Prospects for Tampa Bay Lightning now working their way onto NHL roster

By Scott Seningen

Cory Conacher - Tampa Bay Lightning

Photo: Forward Cory Conacher has been one of the top rookie forwards in the NHL this season. Conacher was a free agent signing by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011. (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

The Tampa Bay Lightning have a deep and talented affiliate in their AHL squad, the Syracuse Crunch. Several players have filtered through the Crunch recently to make it on the NHL ice with the Lightning, including: Cory Conacher, Alex Killorn, and Richard Panik. Currently, their offensive talent at the professional level is deeper than their defensive talent. 

AHL

Tyler Johnson, C, 22

Johnson, an undrafted center who spent four years with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, is an extremely competitive goal-scorer and goal-creator for the Syracuse Crunch. Prior to landing in the AHL, Johnson had his best offensive season in the WHL in 2010-11, when he put up a very impressive 115 total points (53 goals, 62 assists) in just 71 games.

In 55 games this season with the Crunch, he has notched 54 points with more goals than assists (28 goals, 26 assists).  

There may have been times in the past when his focus on offense was a detriment to his defense and in particular his plus/minus. He has corrected that deficiency however, sitting at plus-25 so far in the 2012-13 AHL season. 

J.T. Brown, RW, 22

Brown was signed as a free-agent by the Tampa Bay Lightning after a stellar career with the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he was named Most Outstanding Player at the 2011 Frozen Four. 

He had played in 26 games during the 2012-13 season for the Syracuse Crunch, before he was sidelined with a broken collarbone suffered in a late December game. Prior to his injury, Brown had leveraged his speed to propel the Crunch with six goals and 11 assists. He has since returned from the injury, and in the five games since then has a managed a goal and an assist.

Richard Panik, RW, 22

Panik flashed his goal-scoring prowess while with the Syracuse Crunch in 2012-13, racking up 21 goals in 43 games. That performance was what the Lightning management were looking for, and it got him an audition in the NHL. Panik played in nine games with the Lightning, managing a goal and a minus-two rating. He has since been returned to the AHL.

Under the tutelage of Crunch coach Jon Cooper, Panik has grown into an offensive threat with above average stick-handling and a knack for finding the back of the net. 

Cory Conacher, C, 23

Not only has Conacher proven to be a top tier prospect for the Lightning, but he has established himself as a bona fide candidate for the Calder Trophy in 2013. Conacher put up an impressive 80 points in 75 games with Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate in 2011-12. He then started off strong in 2012-13 with 28 points in 36 games for the Crunch and was selected for the NHL squad when the regular season started in 2013.

Conacher's performance with the Lightning has been outstanding. In 21 games, he has recorded 18 points. Two of his goals were game winners and his shooting percentage is 18.4.

Mark Barberio, D, 22

A 2008 draftee of the Lightning, Barberio has been with their AHL affiliate since the 2010-11 season. The defenseman from Montreal has shown an offensive propensity with the organization. In 68 games with the Norfolk Admirals in 2010-11, Barberio had 31 points. The following season saw him earn .82 points per game with the Admirals in notching 13 goals and 48 assists in 74 games. 

He has had a strong 2012-13 campaign with the Syracuse Crunch, continuing to be a force on the power play with his accurate passing and shooting. Currently he has eight goals and 28 assists through 56 games.

Radko Gudas, D, 22

This third round pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft has become a fan favorite in his brief time within the Tampa Bay Lightning system. He is a tough defenseman who finishes his checks and will take a hit when required.

Although offense is not his primary strength, he is no slouch. Through 53 games, Gudas has 18 points along with 195 penalty minutes and a plus-30 with the Syracuse Crunch in 2012-13. He has steadily improved on offense over the past two and a half seasons.  

Ondrej Palat, LW, 21

The 2011 draft pick of the Lightning had a good first season in the AHL, scoring nine goals and assisting on 21 more. His performance was more impressive in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs with the Norfolk Admirals, as he contributed four goals and five assists in 18 games.

Palat is considered a creative playmaker with good hockey sense. He does however possess good goal-scoring instincts as well, scoring 11 of his own and assisting on 33 more through 49 games with the Crunch this season. 

He is of medium build and always finds a way to contribute on offense. If he can continue to improve offensively, he just may find a way to crack the NHL lineup.

Vladislav Namestnikov, C, 20

This Russian-born prospect was taken in the first round of the 2011 NHL draft by Tampa Bay. Oddly enough, his father, Evgeny also played for the Syracuse Crunch, before going on to a career in the NHL.

Although Namestnikov has much development left, he has shown the promise of NHL-caliber play. He plays hard at both ends of the ice, is not afraid to mix it up physically, and has nine points and 24 penalty minutes through 24 games.

Although he is still raw, look for Namestnikov to make great strides and push his way to the next level.

Alex Killorn, C/LW, 23

Killorn, who played college hockey at Harvard University, is one of the most-respected young prospects in the Tampa Bay organization. Some believe that his skill is flying under the radar and not yet appreciated. Lightning management cannot be counted in that group as they have seen enough to graduate Killorn to the NHL. After notching 38 points in 44 games with the Crunch this season, Killorn was brought up to play winger with the Lightning. While he may be primarily a centerman, he can certainly play the wing position. 

He is seen as having the size and speed necessary to play at the NHL level immediately. His shooting prowess is not to be underestimated either. In 11 games with the Lightning Killorn has three goals, three assists, and six penalty minutes.

Dmitry Korobov, D, 23

Korobov is a big left-shooting defenseman out of Belarus who went undrafted. After playing briefly in the Belarus league, and for two years with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL, he had steadily improved his defensive play. He then signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Lightning in the summer of 2012. 

Being assigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, Korobov has quickly proven himself through his physical style of play and offensive contributions. Through 46 games, the big defenseman has scored three goals and assisted on 15 more. His best statistic however is his plus-minus rating of 25.

Danick Gauthier, LW, 21

Gauthier is a big winger who was signed to a three-year entry-level contract in March of 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The native of Quebec had a very strong 2011-12 season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, scoring 47 goals in 66 games. He showed strength not only in scoring goals, but in creating goals, as he assisted on 39 more marks.

While with the Syracuse Crunch in 2012-13, his production has not matched his stellar offensive performance with the Sea Dogs. There has not been a dearth of scoring from the winger, it just has not met the levels that were seen in the QMJHL, which can be said of many young forwards. Through 29 games in the AHL, Gauthier has scored five goals and assisted on two more. 

ECHL

Alex Hutchings, LW, 22

Hutchings played in 37 games with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL before being called to assist the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. He excelled in Florida, with 32 points on the season (13 goals, 19 assists). 

A fourth round pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, Hutchings has been working his way through the Lightning system, steadily showing his offensive talent. In 11 games with their AHL affiliate, he has a goal and two assists.

Daniel Milan, D, 20

Milan is tabbed as an excellent skater, whose strength is defense, but also once put up good numbers in the QMJHL. The 2011 free agent signing has the right size, standing at 6'3. Considered a strong defensively player, he has not been as strong on the offensive side of the puck this season, notching six points in 36 games.

Charles Landry, D, 21

Landry helps provide strength and depth at the defenseman position for the Lightning organization at the ECHL level. The 21-year-old native of Quebec has shown some flashes of skill on offense in scoring three goals and assisting on nine more in 35 games for the Florida Everblades. He has more to prove, but has caught the eye of Lightning management.

Pat Nagle, G, 25

A free agent signing out of Ferris State University, Nagle is in his second professional season with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, as well as his second with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. Through 29 starts Nagle has a 13-8-3 record, a 3.10 goals against average, and a .902 save percentage. He is currently in the last year of his entry-level deal, and given the Lightning have a fair amount of goaltenders in their system around the same age, there is a good chance Nagle will not have his contract renewed for another season.

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