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Bolt Prospects 2016-2017 Preliminary Rankings

Introduction
Granted, we're about a month into the Lightning's NHL campaign. But, like a fine wine, we decided to let our 2016-2017 Bolt Prospects Preliminary Rankings age a bit before presenting them to you. Overall, the first month of the year has been very kind to the Lightning prospect pipeline. The Lightning have three Bolt Prospects currently in Tampa this year who look on track for graduation this year while an improved Syracuse team is studded with young players who will get an opportunity to play on what could potentially be one of the better teams in the AHL. Meanwhile, in junior and the NCAA, the fruits of the 2015 and 2016 drafts, in particular, are off to a roaring start that leave us optimistic that the Lightning prospect depth chart is returning to a level of quality we haven't seen for the past couple of years.

Before we begin, a reminder of the eligibility rules for the Rankings. Only players under 24 years of age on the opening night of the Lightning season are eligible to be ranked. As a consequence, talented players like Nikita Gusev and Kristers Gudlevskis are no longer counted in the top twenty-five. These "overage prospects" are not to be ignored, though, and add yet another level of depth to the team's pipeline. Skaters with 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games are considered graduated and no longer eligible to be ranked. Goaltenders with 30 or more NHL decisions in a single NHL season or 41 or more NHL career decisions are also considered graduated from prospect status and no longer eligible to be ranked. For those wondering, yes, a certain Russian goaltending prospect is very, very close to graduation as of this posting. Lastly, NCAA prospects are eligible to remain on the rankings for the duration of their college careers, even if they are over 24 years of age.

Terms and conditions apply. Employees and family of Bolt Prospects are not eligible. No purchase necessary. Re-read the least paragraph for full rankings rules.

With that out of the way, let's begin...

1. G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay (NHL) (2016 Supplemental Ranking: 1)
Acquired: 1st round, 2010
Season totals: 4 GP, 2-1-1, 2.24 GAA, .922 sv%
No real surprises at the top of our rankings, where the heir apparent to the starting crease in Tampa Bay still holds court. Vasilevskiy comes into this season healthy, unlike a year ago when he was recovering from surgery for a blood clot, and after a second straight season where he garnered valuable postseason starts the team enters the campaign with a plan to play their prized young netminder at least once a week. Nothing but good things seems destined to follow after Vasilevskiy spent his offseason working on his rebound control and puck handling. The only real question we have is whether he'll inherit the starting duties this season or wait until the 2017-2018 campaign.

2. C/W Brayden Point, Tampa Bay (NHL) (3)
Acquired: 3rd round, 2014
Season totals: 13 GP, 1-4-5, +1, 0 PIM
The pleasant surprise of the Lightning’s somewhat strange preseason, with many players off to play in the WCOH, was the ascension of 20-year-old center/winger Brayden Point. Much was already known about Point's elusiveness and high-end offensive skill, but the diminutive forward has shown massive improvement in his defensive game and an ability to compete and win loose pucks in tight spaces reminiscent of a young Martin St. Louis. The Lightning helped their young prospect, in part, by moving the young center to the wing to help streamline his defensive responsibilities. So far that's paid off, but the Lightning most likely want to eventually transition him back to center where he'll have the most value to the organization. Will that transition eventually happen in Syracuse, or will Point's sterling play continue and allow him to stick in Tampa Bay for the duration of the campaign? Either way, it’s clear Point's destiny is to be a productive scoring line NHLer.

3. D Slater Koekkoek, Tampa Bay (NHL) (2)
Acquired: 1st round, 2010
Season totals (TB): 4 GP, 0-3-3, +2, 2 PIM
One of the most unpleasant surprises of the preseason was the Lightning's decision to demote defenseman Slater Koekkoek to Syracuse of the AHL. The move perplexed us given Koekkoek's reasonably high level of play in the postseason last year and his obvious athletic superiority over other third pair options like Nikita Nesterov. Koekkoek is big and freakishly mobile, drawing comparisons as a lite version of teammate and superstar Victor Hedman. Koekkoek plays with more edge than Hedman, though, making him an even more valuable compliment to the existing Lightning blueline corps. Thankfully, after a tepid first nine games to the year, the Lightning recalled Koekkoek to Tampa Bay where he has performed well and will likely stick now for the rest of the year. Long term, expect Koekkoek to develop into the team's anchor at left side of its second pair behind Hedman, and a fixture on its penalty kill and second power play unit.

4. C Brett Howden, Moose Jaw (WHL) (4)
Acquired: 1st round, 2016
Season totals: 11 GP, 9-5-14, -1, 8 PIM
Point's former teammate with Moose Jaw, Brett Howden, checks in at fourth on our rankings after a solid training camp and reasonably solid start to his junior campaign where he took over Point’s captain’s C. Taken in the first round of the summer draft, Howden is a well-rounded centerman with good size, decent speed, and above average skill. He's defensively responsible, reasonably assertive physically in tight spaces, and does a lot of the little things that make coaches comfortable using him in all three phases of the game. He'll likely get a couple of seasons to round out his game in junior before the Lightning move him up to Syracuse or Tampa Bay. Longterm, we expect Howden to become a second/third line tweener center who is best suited to play a two-way role on the third line but can fill in competently on the second line when pressed into service. Bottom line: Howden's the type of player, a la Alex Killorn, that coaches love and are comfortable with and that help teams win championships.

5. D Libor Hajek, Saskatoon (WHL) (5)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season totals: 16 GP, 0-8-8, +2, 20 PIM
A little intrigue broke out on the draft floor this past June for the Lightning when they dealt former first rounder Anthony DeAngelo for a second round pick that became rugged two-way defender Libor Hajek of Saskatoon. The 18-year-old Czech Republic native might best be described as a cross between fellow Lightning prospect Dominik Masin and Bolt Prospects Alumni Radko Gudas. Hajek has the ability to shut down opposing forwards with a blend of outstanding mobility and lateral agility, and punishing strength, and an understanding of gap control, angles, and leverage. He's also a very accomplished breakout passer who isn't shy to pinch into the play when required. He's been compared to Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, and that comparison alone ought to thrill Lightning fans who should anticipate Hajek developing into an extremely solid second pair defender and physical fan favorite. His offensive numbers should improve this year as Saskatoon improves.

6. RW Adam Erne, Syracuse (AHL) (7)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2013
Season totals: 9 GP, 2-3-5, E, 13 PIM
After missing significant time due to injury over the past couple of years, Erne is healthy early this year and has been a solid contributor to Syracuse early in the season. When playing his best, Erne is a pure power forward who plays with physicality and explosiveness above his weight class. Short and stocky, Erne has surprising speed, is incredibly difficult to knock off the puck in high traffic areas, and has soft hands at finishing time. With improved forward depth in Syracuse this year, Erne ought to have the playmakers around him to have a very good year as the Lightning hope he continues to develop into a scoring line power winger in the NHL.

7. C/W Mitchell Stephens, Saginaw (OHL) (8)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2015
Season totals: 12 GP, 5-6-11, +3, 10 PIM
Also coming back healthy this season is C/W Mitchell Stephens of Saginaw. Stephens looked on track for a massive campaign in the OHL last year when a broken foot took him out of the lineup and eventually limited him to just 39 games. Impressively, Stephens still managed to pot 20 goals and 38 points in that time for a bad team. Now back on the ice, Stephens is right around a point a game again to start the year for Saginaw where the two-way forward, like Howden, contributes well in all three phases of the game. Stephens, who is already signed by the Lightning and a candidate to be moved later by Saginaw within the OHL, is known for being a hard worker who is defensively responsible and plays with a physical edge. His skill set is decent and his hustle and determination help fill in the gaps well. Put it all together, and you get the picture of a prospect who compares to Lightning forward Ryan Callahan and whose ultimate future may be as a second or third line, two-way winger in the NHL.

8. RW Taylor Raddysh, Erie (OHL) (12)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season totals: 16 GP, 17-25-42, +29, 11 PIM
If you're looking for a growth stock among Lightning prospects, consider grabbing a few shares of summer second rounder Taylor Raddysh of Erie. A classic case of a player who had all the tools but needed the tool box, Raddysh frustrated scouts last season with inconsistency and perimeter play that failed to optimize his size and strength. This season, Raddysh is already roughly halfway to his point totals of a season ago playing on a line with diminutive OHL star Alex DeBrincat (Blackhawks). Sometimes big wingers just take a little bit extra time to get it, and Raddysh's early explosion portends good things for his future, and not just because he's leading the OHL in scoring. He's a patient playmaker with excellent vision and also possesses a hard, accurate shot. His skating is good, and he still needs work on his first step acceleration, but the real test is if he's applying himself in the high traffic areas. If he is, he's a scoring line power winger in the NHL.

9. C Matthew Peca, Syracuse (AHL) (10)
Acquired: 7th round, 2011
Season totals: 9 GP, 3-2-5, E, 0 PIM
At ninth on our list is versatile Syracuse centerman Matthew Peca. After struggling to find the scoresheet consistently last season on a woefully understocked Crunch roster, Peca looks poised for an excellent sophomore pro campaign with a revamped group that has a lot of depth and skill. Peca is one of the linchpins of that group because he can play all three phases of the game well. Peca has good playmaking ability and pace, a surprising amount of jam for a smaller player, and is fairly responsible defensively. All that adds up to a player who could develop into a reliable NHL utility forward in the future.

10. LW Boris Katchouk, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) (9)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season totals: 16 GP, 6-6-12, +1, 6 PIM
Unlike his fellow second rounder Taylor Raddysh, nobody's ever had to ask Boris Katchouk twice to play a more physical style of game. Katchouk plays a prototypical pro winger's north-south game, eschewing flair and perimeter play for a more brute force approach to breaking open defenses and creating scoring chances. Katchouk has decent size and is fearless in the crowded areas of the ice. He routinely initiates and wins puck battles with his hustle and hard work and he drives to the net hard with his stick on the ice and ill intent toward his opponents. This is not a man who is easy to play against and is the type of player who is critical to the success of championship teams. He'll likely get a couple of years of seasoning in junior before moving up to pro where his ultimate destiny will be to develop into a physical third line power winger who can occasionally spot on a scoring line needing an energy injection.

11. D Dominik Masin, Syracuse (AHL) (14)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2014
Season totals: 5 GP, 0-0-0, E, 2 PIM
Fresh off a successful, but injury-filled two years of development with Peterborough in the OHL, expect this to be a transitional year for Dominik Masin as he gets his feet wet in pro hockey with Syracuse. Masin made very significant strides with the Petes last year as he improved his plus-minus rating and production sharply over his rookie North American campaign. Now that he's in the AHL, it might be prudent to expect a similar two-year development period before Masin starts to push for an NHL job. Although not as fluent and agile in his four-way skating as Hajek, he shares a lot of his fellow Czech blueliner's characteristics. He's got good size and strength and an excellent understanding of gap control and angles to go along with above-average skating and a solid first pass out of the zone. Given the Lightning's depth at lefty defenseman, Masin might end up on the third pairing in the NHL with Tampa Bay someday, although he has the upside to be a second pair, physical, two-way defenseman.

12. C Tanner Richard, Syracuse (AHL) (11)
Acquired: 3rd round, 2012
Season totals: 6 GP, 0-2-2, -2, 2 PIM
One of the few disappointments of training camp and the preseason was the flat play of centerman and last year's leading scorer for Syracuse, Tanner Richard. Fresh off another promising AHL campaign, it was hoped the acerbic two-way pivot would push for a spot in Tampa Bay this year. His style seems particularly well suited to be a fourth line centerman with Tampa Bay, but he hasn't yet gotten the breakthrough to the next level. Though he possesses rather average size and speed, Richard plays the game with an agitating edge and has above average playmaking ability and vision in the offensive zone. In other words, the Swiss-born winger is the type of pesky lower liner elite teams need for energy and grit to make deep playoff runs. If he can add “faceoff expert” to his game, he has a much better chance of making the jump, but there are other centers competing for jobs.

13. RW Mathieu Joseph, Saint John (QMJHL) (21)
Acquired: 4th round, 2015
Season totals: 17 GP, 15-9-24, +7, 13 PIM
One of the big movers in our rankings is surprising former fourth rounder Mathieu Joseph of the Saint John Sea Dogs. Another high-character, high-energy pick from the 2015 draft class, Joseph leaped up the development curve last year with 33 goals and 73 points in 58 games. Early returns from the QMJHL this year indicate Joseph isn't slowing down. Although somewhat slightly built, Joseph is athletically strong and active with no fear of driving to the high traffic areas. His fearlessness is accented by a softer set of hands than may have been originally been anticipated in his draft season. We expect him to continue to terrorize the QMJHL before moving up to the pro level next season. Pinning down his exact upside is a little more difficult now that he's already jumped a few lanes in his development. At a minimum, he looks like an outstanding option for a lower line energy winger in the traditional north-south pro mold once he makes it up to the NHL. However, we're starting to see the possibility of a new ceiling where Joseph tops out as a two-way third liner who, like Katchouk, can spot on a scoring line needing energy as a complimentary winger.

14. RW Dennis Yan, Shawinigan (QMJHL) (16)
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season totals: 14 GP, 14-6-20, +2, 24 PIM
The one departure from the 2015 draft class' high-character, high-energy mold was pure sniper Dennis Yan of Shawinigan. Talent-wise, he's a flat-out sniper with a finisher's hands and an NHL shot, as evidenced by his roughly goal-a-game pace so far this season in the QMJHL. The Lightning bet on the come last year by giving Yan a contract based on his above-average skating and blink-fast quick release, but we've had concerns about Yan's propensity to shy away from the high-traffic areas and cling to the perimeter, as well as his decision making. He's also had issues with his hockey sense in terms of using his teammates effectively to help produce scoring chances. His transition to the pro game next year will be a rude awakening, and how Yan deals with the challenge of the next level will be telling. A boom-or-bust prospect, Yan's either going to be a scoring line sniping winger in the NHL or somewhere in the European pro leagues, and there's probably not a ton of plausible outcomes for his long-term future in between.

15. G Adam Wilcox, Syracuse (AHL) (17)
Acquired: 6th round, 2011
Season totals: 6 GP, 4-2-0, 2.32 GAA, .907 sv%
So far so good this year for ex-Minnesota netminder Adam Wilcox. The young goalie has showed marked improvement from his rookie-pro campaign and is applying considerable pressure on tandem-mate Kristers Gudlevskis for Syracuse's starting job. That's exactly what the organization had to be looking for from Wilcox in his development. He's neither as big nor as athletic as Vasilevskiy or Gudlevskis, but Wilcox is a hard-nosed competitor with a strong work ethic and above-average ability to follow the puck who has shown good dedication toward perfecting his craft as a goaltender. With the possibility of roster moves up top in Tampa Bay later this year, it's highly plausible Wilcox could end up being "the man" on a deep Crunch team that appears to be constructed, on paper, for a deep playoff run. We look at Wilcox as a potential solid NHL backup someday, and proving his wares as a starter in the AHL is one of the first steps toward fulfilling that potential.

16. D Dylan Blujus, Syracuse (AHL) (20)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2012
Season totals: 6 GP, 0-4-4, E, 4 PIM
Now entering his third pro campaign, it's a big year for former second rounder Dylan Blujus. The departure of DeAngelo removed one potential righty roster competitor as Blujus tries to get himself in line to be the first righty recall from Tampa Bay. He'll vie with seasoned vet Luke Witkowski most of this season for that distinction while helping to anchor one of the top two pairings in Syracuse. Blujus is big and fairly mobile, although he has some stiffness in his four-way agility and pivots. The good news about that, though, is that Blujus knows his limitations and is fairly smart positionally covering up for them. A rare and valuable righty shot, Blujus is also a regular contributor on the Crunch's power play, and although we do not see him as a power play guy at the NHL level, he does have reasonable passing and shooting skills. In the long-term, Blujus' upside is as a potential third pair righty defenseman at the next level.

17. C Anthony Cirelli, Oshawa (OHL) (23)
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season totals: 14 GP, 10-13-23, +13, 8 PIM
It's hard to believe that Anthony Cirelli is still only 19 years old, but as one of the youngest members of the 2015 draft class, he's established himself as one of the better young centerman prospects in the organization. Original pigeon-holed into a lower-line role on a very deep Oshawa championship team two years ago, Cirelli was a scoring liner a year ago with mixed, but mostly positive results. This year, he's gone hog-wild, leading his club in scoring early in the season and justifying many scouts' suspicions that there's more upside there than he was allowed to show in his draft season. Fitting the high-character, high-energy mold, the Oshawa captain is a relentless forechecker who plays an honest game in all three zones. Once he moves up to Syracuse in the AHL, he'll likely be a player the coaches can use comfortably in all three phases of the game. In the long run, the Lightning can look at Cirelli as a potential third line two-way center with some upside.

18. G Connor Ingram, Kamloops (WHL) (19)
Acquired: 3rd round, 2016
Season totals: 15 GP, 8-6-1, 2.01 GAA, .937 sv%, 1 SO
The Lightning organization has a remarkable track record with overage draft picks over the past several years, so with that in mind, it might be a good idea to buy stock in Kamloops netminder Connor Ingram early. The 19-year-old Western League star was one of the best among his peers last year in posting 34 wins, 4 shutouts, and a fairly gaudy .922 save percentage. Although his winning percentage has dipped a little in the early going in Kamloops, Ingram's other statistical numbers have remained extremely impressive early this year, sitting at or near the top of the WHL. Put simply, he shows no signs of letting up. While not overly big or technically polished, Ingram is the classic tenacious competitor between the pipes with an instinct for the big save and a flair for the dramatic. With further coaching and refinement, he could end up being one of the bigger steals of the 2016 draft class.

19. D Matthew Spencer, Peterborough (OHL) (18)
Acquired: 2nd round, 2015
Season totals: 9 GP, 1-3-4, -2, 8 PIM
Former second rounder Matthew Spencer is one of two prospects helping to keep the Peterborough-to-Tampa pipeline full with the departure of former teammate Dominik Masin to the pro ranks. More of a raw project, Spencer has decent size and mobility and doesn't shy away from the physical side of the game. The existence of offensive upside in Spencer's game is, however unconfirmed to this point, to be kind, and he is still struggling with consistency game-to-game. We expect Spencer, who is already signed to an NHL contract, to need a few more years of polish before he becomes a serious consideration for NHL duty. On raw athleticism, you could argue he's a potential second pair defenseman, but with the lefty defenseman depth in the organization a third pair role may be a much more reasonable expectation in the long run.

20. RW Jonne Tammela, Peterborough (OHL) (25)
Acquired: 4th round, 2015
Season totals: 1 GP, 1-0-1, +1, 0 PIM
Unfortunately, a knee injury forestalled the North American debut of Jonne "The Cobra" Tammela, one of the real sleepers on our rankings. Fresh off a solid campaign against grown men in the Finnish Liiga with KalPa, much is expected of the pesky winger as finally gets on the ice in the Ontario League. He’s off to a good start, scoring in his first game. What Petes fans should see for the rest of the season is a speedy winger with above average skill and finishing ability and glimpses of a nasty competitiveness that once led him to (allegedly) spit on an opponent in a game two years ago (hence the given moniker, "The Cobra"). Tammela's an honest player in all three zones that showed he can excel as a third line checker in Liiga, but the expectation is that he should be able to contribute as a scoring liner in the OHL. The hope is that Tammela's offensive game will blossom and that eventually he will develop into a good two-way NHL third liner who also agitates the dog out of his opponents with his relentless work ethic.

21. D Daniel Walcott, Syracuse (AHL) (Not ranked)
Acquired: Trade with NYR (previously 5th round, 2014)
Season totals: 9 GP, 0-2-2, -5, 4 PIM
A consummate team-first player and above-average athlete, Daniel Walcott spent his first pro season with Syracuse periodically flipping between playing his natural position of defense and the wing as injuries and roster moves required. This season the 22-year-old puck moving blueliner is getting the chance to establish himself fully at his natural position, which will give us a much more accurate idea of his long-term upside. Acquired in a trade in the postseason two years ago, the former Rangers fifth rounder came to the Lightning with a reputation for being mobile, albeit undersized, with a good first pass out of the zone and above average leadership intangibles. He'll look to ride those traits into becoming a #6/#7 defenseman in the NHL some day.

22. C Otto Somppi, Halifax (QMJHL) (Not ranked)
Acquired: 7th round, 2016
Season totals: 16 GP, 5-6-11, -4, 12 PIM
Another sleeper to keep a close eye on is Finnish-born Halifax centerman Otto Somppi. Somppi slipped down to the seventh round in last June's draft partly because of a shoulder injury that hampered him all of his draft year on a subpar Mooseheads team. Now healthy, presumably, the Lightning are betting Somppi can come alive on an improved Halifax team. Although he's only average in size, Somppi has blazing speed and is a tireless worker in all three zones. He has above-average playmaking abilities and a decent shot, although scouts note he's clearly a pass-first player. Overall, he's an honest player with a coach-friendly work ethic and skill set that might remind some of Lightning centerman and fellow Finn Valtteri Filppula. Hmmmmm?

23. D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, Minnesota (BIG10) (Not ranked)
Acquired: 5th round, 2015
Season totals: 7 GP, 2-1-3, +3, 6 PIM
After over a full season of waiting, the blessed moment finally came. Zuhlsdorf, a 2015 fifth round mobile puck-moving defenseman went the entire 2015-2016 campaign in the USHL without tallying a single goal. Undeterred, we're happy to report Zuhlsdorf very quickly scored a goal in his freshman campaign with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and, with the floodgates fully open, now has two goals so far this season. While undersized, Zuhlsdorf is a silky smooth skater and puck distributor with a penchant for good decision-making and a good first pass out of the zone. We expect Zuhlsdorf to play at least three years in the NCAA before the Lightning have to make a decision on him, so there's plenty of time for development. At the moment, though, we envision Zuhlsdorf as a future #6/#7 puck moving defenseman in the mold of what the Lightning hope Nikita Nesterov can become.

24. C/W Ross Colton, Vermont (HEast) (24)
Acquired: 4th round, 2016
Season totals: 8 GP, 1-2-3, E, 4 PIM
As noted, the Lightning have a strong track record of drafting overage players, and they grabbed another one in the fourth round last June when they nabbed 20-year-old center Ross Colton out of Cedar Rapids in the USHL. Colton ripped up the USHL with 35 goals a season ago, which was good for second in what is regarded a fairly conservative league offensively. That production is indicative of decent skating, better than average hands, and good hockey sense in the offensive zone. Like most young players, he needs to get more consistent on the defensive end of the rink, but he's generally considered to be the type of player that should be able to play in all three phases of the game with Vermont down the road. Like Zuhlsdorf, the Lightning should get at least a solid three years to see how Colton develops. His ceiling is probably as a versatile NHL utility forward.

25. D Jake Dotchin, Syracuse (AHL) (Not ranked)
Acquired: 6th round, 2012
Season totals: 9 GP, 0-3-3, E, 27 PIM
Like his teammate Blujus, Jake Dotchin is entering a critical third pro season where he needs to start to put himself on the radar as a potential righty d-man callup to Tampa Bay. A rugged customer who is no stranger to dropping the gloves, Dotchin may have taken a slight step back in his sophomore pro campaign last year with Syracuse, but he's shown early signs of a bounce back this year. Now 22, the former sixth-rounder has improved his skating greatly from his junior days and his size and physicality are unquestioned. His own-zone positioning and decision-making when moving the puck will be the things that make or break his chance of going to the next level, though. If he does, he probably tops out as a physical #6/#7 defenseman who also gives the Lightning an added element as a responsible protector for their skill guys.

Dropped Out: 6-Nikita Gusev (overage), 13-Kristers Gudlevskis (overage), 15-Joel Vermin (overage), 22-Yanni Gourde (overage)

*Pete Choquette, Chad Schnarr, and Timothy Bennett contributed to this feature