The Lightning had eight players in juniors this season — five in the OHL, two in the WHL, and one in the QMJHL. Of these, there are six forwards, one defenseman, and one goalie. Carter Ashton and Richard Panik are the only Lightning junior prospects that are considered possible top-end talent at this time. James Wright spent a majority of his season in Tampa, but he is not projected to be a top-six forward.
Carter Ashton, RW – Regina Pats
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall, 2009
April 1, 1991, 6’3", 200
In his third season in juniors, Ashton perhaps only marginally improved from the past season. The right wing was traded from Lethbridge to Regina in the first half of the season. Ashton played for Team WHL in the Super Series, but he was not selected for the World Junior Championships.
He only slightly bested his point total from last season of 50, but dropped off when it came to goals. The argument could be made that this was because of him playing on two teams that missed the playoffs though and being traded in the season. Ashton had 24 goals and 51 points in 65 games. After their season was over, the Pats assigned him to the Norfolk Admirals where he had one goal in 11 games.
In order to make the Lightning as a top-six forward, Ashton will have to improve his skating and become more of an offensive presence.
James Wright, C – Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 4th round, 117th overall, 2008
May 24, 1990, 6’3", 196
Of all the Lightning prospects, Wright probably had the weirdest season. He made the Lightning as a checking forward in a surprise out of training camp. He would go on to play half the season for the Lightning before he was jettisoned to the Giants in favor of Nate Thompson. He was too young be assigned to the AHL.
The center had two goals and five points in 48 games for the Lightning. He would return to the Giants where he had six goals and 19 points in the last 21 games of the regular season. The Giants are now in the second round of the playoffs. Wright has been a big part of the run with 11 points in nine games so far. This will probably be Wright’s last season in juniors and the Lightning will have to decide whether to bring him back to the Lightning or send him to Norfolk.
Richard Panik, RW – Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2009
February 7, 1991, 6’2", 197
Panik is another Lightning prospect who has made a journey this season. Panik started the season with the Windsor Spitfires where he played well, but it was tough with the lack of playing time given the immense talent on the team. He potted nine goals and 18 points in 33 games. He was shipped to Belleville where the young Slovak received more playing time and it showed on the score sheet. He scored 12 goals and 23 points in 27 games.
Panik really shined in the World Junior Championships where he was, by far, Slovakia‘s best player with eight points in six games. The right wing finally ended up in Norfolk with an amateur tryout contract. In five games with the Admirals, he had one point.
Panik will get a look from the Lightning, but will probably return for his second year in juniors next season.
Alex Hutchings, LW – Barrie Colts
Acquired: 4th round, 93th overall, 2009
November 7, 1990, 5’10", 173
The undersized forward has been great all season in his fourth season in juniors. For Barrie, Hutchings has lit it up this season. He shattered his career highs in goals and points with 47 goals and 81 points. The most impressive feat for Hutchings is his 11 shorthanded goals.
Unfortunately for Hutchings, he got injured in the OHL playoffs and has only played one of the two sweeps the Colts have put up so far. Hutchings may be an intriguing player to watch at training camp next season. He could be a player to keep an eye on as he has more of an offensive game than most, if not all, Lightning junior prospects.
Kyle DeCoste, RW – Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 5th round, 147th overall, 2008
June 30, 1990, 6’2", 190
DeCoste, a teammate of Panik on the Bulls, produced his best season in juniors. In his fourth season, he showed something not seen before by him: a scoring touch. In 44 games after the trade with Sault Ste. Marie, he had 17 goals. He finished the season with 33 points in 57 games.
Even with the goal-scoring explosion (for him, at least), he would be lucky to play in the NHL.
Matias Sointu, LW – Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: 7th round, 182nd overall, 2008
February 10, 1990, 5’10", 180
Sointu is another diminutive winger. The Finn is also another junior prospect who was traded during the season. Sointu started with the Ottawa 67’s where he produced 10 points in 21 games. Like the other prospects, he produced better with his new team, Sudbury. He netted five goals and 19 points in 30 games. He also produced three points in four playoff games before the Wolves were unceremoniously swept out by Barrie.
As a 20-year-old, Sointu can play juniors or in the minors next season.
Michael Zador, G – Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall, 2009
May 8, 1991, 6’2", 172
Just like it was for Oshawa, the 2009-10 season was a nightmare for Zador. The Generals gave up the most goals in the league and it decimated Zador’s numbers this season. He struggled this season with a 14-28-3 record, a 4.15 goals against average and a .884 save percentage.
The former U-18 goalie and Oshawa hope to return to respectability next season as Zador will be pretty much guaranteed to spend another season in juniors.
Mark Barberio, D – Moncton Wildcats
Acquired: 6th round, 152nd overall, 2008
March 23, 1990, 6’0", 201
Barberio had a career year offensively for the Wildcats as a 19-year-old. What is most outstanding though is how Barberio stepped up his defensive game this past season. The rearguard known for his offensive skills was an impressive +39 in 65 games this season. Barberio had 17 goals and 60 points in those games.
He has been equally great in the playoffs for Moncton as they are in the semifinals of the QMJHL playoffs. The Montreal native has three goals and 12 points in two five-game series wins for the Wildcats. Barberio will probably get a chance at the minors for the Lightning next season.