Blog: Player-by-Player Breakdown of Bolts in Nashville So Far

I've been asked many times for opinions on various players in this weekend’s Lightning games. Rather than respond to each request, here are some quick thoughts on each player participating:

(NOTE: Comments are just based on two viewings here so this is by no means “the book” on any player.)

13 Artem Sergeev: The second year pro didn’t play on Saturday against the Preds, but drew in against Boston. It seemed like the Lightning were more interested in seeing the younger guys, so the Sergeev-Nesterov pair didn’t get as much ice time as I expected. Sergeev has always been an offensive defenseman, but he made some good plays in his own zone and had a couple nice hits, which was good to see. He is tied to Nesterov’s hip as Nesterov’s English isn’t very good and Sergeev helps in that area. He got a ribbing in practice on Monday after two bad passes halted a drill on consecutive runs. Players cheered and banged their sticks on the ice when he connected on the third try. Funny stuff.

27 Jonathan Drouin: Had a quiet first period before coming alive on the power play in the second period on Saturday. He likes to start on the left wall before flipping to the right. Head is constantly up, as is his effort – which is huge. A lot of skill players come out of juniors without the effort Drouin has showed – or showed last year in Lightning camp. He passes out of scoring opportunities a lot, which he can’t do in Tampa this year as he tries to fit in. That, and playing with high confidence early, will be the biggest adjustments for him as an NHLer if he is to reach his peak quickly (remember how Stamkos tried to fit in before he had the confidence to do what he wanted to). Drouin is in much better shape than last year (athlete vs teenage player) and is exhibiting a lot more confidence than he did last fall in Tampa, both on the ice and in interviews.

28 Cody Kunyk: He’s been one of Tampa’s better forwards. He plays a mature game, which is what you’d expect from an older college grad. He hit the post on the power play in the first period on Saturday and had a nice assist on Sunday after a takeaway. The key on the play was his quick decision to fire to Aviani open in the slot. He’ll put up some points in Syracuse this year.

29 Slater Koekkoek: He skates so well Barbara Underhill has posters of him on her wall. He was easily the Lightning's best defenseman in Saturday’s game and also finished with (unofficially) about five shots. His game has matured so much since his draft year when he was basically an extra forward for Peterborough with a bright green light that never changed to yellow. He’s shown good leadership abilities while wearing an A here this week, both in the game and in practice on Monday. He’s going to be like Kucherov this year in Syracuse. Sooner or later they won’t be able to keep him down. He was held out of Sunday’s game as a precaution. Saturday was his first game back after his latest shoulder surgery. Koekkoek said his shoulders feel fine.

34 Jeff Costello: He's certainly not the quickest, but he's pretty gritty and made a nice pass to Point for the Lightning's goal on Saturday. He also missed an open net off an end-board carom. He'll be a nice complementary player for Syracuse and/or Florida. His speed is lacking, but he’s a nice player.

36 Brayden Point: Point and Drouin have been the most creative forwards thus far. Point is very good in space and with time, so the key for him will be to create time and space while 5 on 5, where he’s gotten lost from time to time. He’s better along the wall than I thought he’d be and he’s backchecked well, also. Based on what I’ve seen, the reasons he fell in the draft are his skating (a little rigid, but correctable) and light frame. Underhill and training can help with his skating, but how much weight he’s able to put on will be something to watch. He has a future in the pros. His shot and smarts are excellent.

37 Cameron Darcy: I thought he was better on Saturday than Sunday. He skates much better than you’d expect of a seventh rounder and has a lot of skill. He’s been on the top-2 lines both games and has looked like he belongs. Hard to see how he went undrafted twice (well, situation dictated a lot of that). He said he’s been in contact with Cape Breton’s coach (the two have a good relationship), but he wants to play in the pros. He’s not thinking ahead too much, he said. He could be a huge producer for ECHL Florida this year if he’s placed there.

38 Tanner Richard: I can’t say enough good things. A lot of what there is to like doesn’t come in tangibles, however. His 2-way play has been excellent and his leadership has been elite. He’s taken his role seriously and demonstrated he’s a future leader with the Crunch. I had a nice conversation with Al Murray and Zettler about Richard and both were complimentary of the player he’s becoming – especially Zettler, who said Richard had a rough year last year, but had a phenomenal summer. He’s put in the work. The results may not end up on the scoresheet, but that’s why you watch games. Murray confirmed that Richard was drafted to fit into more of a 2-way role than a 1C, playmaking role. Richard is doing his part. He’s been very vocal, both in helping his teammates, and doing some chirping. It was good to hear Zettler confirm my thoughts on his Richard’s progression.

47 Joel Vermin: Zettler singled Vermin out as having a good tournament thus far. He’s skilled, has decent size, skates well, and is a smart player. There was one play that stuck out where he was able to turn and shield the puck away from a much bigger player and passed out of the opportunity with ease. That’s one of the “little things” you look for. He also passed out of a Grade-A scoring chance against Boston, which caused a cringe. He’s a skilled player whom I hope becomes the sum of his parts.

48 Cristiano DiGiacinto: Had a good fight on Saturday where he got knocked down early but popped back up and held his own against a guy 4 inches taller than he. He’s had a few hits, too, but due to a lot of PKs hasn’t been on the ice as much over two games as a lot of others. He said he models his game after Andrew Shaw of Chicago and Brad Marchand of Boston. Murray talked about him and how Shaw is a guide for his player type. He’s going to have a nice year in Windsor on the top line. Murray said the Lightning knew when drafting him that DiGiacinto’s role would increase this year with the Spits. Skating is a little choppy, but a few sessions with Barb will help.

50 Kristers Gudlevskis: KG has been a little tamer than last year so far, which is part of his (needed) refinement. He’s as athletic as any goalie out there, but controlling his athleticism to when it’s needed is the key to furthering his development. Zettler said Guds’ may have liked Forsberg’s overtime winner back, but he’s played well. He’s more relaxed in this, his second year in North America, cutting up with teammates in practice. Boston was focused on shooting high blocker on him, scoring twice, which may have been an aberration... but hopefully not a trend. I didn’t notice him dipping his shoulder or holding his stick too low. He struggled with some shots he probably shouldn’t have against the B’s, but it is pre-preseason.

54 Cedric Paquette: With his success in Syracuse last year offensively, I thought he’d be in more of an offensive role here in Nashville, but he’s been on the mid to low lines so far, and a lot on the PK. That’s his role with Tampa if/when he makes it back, and he plays the part well. He started slow in the tournament, not hitting as much as in the past and fumbling some chances, but he really came on in the third period Sunday and was my third star of the game for Tampa Bay. I’m expecting a strong game Tuesday vs Florida.

56 Ben Thomas: The Calgary Hitmen defenseman didn’t play on Sunday and was on the third pair on Saturday. He looks smaller than 6-2, in part because he moves quicker than expected. He had some ups and some downs in the game, but wasn’t shy about shooting and was okay positionally. He struggled a bit with bigger forwards and spent a lot of time scrambling to gain position. Hopefully he’s back in on Tuesday.

57 Henri Ikonen: On Saturday, Ikonen was as good as ever, hustling along the wing and gaining pucks on the wall. He wracked up a lot of assists with strong linemates last season, but he hasn’t shown much playmaking ability so far this weekend (again, limited showing). He’s a North-South, throw-it-at-the-net kind of player. He was relatively quiet on Sunday as the puck didn’t find him too much. He was solid on the penalty kill, as usual.

58 Cameron Maclise: He didn’t play much on Saturday, but played well on Sunday in a lower line role. He’s a huge centerman with decent hands. He hit the crossbar against Boston with a quick wrist shot from the slot. He knows where to be, but it looked like the game speed was a little much for him to start. Once he became more comfortable he was arriving to his spots in better time. I didn’t notice many hits from him, but I also didn’t notice him shying away from physicality. His skating will have to improve to have a future in pro hockey.

59 Jake Dotchin: The former Barrie Colt played Saturday, but sat on Sunday. He got some power play time on Saturday but was quick to tell me anything on offense fro him is a bonus as his game is stay-at-home. He skates well for a big guy and was quite good positionally. He had 5-6 solid hits against the Preds and moved the puck well. He knows his role. Hopefully he looks to Luke Witkowski in Syracuse as a model.

63 Mike Aviani: The tryout invitee from Tyler Johnson’s old stomping grounds in Spokane has played pretty well so far. His skating is choppy, but he works like a dog along the walls and has good hands. He showed good poise scoring his goal on Sunday against Boston, not rushing his shot. He’s a nice player the organization is probably looking at as a bottom-line option moving forward. He’s listed at 5-11, which I think is a bit generous. He could have a nice pro career somewhere if it’s not in Syracuse. I was talking with the coaches for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL about him for a bit. I think I’d like to see him bulk up – especially in the lower body – if he sticks around to improve his wall play winning percentage (Yeah, I just made that stat up).

72 Dylan Blujus: He was injured in the second period on Sunday and missed practice on Monday with a stinger. He said he’ll be fine. On Saturday he had some ups and downs, including a few giveaways that led to scoring chances. One was because of ice conditions it seemed. He’s good positionally and knows what to do with the puck, so it’s a matter of letting everything come together while adjusting to the speed of the pro game. He said he’s a 2-way guy more than being a puckmover or peoplemover and he’s got the size to be successful. What makes players in that role excel, however, is their poise, which will have to be learned the next few years in Syracuse. He’s a nice prospect to be sure.

73 Adam Erne: The Quebec Rempart will draw in on Tuesday against Florida. He looked good in practice on Monday, scoring a goal high from in-tight on Gudlevskis in a drill. I’m not sure I approve of the new, clean-cut look, but nobody asked me. His Remparts lost 9-3 to the Oceanic the other night, so they miss him up there.

74 Dominik Masin: Smooth. So very smooth. He plays like a professional, which others have said. It’s easy to see. I thought he was a little better Saturday than Sunday vs Nashville’s speed game as opposed to Boston’s physical game. His turns are quick and decisive and positionally he’s been excellent so far. He and Koekkoek just ooze poise on the back-end. Some players just look like future pros and both of those guys fall into that category. I’m anxious to see how he does with the Petes this year.

75 Kodie Curran: Geez, where to begin. I didn’t think anything of him being scratched on Saturday and didn’t expect much from the invitee on Sunday. If you followed my Twitter play-by-play, you can see me mentioning him as doing good things early – and often. I’d stop tweeting about him if he’d stop doing good things, but he didn’t. He was the other player Zettler singled out as having a good performance, and Murray said Tampa Bay has been watching him for two years with the University of Calgary. He looked as talented as any of the Lightning’s defensemen outside of Koekkoek. He’s an older player (24), and while he may not be as skilled as DeAngelo, when Curran’s skill is combined with his mature game approach and execution, he’s a well-rounded, professional-looking defenseman. He and Drouin were the best players on the ice on Sunday, and it wasn’t really even close. He skates well, takes every opportunity to hit, is creative with the puck, and knows what to do when. He’s also very personable and humble, ladies. The only mistake I saw him make came after two strong plays on the PK (he then shot the puck over the glass for a delay of game call). He’s the story of pre-camp.

88 Andrei Vasilevskiy: Vasy is much bigger than you’d expect in person. He’s listed at 6-3, but in net he seems more like 6-5. He kept the game close on Saturday with a few big saves, including a glove snare on a mini-breakaway attempt. He’s as athletic as Gudlevskis, but is more compact in his approach. He shows the maturity of a 25-year-old player. The goal he let in on Saturday he probably wants back (unexpected shot through a bit of traffic beat him 5-hole). He’ll play the whole game on Tuesday, Zettler said.

89 Nikita Nesterov: He had a rough Sunday against Boston, fanning on a shot in the slot and later falling on his own as a puck trickled out to him for a shot. He took a bad angle earlier in the game that caused an odd-man break, but don’t let a few bad tweets about him ruin your opinion. He’s a smart player who looks like he’s still adjusting to North American life and style (and language). He’s said all the right things this offseason to improve upon last year in Syracuse. Hoping for a strong game tomorrow. His goal on Sunday was a solid slapshot from the center point through traffic (check BP’s Vine account). Consistency needed.

97 Anthony DeAngelo: Murray said he may have been the most skilled defenseman in the draft and he hasn’t done anything this weekend to prove that wrong. It’s his defense that has been impressive this weekend, though. He got a bad rap for his defensive play, but as Murray told me, they didn’t buy it. There are some technical things to clean up, but he’s been good positionally this weekend and has an active stick. He hasn’t tried to do a lot on offense, which is somewhat of a surprise. He’s gotten some pucks through from the point, but hasn’t jumped into the play as much as I thought he would. It’s like they told him to concentrate on his defense here – which very well may have happened. He’s a work in progress, but the Lightning will have a fine finished product eventually.