .927 save percentage.

In just 24 games with Syracuse this season, he proved that he was ready for the big club, and his play in the NHL has been strong enough to warrant more games. Recently, the Lightning traded backup Evgeni Nabokov to San Jose, leaving a void to be filled by Vasilevskiy.

3. (3) Anthony DeAngelo, D, 8.0 C
Drafted: 1st round, 19th overall, 2014

A mid-season trade to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds has been a blessing for both DeAngelo and the Lightning. The Greyhounds loaded up for a championship run and DeAngelo has been one of the team’s core players following the trade deadline. In just 19 games with the team, he became second in points among Greyhounds defensemen, with 34, just two behind Gustav Bouramman.

DeAngelo is one of the best offensive defensemen in the OHL; his combination of skating, offensive instincts and a quick, accurate shot is enough reason to figure he will be a fixture on the Lightning power-play in the future. However, the 19 year old needs add strength and improve defensively in order to become a viable five-on-five option at the NHL level.

4. (4) Vladislav Namestnikov, C, 7.5 C
Drafted: 1st round, 27th overall, 2011

Namestnikov has split the 2014-15 season between Syracuse and Tampa Bay. He played 26 games for the Lightning before being reassigned to the Crunch in early December. A capable two-way center with some offensive punch, the rookie had seven points in his NHL stint, but was ultimately sent down to play in a more offensive role.

The 22-year-old Russian was scoring at a point-per-game pace in the AHL, having 24 points in his first 24 games, before hitting a four-game pointless streak in early February. Namestnikov has three power-play goals and a shorthanded marker for the Crunch this season, proving his worth in all situations.

5. (9) Cedric Paquette, C, 6.5 B
Drafted: 4th round, 101st overall, 2012

All Cedric Paquette needed was a part of one playoff series to endear himself to both the Lightning organization and fans. He was recalled to Tampa Bay last year during the team’s first-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, during which he picked up two assists in four games, and was quite often the first man in on the forecheck.

After just five games in Syracuse at the beginning of the season, Paquette was recalled to Tampa Bay, where he has cemented a bottom-six and penalty killing role. Through 51 games, he has 12 goals and seven assists, while maintaining a plus-four rating.

6. (7) Adam Erne, RW, 7.0 C 
Drafted: 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2013

Along with Ukrainian import forward Dmytro Timashov, Adam Erne has been a force for the Quebec Remparts this season. After a highly productive 18-year-old season with the team, Erne has been using his 6’1, 206 lb frame to his advantage, and through 50 games, has a team-leading 36 goals. He is 14th in QMJHL scoring with 74 points.

Somewhat surprisingly, Erne was left off of the United States World Junior team, despite having played last year. There are questions about his character, but he has mostly let his play on the ice speak for itself this season.

7. (11) Brayden Point, C, 7.0 C
Drafted: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2014

A somewhat surprising addition to the Canadian World Junior team, Brayden Point showed off his offensive capability in the tournament, eventually earning regular ice-time after Robby Fabbri (STL) went down with injury. He scored twice and added two assists in seven games.

His 5’10, 165 lb frame is not going to help him overpower players in the corner, but he is a hard worker with a nose for the net. His ability to both set up and finish goals has been evident with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, where he has 65 points in just 48 games (27 goals and 38 assists). Point’s goals have come in bunches—the Calgary native has three hat-tricks this season as well as four two-goal games.

8. (5) Dominik Masin, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 35th overall, 2014

Czech Republic native Dominik Masin has been an average defender for an underwhelming Peterborough Petes team this season. With a 6’2, 194 lb frame, he has gotten involved physically, collecting 70 penalty minutes, and his 25 points is just one behind Matthew Spencer (2015) for the team lead by a defenseman.

Masin also played for the Czech U20 World Junior team, collecting an assist through five games. The rounded rearguard has one more season of junior eligibility, where he will likely lead a much-improved, older Petes squad.

9. (8) Johnathan MacLeod, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2014

Far from an offensive defenseman, Jonathan MacLeod is not completely adept offensively. The 6’2, 201 lb freshman at Boston University has two goals and six assists in 28 games, while primarily being played on the team’s bottom two pairings. MacLeod’s plus-11 rating is seventh-best on BU.

The Lightning already have solid defensive depth at the pro level, and with others set to turn pro in the coming years, the team can be as patient as it needs be with MacLeod, who can still play three more years at BU.

10. (12) Kristers Gudlevskis, G, 7.0 C  
Drafted: 5th round, 124th overall, 2013

It has been a relatively quiet year for Gudlevskis, after the 22 year old Latvian netminder spent time at all three pro levels—ECHL, AHL and NHL—and suited up for his country at the Olympics. He has been stationed in Syracuse this season, playing in 29 games while posting a 2.70 goals against average and .902 save percentage. He will see a lot more work going forward, with Vasilevskiy serving as the Lightning’s backup.

11. (6) Slater Koekkoek, D, 7.5 D
Drafted: 1st round, 10th overall, 2012

The biggest positive from Slater Koekkoek’s game so far this season is his ability to stay healthy. Playing in 50 of 51 games for the Syracuse Crunch, Koekkoek has been a fixture among the team’s top four defensemen. His shooting percentage has not been great—with just three goals on 92 shots from the back end—but his 14 points tie him with Nikita Nesterov for the team lead in scoring by a defenseman.

Koekkoek missed parts of his past three seasons—including his draft year—with injuries, primarily a recurring shoulder injury. That he has been able to stay healthy in his first year of pro hockey is a positive sign moving forward.

12. (NR) Nikita Nesterov, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 5th round, 148th overall, 2011

Slight-but-bulky Russian defender Nikita Nesterov has put together a strong series of games in Tampa Bay recently. He has played in 17 games for the team this season, scoring his first career goal and adding three assists—with a plus-eight rating. Nesterov earned the call-up after building upon a strong AHL rookie season; in 32 games with the Crunch this season, he had 14 points and a plus-four rating. The Lightning could use defensive depth at the deadline, but Nesterov’s strong play might keep him around.

13. (14) Dylan Blujus, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2012

Dylan Blujus has performed as expected n his first year of pro hockey, scoring a pair of goals and collecting 10 assists. Though he was an occasional healthy scratch early in the season, he has since entered the line-up on a regular basis—earning praise from Syracuse head coach Rob Zettler for his improved defensive-zone play. Before getting injured at the beginning of February, Blujus was a regular on the Crunch power-play unit.

14. (NR) Tanner Richard, LW, 6.5 C
Drafted: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2012

A pesky two-way center, Tanner Richard has improved immensely in his second AHL season. After scoring just two goals in 65 games last year, Richard has seven through 52 games this year, for a total of 26 points. He also has a team-leading plus-16 this season and is second on the team in penalty minutes with 107. Though he is far from a heavyweight, Richard does not mind dropping the gloves to spark his team—he has seven fighting majors this season.

15. (17) Brian Hart, RW, 6.5 C  
Drafted: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2012

Still an intriguing prospect due to his power-forward frame (6’3, 212 lbs), Brian Hart’s production and role at Harvard has decreased in the previous two seasons. After an impressive freshman campaign in which he recorded 18 points in 30 games, he had just 15 points last season—and just 11 this year. Harvard is not set to graduate any players ahead of Hart on the depth chart this off-season, so the Maine product will have to work for his ice-time as a senior next year.

16. (19) Cameron Darcy, C, 6.5 C
Drafted: 7th round, 185th overall, 2014

A mid-season trade from Cape Breton to the Sherbrooke Phoenix has sparked 20 year old Cameron Darcy’s offensive game. The South Boston, MA native had scored just once in 19 games for the Screaming Eagles, but since being traded has found the back of the net 16 times through 26. Between the two teams, Darcy has 50 points in 45 games.

17. (13) Adam Wilcox, G, 6.5 C
Drafted: 6th round, 178th overall, 2011

After starting his collegiate career with a sub-2.00 goals against average in back-to-back seasons, Adam Wilcox has looked rather pedestrian between the pipes for the University of Minnesota this season. Outside of Justin Holl (CHI), the team’s defensive core remains relatively unchanged—yet Wilcox’s GAA is up to 2.50, and his save percentage is down from .932 to .907. He still owns a 17-9-3 record, but has not been the standout he was in his first two seasons.

18. (16) Matthew Peca, C, 7.0 D
Drafted: 7th round, 201st overall, 2011

Having reached 30 points for his fourth straight season at Quinnipiac University (5 goals, 25 assists), Matthew Peca has nothing left to prove at the collegiate level. The diminutive center has been the team’s top offensive option since his arrival; he is clearly skilled, but the biggest question is in regard to his 5’9, 168 lb stature: Can he handle the physical demands of pro hockey? It would have been in his best interests to sign a contract and turn pro this season.

19. (NR) Nikita Gusev, LW, 7.0 D
Drafted: 7th round, 202nd overall, 2012

Scoring the most jaw-dropping shootout goal in the KHL Skills Competition is not the only thing noteworthy of Nikita Gusev this season. After four seasons of bottom-six minutes in the KHL, Gusev broke out offensively for Khanty-Mansiysk Yugra, and currently leads the team in both goals (20) and points (35). It is not known whether he plans to move to North America anytime soon, but he remains an intriguing prospect for the Lightning.

20. (NR) Luke Witkowski, D, 6.0 C
Drafted: 6th round, 160th overall, 2008

Luke Witkowski has played well in 10 games for the Lightning this season, but the 6’2, 200 lb rearguard does not project as much more than a bottom-pairing defenseman. His skating needs work to keep up to the NHL pace, but he can earn his keep with his physical play and ability to clear the front of the net.