Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman has maintained a fine balance between keeping a competitive team on the ice with Stanley Cup aspirations, while still having a strong prospect group. The team’s top five scorers were all drafted and developed in-house and there’s a wave of prospects in Syracuse of the AHL that could be ready to fill voids left by departing free agents next season.
The Lightning have prospect depth at every position, especially considering the fact highly touted Andrei Vasilevskiy has yet to reach the required 45 games to graduate from prospect status.
20. (NR) Jonne Tammela, RW, 6.5 C
Drafted: 4th round (118th overall), 2015
A feisty and determined winger with decent speed and skating ability, Jonne Tammela is making strides in his first full season in Finland’s top pro league. He played just over half a season with Kalpa of Liiga last season and recorded four points in 32 games; this year, the 18-year-old has 11 points in 34 games with the team and is by far the team’s top-scoring teenager.
Tammela was selected by the Peterborough Petes in the CHL Import Draft but opted to stay in Finland for at least one more season. He played in the World Junior Championships and finished fourth in scoring for the gold medal-winning Finns with four points in seven games.
19. (NR) Mathieu Joseph, RW, 6.5 C
Drafted: 4th round (120th overall), 2015
The Saint John Sea Dogs boast a deep group of talented young players and Mathieu Joseph has emerged as one of the team’s top offensive threats this season. The lanky winger leads the team in scoring with 65 points in 53 games and is a team-high plus-34. Joseph’s season really took off in December when he recorded points in all 10 games in the month, scoring nine goals and adding nine assists.
Joseph is a shifty player, who, despite his slight frame, can already work magic deep in the offensive zone. He’ll need to bulk up in the next two summers before turning pro, however.
18. (18) Cristiano DiGiacinto, LW, 6.5 C
Drafted: 6th round (170th overall), 2014
Gritty agitator Cristiano DiGiacinto is akin to a human wrecking ball, but with some offensive skill. The 5’11, 196-pound winger has accumulated 275 penalty minutes over the past two-plus seasons and has topped 40 points both this year and last. He is currently seventh on the Windsor Spitfires in scoring with 16 goals and 24 points in 53 games.
His production has tailed off since the Spitfires acquired Brendan Lemieux from the Barrie Colts (he has just five points in his last 19 games), but he has remained a useful player with fewer minutes thanks to his ability to forecheck and play a physical, grinding game.
17. (14) Matthew Peca, C, 6.5 C
Drafted: 7th round (201st overall), 2011
After an impressive four-year career at Quinnipiac University, diminutive Matthew Peca is working his way through his first full season as a pro. The 5’8, 175-pound center played in eight games last season for Syracuse and looked comfortable, recording four points. This season Peca has 24 points in 42 games, good enough for eighth on the team in scoring.
Peca is primarily regarded for his playmaking ability; he went 30 games without finding the back of the net between Nov. 18 and Feb. 26, but collected 16 assists during that time. He missed a month of action in February with an upper-body injury but scored and added an assist in his first game back against the Binghamton Senators.
16. (16) Dylan Blujus, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 2nd round (40th overall), 2012
Buffalo native Dylan Blujus has provided steady defense for the Syracuse Crunch in his second season as a pro. The 6’3, 202-pound rearguard isn’t the most fleet of foot, but can keep up with the pro game, as he has done logging minutes on both the powerplay and penalty kill units for Syracuse.
Blujus missed most of January due to injury but has been a fixture in the Crunch lineup since Jan. 27. He’s behind a couple Syracuse defensemen on the Lightning’s depth chart, but could potentially be top shutdown defender on Syracuse next season, the third of his entry-level deal.
15. (8) Johnathan MacLeod, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round (57th overall), 2014
Johnathan MacLeod’s drop in offensive production this season isn’t concerning—the 6’1, 203-pound physical defenseman’s strength is his size, mobility, and defensive presence. What’s concerning, however, is the fact MacLeod has been a healthy scratch at times this season for Boston University. He has played in just 24 of the team’s 33 games and has two points to go along with a team-worst minus-four rating.
It was assumed MacLeod was a long-term project when he was drafted, and, at best he would become a bottom-pair defender. There is still time for him to find his game as he has two more seasons of NCAA eligibility and BU will likely lose two of its top defensemen next season to graduation and/or the NHL.
14. (20) Anthony Cirelli, C, 7.5 D
Drafted: 3rd round (72nd overall), 2015
The unlikely hero of last year’s Memorial Cup has become the Oshawa Generals go-to offensive threat in 2015-16 thanks to the departure of several key pieces in the offseason and a trade that saw Michael Dal Colle (NYI) leave town. Cirelli leads the Generals in scoring with 51 points in 55 games (he had just 36 in 68 last season) and has taken great strides in the New Year; since the beginning of January Cirelli has 25 points in 24 games.
The 6’0, 160-pound center obviously needs to bulk up, but he already doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty by crashing the net and fighting for the puck along the boards. A bit of muscle on his frame will help in that regard. Cirelli has been effective on both the powerplay and penalty kill units this season, scoring nine goals with the man advantage and one shorthanded tally.
13. (17) Tanner Richard, C, 7.0 C
Drafted: 3rd round (71st overall), 2012
Richard has become less of a pest and more of a playmaker this season for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. Through 50 games he has already surpassed last season’s total of 25 assists, which took 70 games to accumulate. This year Richard has seven goals and 27 assists and is just four points away from matching last season’s total of 38. He racked up 230 penalty minutes in his first two pro seasons but has just 32 this season.
Syracuse is a balanced team offensively so Richard’s 34 points lead the team (they have five other players with 30-plus points). He experienced a brutal goal-scoring slump to begin this season, going 23 games without a goal but scored seven goals in his next 19 games. Richard is on track to improve his AHL point total for the second consecutive season and could fight for a position on Tampa Bay in next year’s training camp.
12. (11) Matthew Spencer, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round (44th overall), 2015
The Tampa Bay Lightning have an affinity for drafting defensemen out of Peterborough; the team took Slater Koekkoek in 2012, Dominik Masin went there after they drafted him in 2014 and, through watching Masin, they selected physical defenseman Matthew Spencer in the 2015 draft. Spencer, who recorded 30 points in 67 games last season, is well-regarded due to his skating and strength. He is listed at 6’1 and 207 pounds and plays an in-your-face brand of hockey.
He hasn’t quite showed the jump in offensive production that was expected of him this season, but part of that might be due to an upper-body ailment he has been dealing with. Spencer had 19 points in 41 games before missing most of January; since returning to the lineup he has just one assist in nine games and has been a minus-six. He’ll return to Peterborough next season for what will likely be his last year of junior hockey.
11. (19) Joel Vermin, RW, 7.0 C
Drafted: 7th round (186th overall), 2013
Drafted as a 21-year-old out of Switzerland, Vermin has paid immediate dividends to the Lightning organization. He provided secondary scoring for the Syracuse Crunch last season, his first in North America, and has been useful for both the Crunch and Lightning this season, appearing in 16 and six games respectively for the teams. He has the best points-per-game total in Syracuse with 11 points in 16 games and recorded his first career NHL point with an assist against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 21.
Vermin was a well-established pro in Switzerland before being drafted, having played 177 games with Bern of the Swiss-A league, where he accumulated 81 points. After being sent back to Syracuse in December, he injured his hand and missed two months following surgery, but returned to the team on Feb. 26 against the Binghamton Senators. His contract expires at the end of this season, but he has certainly shown enough to warrant another deal.