With the compliance buyout of long time captain Vincent Lecavalier this off-season, the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to send a message to everyone that the rebuild was in full swing. The Lightning went into training camp with around five to six spots up for grabs for young players, and many on the Top-20 came away with spots for the opening night roster.
The amount of skill and youth currently in the Tampa Bay system is overwhelming, and the return of Jonathan Drouin to juniors and Brett Connolly to the AHL certainly speaks to that. They are turning a new page in Tampa Bay and they have a healthy amount of prospects to help make it a successful transition.
1. (NR) Jonathan Drouin, LW, 9.0C
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2013
Drouin was arguably the most offensively gifted talent available in the 2013 draft class, and he is easily the most offensively gifted player now in the Tampa Bay Lightning system. With dazzling hands, agile skating, and top-level vision and playmaking, the only thing that is really holding him back a bit is his size. He stands at 5'10 and 190 pounds and the physical aspects of the upper levels will challenge him. He has been playing in the relatively free skating and offensively oriented QMJHL, and the transition to the AHL and NHL could be a big change. These little things may be part of the reason he was sent back to juniors after the 2013 Lightning training camp.
At only 18 years of age the Lightning can afford to let him mature physically instead of potentially putting him at risk for injury against older and stronger opponents. Regardless, Drouin is an offensive juggernaut and it will be fun to see if he can top his 105 points in 45 games with Halifax from last year without first overall selection Nathan MacKinnon (COL).
2. (1) Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2013
With a crop of young and talented netminders emerging around the world like John Gibson (ANA), Malcolm Subban (BOS), and Jacob Markstrom (FLA), Vasilevskiy has not fallen off the radar by any means. The big Russian had a tremendous 2012-13 season with Tolpar of the KHL second tier and even played well in the big time with Salavat when he got the chance. His WJC performance was equally impressive and it seems like wherever Vasilevsky plays his numbers hover around a .930 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average. His calm and consistent style, coupled with a 6'3 frame, translates very well to any league. He will get a chance to prove that in 2013-14 as it looks like he is going to be fighting for the starting job with Salavat.
3. (4) Alex Killorn, LW, 7.0B
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2007
Killorn was a nice surprise for Tampa in 2012-13. Coming straight out of college at Harvard after a strong senior season, Killorn won a spot out of training camp last season, after spending the first part of the lockout with Syracuse and playing very well. He is a very responsible and intelligent player, and while he maybe does not have the high offensive upside of others, he is a very solid second line option with 20-plus goal potential. He is going to develop into a key role player for the Lightning and a valuable all-situations forward. Considering the time spent developing the former 2007 draft pick, the Lightning have to be incredibly pleased with his potential contribution.
4. (6) Nikita Kucherov, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2011
Since the remarkable U18 World Junior performance of Kucherov, which saw him net a dumbfounding 21 points in seven games, his stock has gone up and up. The arc that Kucherov has grown on is very positive, as he has dominated at the KHL second tier, the QMJHL, and will get the chance this season to do so at the AHL after being a late cut at the Bolts camp. He is noted for his creativity and excellent offensive mind, and if he continues to grow physically and add strength, he will be a top quality addition to an already talented crop of offensive players in the Tampa system.
5. (2) Tyler Johnson, C/W, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 7th, 2011
How the Lightning stumbled onto Tyler Johnson as a free agent remains a mystery. His continued dominance at every level and his solid all-around game have finally raised him to the NHL game. Johnson was a demon in the Tampa Bay camp and earned himself a spot to start out the year. He is already familiar with the NHL game however playing 14 games last season with the big club. While he won't likely mimic a point per game pace that he has had at every other tier of competition, Johnson gives you heart, soul, and responsibility. You almost forget that he is only 5'9, which is exactly what you want to be saying about a player with said size.
6. (5) Richard Panik, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2009
The opportunity was there for Richard Panik in the Tampa training camp, and he took it. He did so by beating out Brett Connolly as well which was no easy feat. Panik is going to bring some nice size and a little bit of skill to the bottom lines of Tampa. He has a skill set more welcomed to a bottom line role, and while his spot may not be safe, it is certainly his to lose moving forward this season. He had a decent 25-game taste of the NHL last season and now gets to deal with the real 82-game grind.
7. (9) Vladislav Namestnikov, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2011
With the Lightning signing center Valtteri Filppula this offseason, the hopes of Namestnikov making the team as a top-six center out of camp really took a hit. Instead, Namestnikov can focus on continuing to grow in his role with Syracuse, where he went from rookie to a key top-six centerman in just 40 some odd games. He is healed up from a shoulder injury and with a good season of AHL hockey, he could be back in the picture as a viable two-way center for the Lightning top-nine.
8. (NR) Adam Erne, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2013
The newcomer Erne slots into the top-10 with the Lightning immediately following his selection in the 2013 NHL Draft. In a prospect list that is seemingly peppered with smallish, slick, and creative offensive prospects, Erne is a nice change up. Although he is only 6'0 he plays a power forward game that can only be described as a bull in a china shop. He is aggressive, rugged, and a strong physical winger. The combination of size and speed is really going to work well alongside the crafty and creative playmakers of the Tampa system who can use his created chaos to their advantage. Some parts of his play need work however, he has already been suspended for three games by the NHL for a hit on Vladimir Sobotka of St. Louis during preseason. Like all players who play on the edge, there will be times when it gets the better of him. The Connecticut native is still a very raw talent, but he sports an impressive set of tools and should be a big numbers player in the QMJHL with Quebec this year.
9. (11) Ondrej Palat, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 208th overall, 2011
Ondrej Palat was another big winner of a Tampa Bay camp that had a lot of open spots to fill. He had a near point per game AHL season in 2012-13 and followed it up with an MVP-worthy Calder Cup playoffs where he had 26 points in 18 games. He also logged a handful of games with the Lightning during the regular season, which obviously left the team wanting more. While on the smaller side, Palat is a valuable all-situations player with an offensive upside. It is a wonder that the Lightning were able to snag the responsible forward in the seventh round of his draft.
10. (3) Radko Gudas, D, 6.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2010
Gudas suffers what looks like a big fall in the rankings, but in reality it is more a readjustment to his capabilities. Gudas is a very valuable asset in terms of a depth defenseman. He is physically imposing, punishing, and a solid defensive player. He also possesses a cannon of a shot and a decent first pass. However, Gudas will not ever be a top-pairing defenseman. He had a great 2012-13 and it looks like the hard-hitting cult hero of the Tampa roster will continue his bonecrushing ways this season. The Tampa Bay roster is rebuilding, and a character guy like Gudas will be valuable moving forward.
11. (8) Mark Barberio, D, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2008
The steady and upward trend of Mark Barberio's development has finally hit the NHL it seems. He, along with many other young Tampa prospects, have earned an NHL spot to start the 2013-14 season with the big club. The offensive-minded Barberio had a very good second season with Syracuse last year and was another MVP-worthy candidate for the team in the postseason. The Tampa Bay blue line does not have a whole lot of solid options for true offensive puck-movers currently and the room for Barberio to step up and expand his role and utility at a very early stage of his NHL careers is definitely there for the taking. Only Matt Carle and veteran Sami Salo stand in front of Barberio in terms of the offensive defensemen on the depth chart.
12. (12) Andrej Sustr, D, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, March, 21st, 2013
Maybe the biggest surprise addition to the NHL roster for the Lightning out of camp was walking high-rise Andrej Sustr. The Lightning wooed the 6'8 two-way defenseman from the University of Nebraska-Omaha after a very developmentally positive three-year tenure there. He obviously has a lot going for him with his naturally gifted size, and if he can add to the puck-moving side of his game, he could stand to be a viable fifth or sixth defenseman in his first year with the club. In all likelihood he will remain a seventh or eighth defenseman, but the fact that he made the team out of camp should be a huge boon to his confidence as well as a nod to his overall talent.
13. (7) Slater Koekkoek, D, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2012
If there is one thing that is continually holding back the Winchester, Ontario native it is his health. For the second consecutive year Slater Koekkoek missed a major amount of time out of commission. A nagging shoulder injury has continually road blocked the young defenseman's development, and many are starting to ask if it will affect his NHL career. He does not play a game that shies away from contact, and he loves to carry the puck up ice. That sort of game will most certainly lead to bumps and bruises, and at this point those bumps and bruises have been significant enough for him to miss the better part of two seasons in juniors. He still has a great skillset for an offensive puck-mover and when he is healthy he is productive. There is ample room for his style of player in the Tampa Bay system but something has to change with the young defenseman if he wants to stay fit and progress towards the NHL.
14. (16) Matthew Peca, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2011
The diminutive college forward from Quinnipiac does not let his size define his game. Although just 5'9 he plays with the heart and soul of a giant. He was excellent in every aspect for the Bobcats last season and can look to build on that moving forward. He plays all situations and does so capably enough to think he could be a late-round steal for Tampa Bay. His work ethic has been praised endlessly by scouts and if he can keep that up and put up another big year he could earn himself a further jump in scout rankings.
15. (13) Jaroslav Janus, G, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 162nd overall, 2009
Last season, Janus was playing for his home country KHL team of HC Slovan Bratislava. In 47 games he posted a 2.17 goals against average and a near .930 save-percentage. That being said, consistency has always been the Achilles heel of the young netminder, and his unorthodox and athletic style lends to it. He can come up with a plethora of highway robbery saves or howlers all in the same game. Hopefully Janus can build some confidence off some robust numbers he put up last year with Slovan and push himself over to North America and the AHL again before his time with the organization is up.
16. (NR) Dmitry Korobov, D, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, August 2nd, 2012
Signed at age 23 in 2012, Korobov will be entering the second and final year of his two-year NHL deal. In his first year of the contract he made a solid impact with Syracuse of the AHL as a safe and steady two-way defenseman with great size. He will need to continue to prove his value though as he is in a stacked defensive pipeline and is on the older side of things. However, Korobov carries a solid résumé of competing well at the KHL, the international level with Belarus, and now the AHL. He could potentially be a bottom pairing NHL defenseman if he continues his steady ascent.
17. (17) Nikita Nesterov, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2011
Nesterov, while noted as being a good offensively oriented defenseman, had a little trouble getting on the scoresheet with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. He was tremendous in the minors for Traktor's junior squad but registered just one assist in 45 games at the KHL. That being said he was able to stay on the roster which lends to his good all-around game and defensive zone play. The upside and utility is definitely at question though if he cannot put up the offensive numbers at the upper echelon. He will join Syracuse this season and it would do him a world of good if he could be relevant in a category other than plus-minus. Given his defensive strength, even a 20-point campaign from Nesterov would be enough to push him up the depth chart a little bit.
18. (NR) J.T. Brown, RW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 28th, 2012
Brown would have likely had 40 points with Syracuse last season if he had not missed the last 30 games or so with a broken collarbone. He did see some time in the NHL in 2011-12 but the broken collarbone in December took him out of consideration for making the team at the start of the 2012-13 season. While he will start in Syracuse this year the quick skating Brown will probably be in a first-call up situation as the Lightning are planning to dress a lot of young players who they could interchange him with if they struggle.
19. (15) Brian Hart, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2012
Hart had a great freshman season with Harvard and his slight fall in the rankings should only be attributed to the addition of players in the 2013 draft and some noteworthy free agent signings. Hart sports a nice power forward skillset and one that should be a welcomed inclusion in a smaller and more technically oriented system. He is very young and is still getting used to putting his big frame to use, but look for him to have a big sophomore season with the Crimson.
20. (14) Tanner Richard, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2012
Richards has shown a very positive natural playmaking ability that could potentially see him one day as a complementary top-nine forward. However, he is slightly buried in a system that has a lot of gifted playmakers. His versatility though lends to him being able to play bottom six minutes more than others. He will really be challenged this year as he starts his first full pro season at Syracuse. If he could add a little more muscle to his frame it will go a long way in helping him withstand the physical rigors he is bound to endure at the next level.