Bolt Prospect of the Week

We continue our Bolt Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for his recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Bolt Prospect(s) of the Week for the week ending November 24 is … Joel Vermin, W, and Jonathan Marchessault, W, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL).

For the first time ever, there’s a tie for the Prospect of the Week award. I couldn’t avoid it. Vermin/Marchessault, Marchessault/Vermin… I couldn’t make a decision. It was their joint inclusion in the Lightning lineup that gave the team the energy necessary in a semi-emergency situation to (potentially) turn the team’s season around.

The Lightning dressed four Syracuse Crunch players for last week’s game against the New York Rangers, who came into their game against the Lightning with a 9-game winning streak.

Marchessault, who’s been on the cusp of full-time NHL duty since last spring, and Vermin, who’s shot up the development ladder this year with increased confidence and an edge to his game, gave the Lightning NHL-caliber play and jump, helping the flailing Lightning compete with the Rangers and eventually steal a win.

One night later, needing to hang on to that momentum, Marchessault scored his first goal of the season and Vermin added his first NHL point in a 5-0 blowout win over Anaheim.

In an attempt to get out of their recent slump, Jon Cooper and the Lightning have simplified their approach in the offensive zone, with more straight lines to the net and simple shoot-and-crash play to create more second chances and break collapsing defenses. Cooper has even brightened the green light for defensemen to pinch into the slot to increase the quantity of shooters. The problem was the Lightning, due to injuries and/or lack of effort, didn’t have the players able or willing to adapt to the change. Enter Vermin and Marchessault, who were able to translate their improved games in Syracuse to Tampa, much to the relief of everyone in Lightningland.

Where the two go from here remains to be seen. Marchessault is good enough to play in the NHL and carried himself like a veteran for the Lightning in his last three games. There may not be room for him when the Lightning forward group gets back to full health, but he’s given the team confidence in options. As has Vermin, who’s likely ticketed back to Syracuse, but should probably keep a suitcase packed if there’s another need for a recall. He’s probably at the top of the list.

Vermin has transformed his game from a perimeter skill guy to a player willing to go to the hard-to-play-in areas and win battles. He’s also added a pest aspect to his game that gives the Crunch and Lightning rosters more spice and less vanilla. He’s been able to increase his production while adding the edge, which makes all the difference.

Marchessault still projects as a fill-in top-9 forward at the NHL level, but may be making the move into a full-time player. He has the skill and grit to his game to be a contributor.

Vermin has gone from a bubble player to even get a second contract with the Lightning to a potential part of their future at the NHL level. If he follows the Brendan Gallagher player type rather than “just” a skill perimeter forward, he could have a bright future at the NHL level.

As always, consistency for both will be the key, but they’re off to a good start.

Preseason BP Rank (Marchessault): 9
Preseason BP Rank (Vermin): 25

Honorable Mention: Mathieu Joseph, W, Saint John-QMJHL, Team QMJHL; Dominik Masin, D, Peterborough-OHL

Previous 2015-2016 Prospect of the Week winners:

November 16: Brian Hart, W, (Greenville, ECHL, USA)
November 9: Brayden Point, C, (Moose Jaw, WHL, Canada)
November 2: Brayden Point, C, (Moose Jaw, WHL, Canada)
October 26: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Tampa Bay, NHL, USA)
October 19: Ryan Zuhlsdorf, D, (Sioux City, USHL, USA)
October 12: Dennis Yan, W, (Shawinigan, QMJHL, Canada)
October 6: Mitchell Stephens, W, (Saginaw, OHL, Canada)
September 29: Matt Peca, C, (Tampa Bay, NHL, USA)