2018-2019 Preliminary Rankings

Introduction

The 2018-2019 regular season is well underway, and thus the time for the 2018-2019 Bolt Prospects Preliminary Rankings is upon us. This year's training camp and preseason again showed the depth of the Lightning's prospect pool, with several young players having strong showings and a handful of new additions to the big club's roster. All in all, though the Lightning lack the top-end elite prospects they may have once had, the team still has an enviable amount of depth and a score of prospects who look poised to become future NHL'ers.

As usual, a refresher is in order about the rules of the rankings. Only players under the age of 24 on opening night of the regular season are eligible to be ranked. So, no Slater Koekkoek in this year's rankings (not calling him a healthy scratch). Skaters with 41 NHL games in a single season or a total of 82 career NHL games are considered graduated and are ineligible to be ranked. Goaltenders with 30 decisions in a single NHL season or 41 career NHL decisions are also considered graduated. Finally, NCAA-based players are eligible for the rankings for the duration of their college careers, irrespective of their age. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

Now, let's begin...

1.) D Cal Foote, Syracuse (AHL) (2017-18 Final Ranking: 1)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-4, 221 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 1st round, 2017
Season Totals: 14 GP, 1-5-6, -1, 4 PIM

Righty defenseman Cal Foote maintains his top spot in our rankings. The son of NHL great Adam Foote, Cal had a solid final season of junior hockey followed by a poised showing as an ATO during Syracuse's playoff run last year. Although he somewhat underwhelmed in this year's training camp and exhibition season, Foote still has the look of a blue chipper. Big, strong, and mobile, Foote's got a polished, professional edge to his game as a two-way defender. While he lacks the nastiness of his father, he's got a higher skill level and should be a very solid minute-muncher who, at a minimum, will be a rock-solid second pair defenseman for years to come. We expect him to need at least a year of seasoning in the AHL, but given Tampa Bay's seemingly perennial need for help at right-handed D, Foote won't be down in the minors too much longer beyond that.

2.) RW Mathieu Joseph, Tampa Bay (NHL) (4)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-1, 190 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2015
Season Totals: 21 GP, 4-2-6, -1, 8 PIM

The breakout star of Lightning camp, Mathieu Joseph had an exhibition season that was as consistent as it was stellar on his way to earning a spot with the big club. Consistency was also Joseph's calling card last season with Syracuse en route to leading the Crunch in scoring, and the forward has seamlessly slotted in with the Lightning's third line and penalty kill for the first 20+ games of its regular season campaign. Joseph's most obvious attribute is his blazing, world-class speed, but he's also a tireless forechecker with above-average skill and an ability to chip in offensively. All of the above makes Joseph a candidate to play anywhere up and down the lineup and a coach's dream. Don't be surprised if Joseph eventually earns spot duty on a higher line as a winger whose forechecking and speed help create space and increase the pace for some of the team's more skilled forwards. Consequently, a future as a 20-goal, 50-60 point-a year-winger isn't out of the question for the former fourth round pick.

3.) C Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay (NHL) (2)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-0, 180 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season Totals: 18 GP, 4-3-7, +3, 6 PIM

Perhaps I should've mentioned playoff games don't count toward our rankings rules, because Anthony Cirelli, who was a fixture of the Lightning's playoff run last season, remains toward the top of our list. Currently playing on the club's third line, Cirelli is a cerebral 200-foot player capable of playing outstanding defensive hockey, killing penalties, being effective on the forecheck, winning his fair share of faceoffs, and occasionally delivering some greasy goals. A decent skater, Cirelli doesn't necessarily have the blow-by top-end speed of a player like Joseph, but he does have the look of a two-way centerman the likes of which elite teams must have in order to win championships.

4.) LW Boris Katchouk, Syracuse (AHL) (3)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-2, 199 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season Totals: 13 GP, 1-3-4, -5, 29 PIM

Biding his time in Syracuse is aggressive power forward Boris Katchouk, formerly of Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL. A tantalizing blend of speed, finishing ability, and edge, Katchouk finished second on his junior club in scoring during last year's regular season before contributing an eye-popping 19 goals and 37 points in 24 playoff games. Katchouk has a laser-quick release, but relishes work along the wall in a way few snipers do. The big winger has the potential to be a scoring line winger in the NHL, but will likely need at least a season of adjustment in the AHL before he starts to live in the nightmares of NHL defenders.

5.) LW Alexander Volkov, Syracuse (AHL) (5)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-1, 192 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2017
Season Totals: 14 GP, 6-6-12, +4, 12 PIM

After leading the Crunch in goals last season, Alexander Volkov was one of the final cuts of Lightning training camp. And, while he lost his bid for a roster spot to Mathieu Joseph, we expect it won't be long before Volkov finally does get his shot at the NHL. A less scouted product of the Russian junior ranks, the Lightning spent a second round pick on Volkov as a second-year entry, and to this point he has not disappointed. With decent size and skating ability, Volkov plays a mature 200-foot game and has a laser-like quick release of his own. The organization compared Volkov to current Lightning forward Ondrej Palat when they selected him, and that's probably a good guidepost to what his potential will be. While some look at Volkov as a potential star scoring winger, we view Volkov as a strong complementary winger with good enough skill to play on, and keep up with, an NHL scoring line.

6.) RW Adam Erne, Tampa Bay (NHL) (7)
Age: 23
Vitals: 6-1, 214 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2013
Season Totals: 15 GP, 2-5-7, E, 6 PIM

Is this the season that power forward Adam Erne finally breaks through and reaches his potential? The now 23-year-old has always looked the part, combining physical size and strength with surprising quickness and skill. He's a tantalizing package that is both hard on the puck and skilled as a playmaker and a finisher. The problem seemingly has always been health with Erne, though. He's started this season alternating between the club's fourth line and the press box, but has recently earned his way onto the second power play unit. The ultimate test, however, will be whether he can stay off the IR. If he can, he does have the upside to be a scoring line power forward in the league. His confidence in the offensive third is starting to show and he’s trending up. It may be just a matter of time before he’s working his way up the lineup. Alex Killorn may be looking over his shoulder.

7.) C Mitchell Stephens, Syracuse (AHL) (6)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-0, 193 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 2nd round, 2015
Season Totals: 7 GP, 1-3-4, -3, 0 PIM (injured)

Like Volkov, Mitchell Stephens was among the last cuts from the Lightning's camp. The tenacious centerman was the Crunch's all-star selection last season as he was potting 19 goals in his rookie campaign, but offense isn't necessarily what Lightning fans should expect from Stephens. When the Lightning took Stephens, it was with designs of moving him to wing and featuring him as a forechecker in the mold of current Lightning forward Ryan Callahan. Since then, Stephens has stayed a centerman, but he still plays the same kind of gritty forechecking style. He's a player with a ceiling that may top out as a third liner who could find himself blocked by similar players like Cirelli if he stays at center, but like Cirelli he's the type of player elite teams need to have if they want to win championships. Stephens is a strong candidate to replace Cedric Paquette at 4C if and when Paquette moves on.

8.) D Erik Cernak, Syracuse (AHL), Tampa Bay (NHL) (10)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-4, 225 lbs
Shoots: R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2015
Acquired: Trade with Los Angeles (Ben Bishop)
Season Totals (TB): 4 GP, 0-1-1, -1, 8 PIM
Season Totals (SYR): 9 GP, 2-5-7, -1, 14 PIM

The only young player whose camp may have laid claim to rivaling Joseph's was that of hefty right-handed defenseman Erik Cernak. A former second round pick acquired in the Ben Bishop trade, Cernak seemingly came within an eyelash of making the Lightning roster out of camp. Cernak's a big, strong, stay-at-homer with ever-improving skating who showcased good poise and decision-making over both his rookie campaign last year and this year's exhibition season. The 21-year-old is on the cusp of making the NHL full-time as he’s shown well in his recent call-up, providing a needed physical presence. We look at him as at least a future third pair defender with the Lightning who they can rely on to play quiet, steady minutes in his own end of the rink. With Anton Stralman’s contract up at the end of the year, Cernak could play his way into a permanent, prominent role sooner than later.

9.) D Dominik Masin, Syracuse (AHL) (11)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-2, 196 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2014
Season Totals: 14 GP, 0-3-3, +3, 20 PIM

Somewhat overshadowed by Syracuse pairing partner Cernak, Dominik Masin also has the look of a future, steady third pair defender. The easiest way to describe Masin is as the lefty version of Cernak, with some minor difference. Masin has decent size and mobility and plays with excellent gap control and some edge to his game. When at his best, Masin also makes good decisions moving the puck and distributing out of his own end. With more depth on the left side of the organization, Masin's probably not quite as close to being a full-time NHL'er, but we believe he is close to getting his first cup of coffee sometime this season.

10.) RW Taylor Raddysh, Syracuse (AHL) (8)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-3, 216 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season Totals: 13 GP, 7-5-12, +2, 8 PIM

After a little wait for him to arrive from the junior ranks, it's been a good start for Raddysh with Syracuse in the AHL, potting seven goals in his first 13 AHL games. A prolific scorer in junior, Raddysh put up great numbers for Erie and Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL and was a fixture for Canada on the junior tournament teams. Raddysh is a bigger winger, but has been dinged for at times playing a more finesse, perimeter game. He's got great skill and vision, but lacks the top-end gear to play such a finesse game in the pros. If he starts to use his bulk along the wall, though, there's a chance he could evolve into a scoring liner in the NHL. Not every prospect hits the pros with this much production and confidence, so if Raddysh can erase the question marks quickly, he’ll sprint up these rankings in no time.

11.) LW/C Danick Martel, Tampa Bay (NHL) (N/A)
Age: 20
Vitals: 5-8, 162 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: Waivers, September 2018 (Flyers)
Season Totals (TB): 1 GP, 0-0-0, E, 2 PIM
Season Totals (SYR): 4 GP, 0-1-1, -2, 6 PIM

A preseason waiver claim from the Philadelphia Flyers organization, Danick Martel is a prototypical system player for the Lightning organization. Following behind a long list of similar players like Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Yanni Gourde, Martel is a quick, skilled, undersized forward now looking to get his chance with Tampa Bay. Martel was a prolific scorer for Blainville-Boisbriand in the QMJHL and comes to Tampa Bay after three straight 20-goal seasons in the AHL. Is he the next in the lineage after Yanni Gourde? Time will tell.

12.) C Alex Barré-Boulet, Syracuse (AHL) (12)
Age: 21
Vitals: 5-10, 170 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: Free agent, 2018
Season Totals: 14 GP, 5-7-12, E, 8 PIM

Or, is the next in the lineage centerman Alex-Barre Boulet? A free agent signee from the same Blainville-Boisbriand junior team as Martel, the undersized Boulet set the QMJHL on fire last year with 116 points in 65 games. He's followed that up with a very solid 12 points in his first 14 games with the Syracuse Crunch, and his skill level is such that we don't expect any fall off from Boulet. Now 21 years old, he may be behind Martel in line for his shot at the next level, but we suspect he won't be waiting too long.

13.) LW Gabriel Fortier, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) (N/A)
Age: 18
Vitals: 5-10, 177 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: Second round, 2018
Season Totals: 24 GP, 11-20-31, +18, 13 PIM

Somewhere between the Alex Barre-Boulet and Danick Martel mold of prospects and the Mitchell Stephens mold of prospects resides this summer's top Lightning pick, Gabriel Fortier. A speedy, skilled, but undersized forward, Fortier plays with some tenacity and edge on the forecheck. He's had a very strong start to his junior year this season and was named captain, but at just 18 years old and with all the depth the club has at forward, there's no rush for Fortier. We expect him to be a few years off in the distance with the upside as a complementary winger capable of spotting on a scoring line in the NHL.

14.) G Connor Ingram, Syracuse (AHL) (13)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-2, 196 lbs
Catches: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2016
Season Totals: 7 GP, 4-3-0, 3.03 GAA, .903 sv%, 2 SO

One of the pleasant surprises of last season was the play of ex-third round netminder Connor Ingram, who put up one of the strongest rookie pro seasons of any goalie in the organization's history not named Andrei Vasilevskiy. Ingram may be slightly undersized for the style goalie coach Frantz Jean likes, but he's got solid athleticism, he's competitive, and he's pretty unflappable. He entered the year in what appeared to be a 50/50 tandem in Syracuse with veteran Eddie Pasquale, but with Vasilevskiy’s injury and Pasquale now in Tampa, the Syracuse net belongs to Ingram. His ultimate path to the NHL isn't entirely clear sailing, but he's done enough already to suggest he might be just a couple of seasons off from assuming backup duties in the NHL if he continues to progress.

15.) RW Dennis Yan, Syracuse (AHL) (14)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-2, 192 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season Totals: 12 GP, 2-0-2, +1, 8 PIM

All he does is score goals. We've said it many times: Former third rounder Dennis Yan is a pure sniper who is a bit of a one-trick pony. But if you're going to pick just one trick, that's probably the one you want to pick. Yan's ongoing mission in the AHL is to continue to address his 200-foot game and shake accusations of being a purely perimeter player who doesn't dig enough along the wall and in high traffic areas. If he shores up those areas of his game, though, watch out. He's got the golden hands that tell you he could be a scoring line winger in the NHL.

16.) C Sammy Walker, Minnesota (Big 10) (17)
Age: 19
Vitals: 5-9, 175 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 7th round, 2017
Season Totals: 9 GP, 2-3-5, +4, 6 PIM

The highest ranked of a host of "stealth prospects" from the NCAA ranks, Sammy Walker is one we could see shooting up our rankings sooner rather than later. The reigning Mr. Hockey in Minnesota, he put up a gaudy 58 points in 25 games with Edina High School last season. He's slightly undersized and it's always tough to tell exactly how a player will transition from high school to the NCAA ranks, but this is a player who is an excellent skater with high-end skill. We expect the freshman to evolve into a star scorer for the Golden Gophers with the upside to eventually become a scorer in today’s NHL.

17.) C Ross Colton, Syracuse (AHL) (18)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-0, 209 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2016
Season Totals: 13 GP, 1-4-5, -2, 2 PIM

Walker may be the highest ranked of our "stealth prospects," but the first to head up to the pro level is ex-Vermont centerman Ross Colton. After two solid campaigns with the Catamounts, Colton's become a regular in the early season lineup for the Syracuse Crunch. Like Walker, Colton came into the NCAA ranks a slightly undersized player but a couple years in the strength and conditioning program in Vermont have given him a more pro-ready body to go along with above-average skating and skill. The question now is whether the ex-fourth rounder has some NHL scoring line upside, or if he evolves into more of a checking liner who can chip in at the next level. He was impressive at the Lightning’s prospect camp after the draft, showing off his offensive prowess. As with many rookie pros, that could show itself in the second half of the season.

18.) C Otto Somppi, Syracuse (AHL) (16)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-2, 192 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 7th round, 2016
Season Totals: Has not played (injured)

"If you want to win, employ a Finn." That's what the Lightning are hoping is true when it comes to skillful centerman Otto Somppi, ex of Halifax in the QMJHL. After some middling seasons for the Mooseheads, Somppi exploded last year with 83 points in 59 games and a handful of highlight reel goals to earn a contract with the organization. Somppi's got decent size, but he's definitely more of a finesse player and he needs to get stronger to cope at the pro level. A victim of the injury bug at the end of last year and the opening of this season, it'll be interesting to see how the former seventh rounder's game evolves as a pro once he finally starts to get into some AHL games.

19.) C Alexey Lipanov, Kitchener (OHL) (15)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-0, 184 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2017
Season Totals: 18 GP, 4-3-7, -16, 8 PIM

We're betting on the come on ex-third round Russian Alexey Lipanov of Kitchener. A talented centerman, Lipanov enters his second season of North American junior hockey after an uneven campaign split between Barrie and Sudbury that saw his numbers plummet after a trade to the Wolves. Now in a better Kitchener organization, we're hoping the Rangers can unlock Lipanov's abilities, which include a nice mix of speed, skill, and shot. He has been known for a satisfactory 2-way game, but finds himself among the league “leaders” for worst plus/minus this year and was recently called out by his coach for lack of 5 on 5 production. Lipanov got in 10 games with the Crunch at the end of last season and already has a contract with the Lightning, who like his skill and shot, but there’s a long way to go before Lipanov’s game can reside at Channelside.

20.) C Carter Verhaeghe, Syracuse (AHL) (21)
Age: 23
Vitals: 6-2, 188 lbs
Shoots: L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2013 by Toronto
Acquired: Trade with New York Islanders (Kristers Gudlevskis)
Season Totals: 14 GP, 5-9-14, +2, 10 PIM

Rounding our our top-20 is Syracuse mainstay Carter Verhaeghe, who came to the Lightning organization via trade from the New York Islanders organization. Verhaeghe finished behind only Joseph in Syracuse scoring last season and continues to be a strong contributor for the Crunch this season. Verhaeghe's a little undersized and doesn't have the pure athletic gifts of some of his fellow prospects, but now that he's 23 years old we might expect the Lightning to give the high-character, team-first player his shot with a cup of coffee sometime soon.

21.) D Oleg Sosunov, Syracuse (AHL) (19)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-9, 236 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 6th round, 2016
Season Totals: 4 GP, 1-0-1, +2, 2 PIM (injured)

The next step in the development of long-term project Oleg Sosunov is a move this year to the pro ranks with Syracuse of the AHL. The 6'9" Russian blueliner had a surprisingly good transition to the Canadian junior ranks last season with Moose Jaw in the WHL, putting a very nice +35 rating up in 71 appearances. There's some good, raw material with Sosunov, who has better skating and agility than many prospects his size usually bring to the table. Don't expect instant gratification with Sosunov's development, though. He's still a couple of seasons away from sniffing the NHL and has found it difficult to find regular minutes with Syracuse early this year, but the potential is interesting.

22.)D Dmitri Semykin, SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova (MHL/Rus Jr.) (N/A)
Age:18
Vitals: 6-3, 191 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 3rd round, 2018
Season Totals (SKA-1946 St. Petersburg): 21 GP, 4-5-9, -2, 35 PIM
Season Totals (SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova): 6 GP, 1-2-3, -5, 8 PIM

A third rounder in this past June's draft, the Lightning bolstered their righty defenseman depth with Russian junior defenseman Dmitri Semykin. Semykin possesses prototypical size and the mobility and skill as a distributor out of the back you'd expect from a Russian-born defender, but he's been more of a stay-at-homer to this point in his young career. It'll be interesting to see what happens if/when Semykin finally comes over to North America. He's got some raw materials, but it's extremely hard for a player to develop in the relatively weak competition of the Russian MHL level, even if he is playing for both SKA sides.

23.) C Ryan Lohin, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East) (22)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-0, 193 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 7th round, 2016
Season Totals: 8 GP, 5-3-8, E, 2 PIM

Yet another of many stealth prospects in the NCAA ranks is UML junior captain and centerman, Ryan Lohin. Although perhaps not quite to the ability- evel of Ross Colton, Lohin's a prospect in a similar mold. He's got above-average skating and a decent skill level, but you may see him have to evolve into more of a checking liner when/if he transitions up to the pro level. With five goals – many in dramatic fashion – early this season, he could be on the verge of a breakout.

24.) W Jonne Tammela, Orlando (ECHL) (Not ranked)
Age: 21
Vitals: 5-11, 181 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2015
Season Totals (ORL): 0 GP
Season Totals (SYR): 8 GP, 1-2-3, +1, 0 PIM

The feel-good story of tenacious Finnish winger Jonne Tammela isn't finished yet. Tammela, a former fourth rounder, lost two seasons of development to catastrophic knee injuries before returning to the ice last season with Syracuse. He's no charity-case, though. Tammela's got good speed and surprising skill and has shown flashes of being the pure pest on the forecheck the Lightning thought they had when they selected him. He's still got to earn a regular spot in the lineup for the Crunch, but if he can there's some reason to believe he can progress as a checking line instigator and energy player at the next level with a bit of skill. Tammela was recently assigned to Orlando of the ECHL, where he can rebuild his confidence with increased ice time. He’s in the second year of his Entry Level Contract.

25.) C Cole Guttman, Denver (NCHC)(25)
Age: 19
Vitals: 5-9, 175 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 6th round, 2017
Season Totals: 10 GP, 6-4-10, +9, 6 PIM

Rounding out our top-25 and our showcase of NCAA "stealth prospects" is centerman Cole Guttman, off to a strong start at powerhouse program Denver under the tutelage of former Lightning pick David Carle. A very undersized forward more in the Yanni Gourde mold, Guttman was a prolific scorer by USHL standards with Dubuque before losing much of last season to injury. Now fighting fit, the skilled speedster is looking like a potential star already in his freshman campaign for the No. 7 Pioneers. Like Sammy Walker, keep an eye on Guttman as a potential riser in these rankings, and a guy the Lightning may be calling up to give a pro contract within two or three years.

Honorable Mention:
26.) D Nick Perbix, St. Cloud State (NCHC) (Previous: 23)
27.) D Alex Green, Cornell (ECAC) (N/A)
28.) D Ben Thomas, Syracuse (AHL) (20)
29.) D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, Minnesota (Big10) (24)
30.) C Mitch Hults, Syracuse (AHL) (N/A)

Watch List:

G Magnus Chrona, Skelleftea (AIK J20)
W Cole Koepke, Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)
G Kris Oldham, Clarkson (ECAC)
D Radim Salda, Rimouski (QMJHL)
D Matthew Spencer, Orlando (ECHL)
G Ty Taylor, New Hampshire (HEAST)

Contributors: Chad Schnarr, Timothy Bennett. AHL Photo.