10. (8) Dominik Masin, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2014
Masin was limited to just 48 games in his rookie season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes last season due to a broken orbital bone. He also missed the summer showcase with the Czech Republic in August, recovering from a broken bone in his thumb. The 6’3, 197 pound Masin fared decently in those 48 regular season games however, scoring seven goals and adding 19 assists to go along with 70 penalty minutes and a minus-13 rating.
He should be ready to play significant minutes in 2015-16, if he can stay healthy. He isn’t the first Lightning defense prospect playing for the Petes to struggle to stay healthy (see Koekkoek, Slater). Masin should also play a big role for the Czech Republic World Junior team.
9. (NR) Mitchell Stephens, C, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2015
Stephens climbed the 2015 NHL Draft rankings with a stellar performance at the U18 World Junior Championships, where he finished second on the team in scoring behind only Mathew Barzal, with 10 points in seven games. Playing for a re-tooling Saginaw team in the OHL, Stephens finished second in scoring with 48 points in 62 games.
He’s a strong kid with blazing speed, making him a dangerous player on the rush. His ability to pass the puck is equal, if not better than, his dangerous wrist shot and one-timer. Stephens is also a very defensively responsible player. He is already a leader on the Spirit at just 18, and is poised for a breakout offensively.
8. (9) Johnathan MacLeod, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2014
Expected to be a long-term project with raw size and potential, MacLeod performed much better in his freshman year with Boston University than many had expected. The fact that BU was an offensive powerhouse with Jack Eichel aside, MacLeod’s plus-19 was still impressive, as were his two tallies and seven helpers in 37 games. He played in a limited role for the team, mostly logging bottom-six minutes, but was steady in that role.
Returning to a blueline that will remain largely intact for the 2015-16 season, MacLeod will have to work extra hard to pass those ahead of him on the depth chart, but he is well suited to his role on the team. He can play a physical game (he led the team with 58 penalty minutes last season) and can also kill penalties.
7. (7) Brayden Point, C, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2014
Though undersized and slight of stature, Point’s offensive ability might be among the best of the entire 2014 NHL Draft class. His strong start with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL last season earned him a spot on the Canadian World Junior team and he ended the season with 87 points in just 60 games. The year prior, he recorded 91 points, but did so in 12 more games. He also scored twice and added two assists with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch following the end of his season in Moose Jaw.
Point will captain the Warriors this season and will be one of the returning players to the Canadian World Junior team. In fact, he is likely to play a top-six role on that team if his summer performance is any indication; in a 7-1 win over the Czech Republic, Point scored twice and added three assists.
6. (6) Adam Erne, RW, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2013
Adam Erne capped off an extremely consistent junior career with a 41-goal campaign last season and a trip to the QMJHL finals with the Quebec Remparts. He recorded 275 points for the Remparts throughout those four seasons. In last year’s playoffs Erne went on a scoring rampage, tallying 21 goals in 22 games. A big-bodied power forward, he also accumulated 102 penalty minutes in 60 regular season games.
The Connecticut native has a great wrist shot and owns a powerful skating stride combined with a strong upper-body, which should suit him well for the pro game. He will almost assuredly begin the 2015-16 campaign in Syracuse, but could force his way onto the Lightning roster as a call-up late in the year.
5. (12) Nikita Nesterov, D, 6.5 B
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2011
A fringe prospect heading into the 2014-15 campaign, Nikita Nesterov may have secured himself a position on the Lightning’s blueline this season thanks to an eye-opening post-season. The mobile Russian rearguard looked comfortable as a regular season call up last year and appeared in 17 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Nesterov isn’t likely to quarterback a powerplay, but he has some offensive instincts and his skating ability allows him to cover ground quickly. In a combined 76 games in the AHL and NHL last season he scored seven goals and added 20 assists. A full season in the NHL should test Nesterov’s consistency.
4. (11) Slater Koekkoek, D, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2012
It’s amazing what one healthy season can do for a career. Koekkoek entered his first pro season coming off of back-to-back season-ending shoulder injuries in junior, but managed to stay healthy throughout the grind of a pro season and ascended his way up the depth chart in Syracuse. The Winchester, Ontario native even appeared in three games with the Lightning as an injury call-up, where his smooth skating and ability to take the body was on display for a much larger audience.
In 72 games with the Crunch last season, Koekkoek scored five goals and added 21 assists to lead the team’s defense in scoring. He also recorded a plus/minus of plus-7. He should challenge for a spot on the Lightning’s blue line this season, but will have stiff competition with Luke Witkowski and Nesterov, who endeared himself with a strong playoff performance last season.
3. (4) Vladislav Namestnikov, C, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2011
A smart Russian pivot, Namestnikov has taken his time in climbing the Lighting’s depth chart but he appears to have established himself as a legitimate NHLer. While he doesn’t turn 23 until November, he has already played 134 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, including a 34-game stint last season. During those games, Namestnikov thrived as a top-line center, scoring 35 points in 34 games.
He appeared in 43 regular season games for the Lightning and did well in a bottom-six role, scoring nine goals and adding seven assists. Namestnikov might not have a spot locked up on the Lightning’s 2015-16 opening night roster, but his combination of smarts, skating and offensive creativity should land him a permanent role on the team after training camp.
2. (3) Anthony DeAngelo, D, 8.0 C
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2014
Though DeAngelo is far from a complete two-way defender, his offensive game is strong enough to suggest he can quarterback a first-unit NHL power-play at some point in his career. After a breakout 2013-14 season, DeAngelo recorded a combined 89 points last season split between Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL. Playing for a stacked Greyhounds team in the second half of the season, he recorded a point in every single game he appeared in except for his debut with the team. He ended the season on a 25-game point streak.
He had a productive playoff—with 16 assists in 12 games—but he failed to record a point in a four-game stretch which included three games against Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters. Those games highlighted how much he needs to find the score sheet to be effective. DeAngelo is not going to shut down the opposition’s top forwards, though he is a great skater. As he learns to handle the pro game, he should be able to use his feet to make up for a lot of mistakes. The 2014-15 CHL Defenseman of the Year will likely begin his pro career in Syracuse this season.
1. (2) Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, 8.0 B
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2012
Andrei Vasilevskiy just may force the Lightning’s hand sooner than expected in regard to ice time. The highly-regarded Russian netminder has met and exceeded the great expectations he faced at every level of hockey in his young career. His play in the AHL last season allowed the Lightning to part ways with veteran Evgeni Nabokov, and when Ben Bishop fought through injuries in the playoffs, Vasilevskiy slid between the pipes and the team didn’t miss a beat. After appearing in 25 games for the Syracuse Crunch last season, he went on to play in 16 regular season games for the Lightning and posted a 7-5-2 record.
He boasts great size and quickness, not dissimilar to Bishop. It’s arguable that the Lightning will enter the 2015-16 season with the best goaltending tandem in the NHL, and because of that, Vasilevskiy should easily exceed the 16 games he appeared in last season. Obviously the team is in no hurry to deal Bishop, but everything Vasilevskiy has accomplished to this point in his career leaves no reason to doubt that he could be a top-tier goaltender in the NHL.