North American Juniors Preview
For the second year in a row, the Lightning won’t have any drafted prospects in the Western Hockey League. This is odd, considering the physical WHL is regarded as one of, if not the best junior league for developing NHL talent. While Guy Boucher may favor the QMJHL and Steve Yzerman the OHL, the Lightning’s Head Scout, Al Murray, is based in Saskatchewan – WHL territory. Also, for the first time in a while, the club doesn't have a prospect in the United States Hockey League.
The Bolts have seven prospects in Canadian juniors this season:
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
W Nikita Kucherov , Quebec
Acquired: 2011 second round pick
BP Rank: 13
Kucherov, who is rehabbing a shoulder injury, goes from Russia to the most wide-open junior league in Canada. Look out. With the talent Patrick Roy has on his Remparts roster, Kucherov could top 100 points easily if he gets on the ice early in the season. It’s possible he could miss the first month or two of the year. Quebec is only allowed two import players, but they currently have three. When Kucherov comes off the I.R. things will get interesting, but expect Kucherov to stay in Quebec City. He’s a lethal offensive weapon in the mold of Pavel Bure (not as fast as the Russian Rocket, however). The Lightning are no doubt hoping Roy helps develop Kucherov’s two-way game. Kucherov, who signed a contract with the Lightning this month, will likely be representing Russia at the upcoming World Junior Championships. He was a member of the Russian side last WJCs. In his last two years in Russian juniors, Kucherov has 101 points in 64 games. He averaged more than a goal per game last year for CSKA's junior squad (23, 24-29-43).
C Cedric Paquette , Blainville-Boisbriand
Acquired: 2012 fourth round pick
BP Rank: Not ranked
A late bloomer who was passed over in the 2011 draft, Paquette had 31 goals as a rookie last year for the Armada. He added seven goals and 17 points in 11 playoff games. He was a high-reward risk for the Lightning in the fourth round. He could top 40 goals for the second-year club this year. If he can improve his skating, he has a good chance of earning an NHL contract at season’s end.
D Artem Sergeev , Val-d’Or
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in July
Sergeev played for the Russian World Junior Championship side last Christmas, providing quality two-way play from the blueline. He had 20 points in 46 games last year for Val-d’Or, but has the ability to hit 40-45 points this year if he stays healthy. He had 27 points in 64 games as a first-year player. Sergeev has an NHL contract in hand, so his immediate future is mapped out for him.
Ontario Hockey League
D Dylan Blujus , Brampton
Acquired: 2012 second round pick
BP Rank: 18
Blujus is what Lightning prospect followers have been clamoring for the past few years – a mobile, right-handed, offensive defenseman. Blujus had 34 points for a good Brampton club last year in 66 games. As a third-year player he should be able to hit 40-45 points if things go as planned.
D Jake Dotchin , Owen Sound
Acquired: 2012 sixth round pick
BP Rank: Not ranked
Dotchin has excellent size at 6’3”, 222, and while he was primarily known as a physical stay-at-home defenseman early for Owen Sound, his offensive game is underrated and developing. He had two assists in Owen Sound’s season opening win against Windsor.
D Slater Koekkoek , Peterborough
Acquired: 2012 first round pick
BP Rank: 2
No Lightning prospect will be watched closer this year than Slater Koekkoek (pictured/Eric DuBose photo). He has elite-level talent, but due to an injury last November was not able to stay with the ranked with the top defensemen by the media and scouting services prior to last summer’s draft. That didn’t matter as he was taken with the 10th overall pick by the Lightning. It’s a good reminder to 1) Take rankings with a grain of salt and 2) Remember that team’s don’t draft for just the following season. Koekkoek has high-end ability at both ends of the ice and projects as a top-pair defenseman down the road. He was named captain of the Petes prior to their first preseason game, but Koekkoek ended up getting injured in the contest. He started Peterborough’s season-opening loss to Oshawa, so he’s healthy again. If he can stay on the ice, look out. We’d like to see him work his way onto Canada’s WJC selection camp roster in December.
C/W Tanner Richard , Guelph
Acquired: 2012 third round pick
BP Rank: 19
Like Paquette, Richard was passed over in the 2011 draft. He moved from Switzerland to Canadian juniors to give himself a better shot at getting drafted and it worked as planned. Richard can score, set-up teammates, play a checking role – whatever is needed. He was hurt for a good part of last season, but still managed 48 points in 45 games. If he stays healthy, he could lead the Storm in scoring this year. He’ll likely be representing Switzerland again at the upcoming World Junior Championships.
Note: Bolt Prospects will have daily game night updates for North American junior prospects throughout the season. We’ll release an NCAA prospect preview as the collegiate season gets closer.