Deep crop of Tampa Bay Lightning prospects in junior

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Cristiano DiGiacinto joined Team OHL at the CHL Canada Russia Series in November, where he registered 2 PIM in his single appearance. (Courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Photo: Cristiano DiGiacinto joined Team OHL at the CHL Canada Russia Series in November, where he registered 2 PIM in his single appearance. (Courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

 

In the past two NHL drafts the Tampa Bay Lightning have heavily selected from the CHL. Of the team’s 16 picks, 12 have come from Canada’s top junior league. Both Anthony DeAngelo and Cam Darcy, selected in last year’s draft, have already turned pro, but the Lightning still have 10 prospects playing in the CHL.

Tampa Bay has selected just two European players in that time, and both were selected in the CHL Import Draft by the Peterborough Petes. Defenseman Dominik Masin is still with the team, while Jonne Tammela, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2015, has stayed in Finland for another season.

QMJHL

Mathieu Joseph, RW, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 4th round (120th overall), 2015

Last season Mathieu Joseph provided strong secondary scoring to a burgeoning Sea Dogs team. This year, however, he has become one of the team’s top offensive players. Saint John is a team that succeeds with a well-balanced attack (they had seven NHL-drafted players last season) but Joseph has spent most of the season earning first-line ice time and playing on the team’s top power-play unit. Through 27 games so far this season, he has 14 goals and 13 assists.

The offensive production slowed a bit in November, however. The Chambly, Quebec native had just seven points in 10 games in the month after recording 12 points in 12 October games. He still had his chances—Joseph’s 98 shots this season are tops on the team. Joseph was named an injury substitute for Team QMJHL in the CHL Canada Russia Series and scored a pair of goals in the team’s 6-4 win on Nov. 19.

Dennis Yan, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: 3rd round, (64th overall), 2015

Few have been more productive this season in the QMJHL than Dennis Yan. It’s a high-scoring league by nature, but Yan’s 44 points in 26 games are impressive nonetheless. He is aided incredibly by teammate Anthony Beauvillier (NYI), a 2015 first round pick, as the pair has combined to be the most dangerous duo in the league.

October was a tremendous month for the American-born forward. He recorded 24 points in 11 games, including hat tricks—and five point nights—on back-to-back nights against Rouyn-Noranda and Val d’Or. Not surprisingly, he was named CHL Player of the Week for that stretch, and Hockey’s Future selected him as the Prospect of the Month. Yan plays with a combination of grit and skill and is often the most noticeable player on the ice—he has 31 penalty minutes (he had 71 last season) and has recorded fewer than two shots in a game just twice in 21 games.

Bokondji Imama, LW, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 6th round (180th overall), 2015

A big-bodied grinder with decent skating ability, the Lightning liked what they saw in Bokondji Imama prior to the 2014 NHL Draft, which was his first year of eligibility. He went undrafted that season but the team revisited the player in the recent draft in order to add some grit to its prospect pool. Imama has 45 penalty minutes this season, including a pair of fighting majors, and has consistently agitated the opposition.

He isn’t inept offensively, either. Last season, split between Baie-Comeau and Saint John, Imama scored 13 goals in 59 games. This season the Montreal native has 13 points in 27 games, though he has struggled to provide much offense in November. Because he was drafted as a 19-year-old, Imama can play out his overage season while still property of the Lightning.

OHL

Cristiano DiGiacinto, LW, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 6th round (170th overall), 2014

Cristiano DiGiacinto has improved with each season since entering the OHL as a free agent in 2013. He has recorded 17-plus goals in each of the past two seasons, all while accumulating 100-plus penalty minutes as well. This season he is on pace to once again improve his offensive production and increase his penalty minute total. In fact, through 24 games the Hamilton, Ontario native is third on the Windsor Spitfires in both points (25) and penalty minutes (40).

Impressively, DiGiacinto has gone from being considered a third-line energy player even at the junior level to leading Windsor’s top line. His all-around game has also improved and his plus/minus rating of plus-15 is second on the team. What’s most impressive is that only one of DiGiacinto’s 11 goals has come with the man advantage. November, in particular, was been a good month for the winger; he began the month with a six-game point streak, registering 10 points along the way. He was named to the OHL team for the CHL Canada Russia Series as well.

Mitchell Stephens, C, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 2nd round (33rd overall), 2015

Mitchell Stephens’ strong play from last season, including a very impressive U18 World Junior Championships, carried over into the beginning of this season, but an injury has derailed his year. He broke his foot in an Oct. 16 game against the London Knights, and he did not return until recently. An impressive first half might have put Stephens on the Canadian World Junior team’s radar, but that won’t be the case now.

In the nine games he has played, Stephens has been Saginaw’s top forward, as expected, scoring seven goals and adding four assists. He is also 57-percent on faceoffs.

Anthony Cirelli, C, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 3rd round (72nd overall), 2015

Following a Memorial Cup win the Oshawa Generals are a much different team this year. Their overall depth, particularly up front, is a lot weaker than last season, but that’s a good thing for the development of Anthony Cirelli. The lanky forward is best known for scoring two huge goals in the Memorial Cup clincher for the Generals, but throughout last season he was primarily a third-line forward. This year his ice time has gone up as has his production–Cirelli is currently fourth on the Generals in scoring with 22 points in 25 games.

He missed five games in November due to injury and has struggled slightly since returning to the lineup, but the month of October was a productive one: he recorded 10 points in 13 games, but did have two three-game stretches in which he was held pointless.

Dominik Masin, D, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 2nd round (35th overall), 2014

The Peterborough Petes are a much improved team from a year ago and Dominik Masin has been a big reason why. In his first year with the team, Masin struggled with the transition from Czech Republic. This season, he is proving himself as a top-pairing defender at the junior level. The offensive production isn’t off the charts (he has 13 points in 29 games), but that’s not his specialty. What’s most impressive about Masin thus far is that he is a team-leading plus-20.

November has been a better month for offensive production—both of his goals have come in the month and he recorded a career-best three points on Nov. 20 against the Sudbury Wolves. Masin played for Czech Republic in last year’s World Junior Championships and will almost assuredly do so again in December.

Matthew Spencer, D, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 2nd round (44th overall), 2015

A teammate and often defense partner of Dominik Masin, Matthew Spencer heated up in November. After recording four points in 13 games in October, Spencer had eight points in 12 November contests. He his plus/minus rating also rose to plus-6.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, Spencer is a physical defender with impressive skating ability. He is currently third on the Petes in penalty minutes with 27, including one fighting major.

WHL

Brayden Point, C, Moose Jaw Warriors
Acquired: 3rd round (79th overall), 2014

It isn’t too farfetched to say Brayden Point has been the most dangerous forward in the CHL this season; in fact, you could probably argue he was one of the top forwards in Canada last season. This year, however, the stats don’t lie: Point is third in the WHL in scoring with 43 points in 19 games, including 18 goals and 25 assists.

Point has six games this season in which he has recorded at least three points, including two games in which he has scored a hat trick. It’s not as if he is doing the majority of his scoring with the man advantage, either; just five of his 18 goals are power-play markers. Point lost his linemates from last season but he has been helping bring along young forwards Noah Gregor and Nikita Popugaev this year. Point was a 13th forward for Canada at the U20 World Junior Championships last season, but he will have a chance to play top-six minutes in this year’s tournament.

Ben Thomas, D, Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 4th round (119th overall), 2014

The Vancouver Giants needed experienced defensemen, and in Calgary, Ben Thomas had simply been passed on the depth chart, thus facilitating a late October trade. After back-to-back 30-point seasons with Calgary, Thomas had just three points in 13 games with the Hitmen at the start of this season, and Jake Bean’s emergence made Thomas expendable.

The trade has been positive for Thomas, however. In Vancouver, he is playing more and earning time on the team’s top power play unit. He has eight points in 18 games with the Giants and is just five points behind the team’s top scoring defenseman. It’s likely that he will take over the defense scoring lead for the team, but he probably won’t boast a great plus/minus rating as Vancouver has allowed 111 goals through 30 games.

USHL

Kristian Oldham, G, Omaha Lancers
Acquired: 6th round (153rd overall), 2015

In his second season with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers Kris Oldham has found his comfort zone. The University of Nebraska-Omaha commit has a 8-3-1 record this season and boasts the seventh-best goals-against average (2.26) in the league to go along with an impressive .928 save percentage. He has allowed more than three goals just once this season and has one shutout, a 21-save performance on Nov. 20.

Oldham was also named to the United States team for the World Junior A Challenge in Whitby, Ontario from Dec. 13-19.

Ryan Zuhlsdorf, D, Sioux City Musketeers
Acquired: 5th round (150th overall), 2015

The third highest scoring defensemen in the USHL, Ryan Zuhlsdorf is thriving in his second season with the Sioux City Musketeers. He has 17 points in 21 games (all assists) and is already five points off of last season’s total. His best single-game performance was a three-assist night against the Waterloo Black Hawks.

Zuhlsdorf, who is captain of the Musketeers this season, was also named to the United States team for the World Junior A Challenge. He is committed to play for the University of Minnesota in 2016-17.

Top performing non-junior prospects

Anthony DeAngelo has come exactly as advertised and is currently tied for the lead in Syracuse Crunch scoring with 14 points in 21 games. The 2014 first-round pick still isn’t a polished product defensively, but he can produce offensively, particularly on the power-play. He might see some time in Tampa Bay this season if injuries pile up, but despite the offensive production, he needs the seasoning and ice time in the AHL.

Up front, Joel Vermin has been the most pleasant surprise at the pro level; the Swiss native recorded 10 points in 12 AHL games before receiving the call up to Tampa Bay, where he has one assist through five games before being returned to Syracuse. Between the pipes, Kristers Gudlevskis has been solid for the Crunch after an off year; he has a 2.40 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in six starts.

Prospect of the Month: Brayden Point

Brayden Point - Tampa Bay LightningIt’s hard not to pick Brayden Point as the Lightning’s top prospect throughout the first quarter of the season. The former third-round pick has conquered his size deficiencies over the past two seasons and has proven himself capable of playing at a very high level in junior. It’s yet to be determined if that level of play can transfer over to the pro game, but he plays a very similar flashy style to some of the top smaller forwards in the NHL, particularly Johnny Gaudreau, and the Lightning organization has a history of producing high-end smaller forwards. It’s going to be interesting to see how productive Point is at the World Junior Championships; it could very well be his coming-out party as one of the top prospects in hockey right now.