Tampa Bay Lightning has thin selection of NCAA and European prospects

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Junior Johnathan MacLeod had a minus-4 rating this season, but he remains a top defensive prospect for the Lightning. (Courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Photo: Junior Johnathan MacLeod had a minus-4 rating this season, but he remains a top defensive prospect for the Lightning. (Courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning have primarily gone to the CHL in making draft selections over the past two drafts. 12 of the team’s 16 picks were taken from the top junior league in Canada, two were drafted out of Europe (though one is now playing in the CHL) and while the other two players, Kris Oldham and Ryan Zuhlsdorf, had commitments to NCAA schools, so they will not join the collegiate ranks until next season.

Joining the pro ranks from the NCAA this season was goaltender Adam Wilcox and forwards Brian Hart and Matthew Peca. Brendan O’Donnell was not offered a contract. That leaves a thin prospect pool in terms of players playing overseas and in the NCAA, and none of much substance at this point except former seventh-round pick Nikita Gusev, who has become a prolific scorer in Russia.

NCAA

Jimmy Mullin, C, Minnesota State University-Mankato (WCHA)
Drafted: 4th round, 118th overall, 2010

An injury derailed Mullin’s junior season at Miami University (Ohio) in 2013-14 and rather than come back with the school to graduate the following year, Mullin decided to take a year off and transfer to Minnesota State. He finished the season with 11 points in 31 games, which points to a stark downward trajectory during his collegiate career.

Mullin had a remarkable freshman campaign with the RedHawks in 2011-12; he scored 11 goals and added 15 assists for 26 points in 37 games, which put him third on the team in scoring. In the three seasons since the slightly undersized center has scored just nine goals in 88 games. He’s 24 so he’s not exactly a young prospect anymore and it’s tough to see the Lightning offering him a contract.

Johnathan MacLeod, D, Boston University (Hockey East)
Drafted: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2014

A stay-at-home blueliner with little offensive ability, Johnathan MacLeod has had a less than stellar season in 2015-16. The sophomore scored just once and added one assist in 25 games for Boston University and was a healthy scratch on a few occasions throughout the year. Like Mullin above him, MacLeod had a promising freshman season with Terriers, recording nine points in 37 games, while posting a plus-19 rating.

Boston University boasts a very strong defensive core, so a healthy scratch isn’t completely indicative of the season MacLeod has had, but it is a little concerning, particularly for a former second round pick. MacLeod doesn’t offer the mobility of some of BU’s other defensemen, like Brandon Hickey (CGY), Matt Grzelcyk (BOS) and draft-eligible Charlie McAvoy and that might be his biggest concern moving forward.

Europe

Jonne Tammela, RW, KalPa Kuopio (Liiga)
Drafted: 4th round, 118th overall, 2015

Drafted by the Peterborough Petes in the CHL Import Draft, Jonne Tammela opted to stay in Finland at least for the time being and it seems to have been a good choice. The 5’10, 180 lb winger played in 32 games for KalPa last season as a 17-year-old, recording four points, but he showed tremendous progression this season, scoring five goals and adding eight assists in 37 games. Tammela finished 11th on the team in scoring.

Feisty is a word that is often used in regard to Tammela’s style of play as the Finn isn’t afraid to mix it up and get involved physically, which is notable especially since, for the past two seasons, he has been one of the league’s younger players. Peterborough will lose fellow Lightning prospect Dominik Masin next season, leaving an import spot available for Tammela; it’ll be interesting to see if he decides to play in North America.

Nikita Gusev, LW, St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)
Drafted: 7th round, 202nd overall, 2012

Gusev isn’t just the most skilled Lightning prospect playing in Europe and/or the NCAA, he is arguably the most dynamic in the organization. The former seventh-round pick battled for ice time during his first few seasons in the KHL but had a breakout season last year with 37 points in 55 games for Khanty-Mansiysk Yugra. He was scoring at about the same pace with the team this season, scoring a modest seven goals and seven assists in 23 games, but was dealt to St. Petersburg. Since the move, the 23-year-old has blossomed, recording 35 points in 33 games. To put it in perspective, his point-per-game total with St. Petersburg was better than that of teammate Ilya Kovalchuk.

Interestingly enough, the team has had Kovalchuk for just four games in the playoffs and Gusev has helped carry the load, recording 13 points in 12 games thus far with St. Petersburg in a semi-final series against CSKA Moscow. There’s no doubting Gusev’s skill level and his offensive ability at this point and he’s certainly ready to compete—and make an impact—at the NHL level, it’s just a question of whether he wants to.

Saku Salminen, C, Jokerit (KHL)
Drafted: 7th round, 184th overall, 2013

Salminen is a defensive-savvy center, though he isn’t completely void of offensive skill. But it has been a troubling year for the 6’3, 210 lb 21-year-old. He played in nine games for Jokerit of the KHL and picked up an assist and was also loaned to TUTO Hockey of Metsis, Finland’s second tier league, where he had four points in seven games. His season was cut short due to an undisclosed injury, however.

He projects as more of a fourth line center who can kill penalties, but it’s unlikely that he is signed anytime soon.

Prospect of the Month: Tanner Richard

Tanner Richard - Tampa Bay LightningYear by year Tanner Richard continues to improve. The 22-year-old had 17 and 38 points respectively in his first two seasons and this year hit a new career high of 49 points with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. And March has been the best month of his season. If the final game in February is included, Richard has recorded 15 points in 10 games; only three of those have been goals but they have all be game winners.

Richard was an adept playmaker in junior for the Guelph Storm, but tried to earn his keep at the pro level with his physical play in the first two seasons (he had a team-leading 135 penalty minutes last season), but has refined his game to focus more on offense this season, which of course has also come with increased confidence in the league. He has yet to play in a game for the Lightning, but it looks more and more likely, given his impressive season, that he will sooner rather than later.