Written by Pete Choquette (@jollymeangiant)
The dog days of summer find us in a rare lull on the calendar here on Bolt Prospects between the ending of Lightning rookie camp and the start of annual prospect tournaments and training camp. What better opportunity to take the time to examine how the Lightning's 2014 draft class figures into our rankings? With that in mind, here's our 2013-2014 Supplemental Prospect Rankings, the final round of rankings before the 2014-2015 season.
The 2014 NHL Entry Draft offered a tremendous opportunity for the Tampa Bay Lightning to replenish a prospect system that has been depleted by the mass graduation of well over a half a dozen prospects that moved up from the AHL to NHL level last season. Some of the finest prospects in the land still held down the top spots in the rankings, but there was a considerable vacuum behind the top half dozen or so spots. With three picks in the coveted top-60 of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the team held three golden tickets to begin to restock and reload. The Lightning used those picks to select three defensemen, addressing the most obvious deficiency in their prospect pipeline. Will the needs-based approach to drafting pay off, or will the shift in philosophy this year backfire on the club? Time will tell.
Before we start with the rankings, it's time to once again review the rules of the rankings. Players under 24 years of age on opening night of the 2013-2014 NHL season were eligible for the rankings. Older prospects are considered overage prospects for the purposes of the website (sorry, J.P. Cote). Any skater prospect with 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games is considered graduated on the website. Any goaltender with 30 or more decisions in a single NHL season or 41 career NHL decisions is also considered graduated. Lastly, NCAA prospects are exempt from the 24 year-old cutoff for the duration of their college careers.
Got it? There will be a quiz later. With that out of the way, let's begin...
1.) LW/C Jonathan Drouin , Halifax (QMJHL) (Previously ranked: 1)
It's no surprise the top spot in our rankings still belongs to puck wizard Jonathan Drouin of Halifax, a prospect many consider to be the best skater prospect outside the NHL today. Drouin is the rare prospect that draws comparisons to past NHL royalty like Denis Savard and Gilbert Perrault, and the even rarer prospect who likely deserves those kind of lofty comparisons. His hockey sense, puck handling ability, and playmaking are other-worldly, and by sending Drouin back to junior for an extra year of seasoning, the team is getting back a more well-rounded player defensively to go along with his considerable offensive gifts. Drouin enters camp a serious contender to be the feature winger on Steven Stamkos ' top line and to win the Calder Trophy.
2.) G Andrei Vasilevskiy , Ufa (RUS) (2)
The official spelling of Andrei Vasilevskiy's name may have changed several times since the Lightning drafted him in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but one thing hasn't changed. Vasilevskiy, whether you include a "y" at the end or not, is universally heralded as the best Russian goaltending prospect to come along since Vladislav Tretiak. Vasilevskiy's tantalizing combination of size and athleticism is balanced by extremely mature positioning and mechanics, which led some scouting services to peg Vasilevskiy as the Russian Carey Price. Vasilevskiy led Ufa to the conference finals in his rookie season in the KHL with a bevy of sparkling highlight saves that directed the Lightning to sign the prospect netminder with a view toward beginning his North American pro career next season.
3.) D Slater Koekkoek , Windsor (OHL) (3)
It's really a shame that defenseman Slater Koekkoek suffered his third shoulder injury in three seasons after a milestone year for Windsor where he emerged as arguably the best all-around defender in the OHL. Koekkoek, when healthy, has all the tools of a top-4, minute eating, two-way defender. Coming in to the year, Koekkoek had the reputation of a big, mobile, raw defender with occasionally unrestrained offensive instincts that he displayed at the expense of his own third of the rink. This year, he started to put it all together with a career high 53 points in 62 games and an absolutely gaudy +44 rating for a good, but not great club. Koekkoek should be healthy by the time training camp rolls around and he appears to be ticketed for Syracuse of the AHL. With a little luck in the health department, it shouldn't be more than a season or two before he's holding down a roster spot with Tampa Bay in the NHL for years to come.
4.) C Vladislav Namestnikov , Syracuse (AHL) (4)
When he was selected in the first round in 2011, centerman Vladislav Namestnikov was widely recognized as a prospect that needed several years of seasoning to meet his potential. With three full seasons under his belt since he was selected, Namestnikov looks like he's just a year or two from fulfilling his promise. Namestnikov's game is a mix of speed, acceleration, world-class puck handling ability, and playmaking with just a dash of sandpaper. Namestnikov made his NHL debut this season in a couple cups of coffee with the Lightning that exposed Namestnikov's lack of physical maturity and refinement in the defensive end of the rink, but he's close to being ready for the show. In the meantime, Namestnikov will likely return to Syracuse of the AHL, where he should be one of the top forwards in the league.
5.) D Anthony DeAngelo , Sarnia (OHL) (2014 pick)
The top 2014 draftee in our rankings is controversial first round pick Anthony DeAngelo of Sarnia. Let's put aside DeAngelo's suspensions and rumors of his character issues in the locker room. Put them in the corner. On the ice, DeAngelo is an extremely gifted offensive defenseman who every bit deserves the comparisons to Dan Boyle. In the offensive third of the rink, he's the right-handed power play quarterback the Lightning have desperately needed since Kurtis Foster 's one year pit stop in Tampa Bay. In the defensive third, though, DeAngelo has as much maturation to do on the rink as he does off it. His -34 rating is absolutely stunning for a player who had 71 points in 51 games, revealing that DeAngelo simply wasn't good enough defensively at even strength last year. His positioning, strength, and attention to detail in that end of the rink are as concerning as any of the other red flags that have been floated, but if he can grow his game to overcome them, he could be a big-time point producer in the NHL on a team that has Steven Stamkos camped out in the left wing circle waiting for one-timers with the man-advantage.
6.) RW Adam Erne , Quebec (QMJHL) (5)
How about a change of pace? In an organization well-stocked with shifty play-making magicians like Drouin and Namestnikov, fans of north-south hockey have a champion in power forward Adam Erne. The Connecticut native produced this season with 62 points in 48 despite injury issues that continued into the offseason. Erne’s wrist problem led to him being held out of rookie camp and eventually going under the knife. That's the life of a rough and tumble winger who plays larger than his 6'1", 206 lbs frame. Erne's got amazing burst and acceleration and fearlessly goes to the high traffic areas to score goals in tight with underrated skill. It's not at all difficult to imagine Erne becoming a big-time NHL goal scorer as the perfect compliment to all the other top-notch prospects in the team's system.
7.) G Kristers Gudlevskis , Tampa Bay (NHL) (6)
It's an embarrassment of riches that the second best goaltending prospect in the Lightning organization is a player the caliber of Kristers Gudlevskis. Lightning fans got their first taste of Gudlevskis in the playoffs against Montreal to cap a magical year that saw the Latvian netminder make the unprecedented leap from ECHL to AHL to Olympics to the NHL. The cornerstone to Gudlevskis' game? Athleticism. There are few goaltending prospects that boast the quickness that Gudlevskis has, and even fewer that do so at 6'4" tall. He does occasionally let that athleticism lead him to stray from his angles, but when Gudlevskis plays under control, he looks every bit a future NHL starting goaltender.
8.) D Dominik Masin , Slavia Praha Jr. (CZE Jr.) (2014 pick)
Welcome to the Masin, Lightning fans. Czech defenseman Dominik Masin (pronounced "machine") comes into the organization at the opposite pole from Anthony DeAngelo. Masin's defensive game, and particularly his gap control, shows a level of maturity and polish beyond his 18 years of age. He is big, strong, and mobile and understands positioning and how to pin and seal opposing forwards. So, at a minimum, the Lightning look like they should have a nice stay-at-home defenseman to mix in with the likes of Koekkoek and DeAngelo. Don't sleep on Masin's offensive potential, though. Not unlike Bolt Prospects alumni Radko Gudas , Masin shows surprising ability to lug the puck with confidence, and he'll get a chance to grow his offensive chops next season with Peterborough of the OHL.
9.) C Cedric Paquette , Tampa Bay (NHL) (8)
The prospect we affectionately dubbed Dump Truck got a trial-by-fire last year in the playoffs against Montreal. Called up to add a dimension of physicality and grit to the Lightning, Paquette appeared in all four games of the series against the Canadiens and he didn't appear completely out of place. Paquette's work ethic and physicality blend with underrated, soft hands in tight and above average acumen in the faceoff circles to deliver a player that looks every bit a solid checking line NHL player. His skating still needs work and the Montreal series showed Paquette needs to continue to develop the defensive side of his game, but there's little doubt that Paquette is a serious contender to make the team out of camp this Fall.
10.) C/LW Matthew Peca , Quinnipiac (ECAC) (7)
Playing in the less ballyhooed ECAC, Matthew Peca doesn't get the same ink some of the other prospects in the Lightning organization get. But, he's absolutely worthy of attention and notice. Coming off a sophomore campaign where he was one of the stars of the NCAA hockey tournament, Peca's encore was to put up 38 points in 40 games as he continued to help anchor one of the most explosive teams in college hockey. Ask any defenseman in the ECAC, Peca's terrifying off the rush. His speed and skill make him a lethal weapon coming through the neutral zone, and his work ethic and grit allow him to handle the trench warfare that sometimes breaks out in the offensive third of the ice. We fully expect Peca to make a serious run at the Hobey Baker in his upcoming senior season.
11.) C Brayden Point , Moose Jaw (WHL) (2014 pick)
One of the real steals of the 2014 draft may have been third rounder Brayden Point out of Moose Jaw. Point had an amazing 91 points in 72 games last season, made all the more amazing by the fact there are morgues that show more life than many of Point's linemates did last season. Possessing well above average puck handling ability and a knack for finishing, Point is the rare player who can make his own chances and pot them, to boot. He's not without warts, though. An old hockey man once warned us at Bolt Prospects to be careful when considering the best player on a bad team. While playing for a dreadful squad in Moose Jaw, it's not a stretch to say Point's picked up a few bad habits, particularly on the defensive side of the puck. If he fleshes out his game and becomes a better all around player, there are teams that absolutely will be kicking themselves for passing on such a dynamic player.
12.) LW Jonathan Marchessault , Syracuse (AHL) (9)
Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, 23-year-old Jonathan Marchessault fits a mold the Lightning have used to success several times over the past few seasons. The diminutive scoring winger has dominated in the AHL, putting up 20 goal seasons in each of his first three years of professional hockey. He'll be counted on to play a huge role for Syracuse of the AHL this season, and might well be a decent darkhorse pick to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Cory Conacher  and Tyler Johnson , who emerged out of the Lightning minor league system.
13.) G Adam Wilcox , Minnesota (BIG10) (11)
Ninety-nine percent of the time depth is a good thing. Adam Wilcox may be the other 1%. Wilcox has put up hefty numbers in his first two seasons of college hockey, putting together a pair of years with GAA's under 2.00 for the Golden Gophers. Wilcox is solid positionally and has excellent poise, work ethic and battle level, which have made him an almost impossible riddle to solve in tight at the college level. Still, Wilcox's camp may be able to see the writing on the wall. With taller and more athletic options like Vasilevskiy and Gudlevskis ahead of him on the depth chart, Wilcox may ultimately choose to escape through a CBA loophole and become a free agent rather than wait his turn with the Lightning.
14.) C Cody Kunyk , Tampa Bay (NHL) (10)
Late season free agent signee Cody Kunyk out of Alaska-Fairbanks of the WCHA adds even more depth for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL and the Lightning organization. As a part of the terms of his signing, Kunyk stayed up with the Lightning for the end of the season and practiced with the team. He's not quite as dynamic a skater or finisher as some of the other smallish forwards in the Lightning organization like Peca or Marchessault. He brings a little more sandpaper, though, and better defensive awareness in a package that looks like it could develop quickly into a nice, versatile lower-line pickup for the team.
15.) LW Henri Ikonen , Kingston (OHL) (12)
When the Lightning take an overage prospect in the draft, they have a nasty habit of striking gold. They did so with Calder finalist Ondrej Palat , they appear to have done so with Cedric Paquette and Kristers Gudlevskis, and the next in that lineage may well be Henri Ikonen out of Kingston. Ikonen finished second on the Frontenacs last year with 70 points in 54 games, second behind only fourth overall pick Sam Bennett. Ikonen's a well-rounded prospect who plays an honest north-south game in all three zones with speed and skill. He'll be one to watch next season for Syracuse in the AHL.
16.) D Dylan Blujus , North Bay (OHL) (13)
Ex-2012 second rounder Dylan Blujus' numbers may never jump off the page at you. He had a respectable 30 points in 55 games last season, likely his last in junior hockey, en route to signing an entry-level deal with the Lightning. And while Blujus looks like he may not reach his full promise as a two-way defender like the Lightning hoped when they selected him with a top-60 pick, there's still a lot to like. At a near-prototypical 6'3" and over 200 pounds, Blujus is mobile and can lug a lot of minutes. He's been a top-two pair defenseman for the Battalion each of the past three seasons and has become a player who can be depended on in key defensive situations. So, even if we have to downgrade our projection of Blujus to a stay-at-home type of defender as a pro, he's still a prospect who can contribute greatly, starting with Syracuse in the AHL next season.
17.) LW Yanni Gourde , Syracuse (AHL) (16)
Much like Marchessault, all diminutive forward Yanni Gourde has done throughout his career is put up points. A lot of points. In his final season of junior hockey with Victoriaville, Gourde had 124 points in 68 games. However, because of his lack of size, Gourde went undrafted and bounced around the ECHL and AHL before finding a more permanent home in the Lightning organization as a free agent late last season. Gourde will be counted on to provide scoring depth in the Syracuse lineup and will be looking to ride the same Conacher/Johnson track to the NHL.
18.) RW Brian Hart , Harvard (ECAC) (14)
It's been a little while coming, but power forward Brian Hart may be showing some signs of a breakout heading into his junior season with Harvard of the ECAC. The big winger with a heavy, heavy shot put up modest numbers as an underclassman, partially due to his underwhelming first-step acceleration. But, after an above-average rookie camp, we have some optimism that the former 2012 second rounder may be starting to put it all together. In his draft season, Hart drew comparisons to former NHLer Bill Guerin, and at 6'3" and over 210 lbs., he adds a dimension of size along the wing the Lightning don't have a lot of in the organization. Keep an eye on the Hitman.
19.) C Tanner Richard , Syracuse (AHL) (17)
Last season was one of hard lessons for Tanner Richard. As a rookie pro, Richard got a bit of a splash of the cold water of reality at a level of hockey that demands consistency in approach and work ethic day in and day out. If he took it to heart, Richard might be a good candidate to have a big rebound season with Syracuse in the AHL next year. He's got good speed and excellent playmaking ability, the latter of which made him an assists-generating machine for Guelph in the OHL in his junior hockey days and helped him to draw comparisons to current Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula . Unlike Filppula, though, Richard has some sandpaper to his game, too, as evidenced by his 95 penalty minutes in his inaugural pro year. If he brings his A-game to the rink every night, he's still got the potential to develop into a solid, contributing third line NHL player.
20.) D Luke Witkowski , Syracuse (AHL) (15)
Bolt Prospects favorite Luke Witkowski took his lumps as a rookie pro early last season, and came out at the end of the year looking the better for it. Thrust into an expanded role due to injuries and recalls, Witkowski was a respectable -1 for the Crunch, under the circumstances, and showed he's no shrinking violet with a team high 204 minutes in the sin bin. He's a reasonably mobile, reasonably solid stay-at-home defender with a good degree of grit and leadership intangibles. Mix that all together and you have a player we can see projecting into a nice third pair defender at the next level if he continues on his current development track.
21.) D Johnathan MacLeod , USNTDP (2014 pick)
Rounding out their slate of three top-60 selections in the 2014 draft, the Lightning took project defender Johnathan MacLeod of the USNTDP. MacLeod has good size, strength, and mobility, although he likely does need work on his first step and agility. Many project MacLeod's potential to be capped at that of a rugged, stay-at-home, bottom pair defender, but the Lightning hope he can grow into more of a two-way contributor as he moves to Boston University of Hockey East next season. The Lightning will likely give him three or four years to develop in college and see what they've got at the end.
22.) C Brendan O'Donnell , North Dakota (WCHA) (Not ranked)
The real riser of rookie camp may have been center Brendan O'Donnell of North Dakota. O'Donnell was a big scorer coming out of the MJHL and BCHL before latching on with the former Fighting Sioux where he put up modest numbers as an underclassman before finishing the year on the North Dakota’s top-2 lines. Now headed into his junior season, we'll look to see if his rookie camp performance were a case of succeeding against younger, less physically mature prospects, or if it's foreshadowing of a breakout campaign.
23.) D Nikita Nesterov , Syracuse (AHL) (18)
Like Witkowski, Nikita Nesterov took his fair share of hard knocks in his rookie campaign, although we're less certain how well he came out the other side. Facing bigger, stronger competition, the undersized Nesterov was nicked up throughout the season and ended up playing 54 games for Syracuse where he had a fairly respectable -2, under the circumstances. Nesterov's claim to fame is his ability to quarterback the power play, but we have our concerns about his skating and his lack of upper body strength. Indeed, we sometimes wonder if Nikita Nesterov is Russian for Mark Barberio  – but without the offensive production. We'll let you draw your own conclusions if that's a good or bad thing.
24.) D Jake Dotchin , Barrie (OHL) (19)
In a do or die season, former 2012 6th round pick Jake Dotchin did everything he needed to do to earn his entry-level contract from the Lightning. The blueliner put up a career-high 36 points in 63 games to go along with 121 penalty minutes. The biggest question mark earlier in Dotchin's career was his skating, and although it hasn't been completely rectified, there's little doubt it's greatly improved. We don't necessarily see much of an offensive game for Dotchin translating at the next level, but we do see a rugged defender who might be a big, strong, bottom pair stay-at-homer. He could join Syracuse of the AHL next season or start with ECHL Florida.
25.) D Ben Thomas , Calgary (WHL) (2014 pick)
Closing out our top-25 is 2014 4th rounder Ben Thomas, a player who failed to completely live up to expectations this season. Playing opposite draft riser Travis Sanheim in Calgary, the offensive-minded Thomas put up more pedestrian offensive numbers than had been expected. Thomas on top of his game is aggressive on the rush and loves to jump into the play. He's also got a strong upper body, a heavy shot, and a good work ethic that, altogether, has helped earn him comparisons to Cody Franson. The big red flag? Thomas' backward skating and lateral agility have universally been panned, which is rather serious stuff for a defenseman. If he can correct those deficiencies, though, he could be a top-60 caliber talent who the Lightning stole at the nadir of his draft value.
Contributors: Pete Choquette, Chad Schnarr, Timothy Bennett, Mike Gallimore