Tampa Bay Lightning heavy on defense at junior level

By Chris Roberts

Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Photo: After spending two and a half seasons with Peterborough, defenseman Slater Koekkoek was traded to the Windsor Spitfires at the 2013 OHL trade deadline. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

With the majority of their prospects either playing at the college level, overseas, or already making the jump to pro hockey, the Tampa Bay Lightning have seven prospects playing junior hockey.

Outside of 2012 first round pick Slater Koekkoek (who has not quite lived up to expectations himself this season), none of the remaining four are considered top-flight prospects. There is however certainly some intriguing players out of the bunch with real NHL potential.

QMJHL

Cedric Paquette, C, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Acquired: 4th round (101st overall) in 2012

A big, physical center, Paquette caught the attention of the Lightning with his performance during last year's QMJHL playoffs, during which he finished second on the team in scoring with 17 points through just 11 games. What is more impressive about the stat is that it was just his first full season in the league, after playing only four games for the team the year prior.

Along with Christopher Clapperton (2013), Paquette has carried over that momentum from last year's playoffs and has helped keep the Armada in the running for the West Division title. Paquette leads the team with 53 points through 41 games.

Like most prospects, Paquette needs to continue to improve his skating before he takes the next step, but he has already improved leaps and bounds since going undrafted in his first year of eligibility, though to be fair he received little spotlight, playing just four QMJHL games during his draft year. He plays a rough-and-tumble game and is not afraid to crash the net, which should aid him as his career progresses.

Artem Sergeev, D, Val D'or Foreurs
Acquired: Free-agent signing, July 1st, 2012

Sergeev was signed by the Lightning as an undrafted defenseman earlier this season, continuing the organization's affinity for Russian-born players. The beauty of Sergeev is that he comes without the risk of not coming overseas to play professionally; in fact, he is already playing for Val D'or of the QMJHL, and has been for the past two-and-a-half seasons, hoping for a shot at the NHL.

This season, the '93 born Sergeev has emerged as one of the team's top defenders, not only defensively but offensively as he currently has 26 points, just a point short of his career high set in 2009-10.

At 6'2 and 203 lbs, he has the size and mobility necessary to play at the NHL level, but lacks the physicality that would otherwise set him apart. That said, as an undrafted Russian free-agent who has already shown a willingness to adapt to the North American game, Sergeev could be a diamond in the rough for the Lightning.

Nikita Kucherov, LW, Quebec Remparts/Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 2nd round (58th overall) in 2011

After missing the first part of the season recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Kucherov made his QMJHL debut in late October. He was fairly productive for the Remparts, but was occasionally a healthy scratch. In late November, the Remparts traded Kucherov to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies with the idea he will see more regular ice time and perhaps an increased role with the team.

Kucherov also represented his country in Ufa at the 2013 WJCs, where he was among the most effective forwards for Russia, managing five goals and three assists through seven games.

The 19-year-old has remained out of the Huskies lineup since returning from the World Junior Championships. He has played in 13 QMJHL games this season, managing 22 points.

OHL

Tanner Richard, LW, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 3rd round (71st overall) in 2012

Swiss-born Tanner Richard has been proving himself as one of the top playmakers in the OHL this season. Though the Guelph Storm's second-year winger has not had much luck finding the back of the net himself this season (he has just three goals), he has accumulated 38 assists, good enough for sixth in the OHL.

Richard missed a chunk of last season with an upper-body injury but has looked more than comfortable this season, and has even upped his physical intensity, which was one of the main concerns surrounding his game.

He also displayed his playmaking skills with the surprise Switzerland during the 2013 World Juniors, posting four assists through six games as the Swiss came within a goal of advancing to the semi-finals. Richard will likely turn pro next season, and while his assist totals are impressive, he will need to develop into more of a goal-scoring threat if he is going to keep defenders and goaltenders guessing at the pro level.

Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough Petes/Windsor Spitfires.
Acquired: 1st round (10th overall) in 2012

Playing the first half of the season for the lowly Peterborough Petes, there has not been many high points for first round selection Slater Koekkoek this season. Offensively, he has been fairly good, managing 28 points through 40 games. Defensively however, he was a minus-26, among the worst total in the OHL.

Koekkoek was traded to the Windsor Spitfires on the January 10th OHL trade deadline. Through two games with the Spitfires he has an assist and a plus-two rating. The change of scenery should beneficial to his development.

Dylan Blujus, D, Brampton Battalion
Acquired: 2nd round (40th overall) in 2012

The Lightning continued to bolster their blue line depth during the 2012 draft by selecting Dylan Blujus in the second round. Blujus is considered a smart, talented, two-way defender, but one who is still quite raw and a few years away from making an impact at the pro level.

Statistically speaking, he has not been able to improve upon his draft year, and has maintained a similar pace to the 34 points in 66 games he managed last year. However, Blujus has shown improvements not only in his skating but his willingness to play a physical game. He also has a hard, fairly accurate shot from the point.

Jake Dotchin, D, Owen Sound Attack/Barrie Colts
Acquired: 6th round (161st overall) in 2012

Dotchin is a big, physical two-way defenseman who was recently traded from the Owen Sound Attack to the Barrie Colts. He will never be considered an offensively dynamic presence from the blue line, but possesses a heavy shot and is good at moving the puck out of his zone and starting the play up ice. He is also a fairly tough presence in his own end, will block shots, and is good at keeping the goaltender's crease clear. He is also not afraid of dropping the gloves with an opponent, though his fights are way down from the season before.

While he will never be a prominent prospect in the Lightning's pool, Dotchin has improved his stock a great deal over the past season, and, with further improvement, should have a future playing at the professional level.
 

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