Jonathan Drouin headlines the top-rated prospect system in the NHL.
When Hockey Prospectus ranked the Tampa Bay Lightning as the best prospect system in the NHL, there was an increased sense of excitement for the future. The Bolts have some talented prospects—each with some very exciting aspects of their game.
The Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate has been to the Calder Cup Finals in each of the past two seasons—with a championship in 2011-12. With former AHL coach Jon Cooper behind the bench for his first full season in 2013-14, the Lightning should have no shortage of young prospects earning playing time.
With all of the talent in the system, here is the most exciting aspect to the top-rated prospect at each position.
The most exciting part of the Lightning’s newest big addition—Jonathan Drouin—is his hands. Drouin is filthy with the puck on his stick. He put on a clinic at Tampa Bay’s prospect camp in a must-see performance.
He also has the numbers to back up his case. With Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Drouin had 105 points in 49 games. He is a dynamic player who just seems to slow the game down around him.
When he earns his spot in the NHL, fans need to keep an eye on the slick hands that will be feeding Steven Stamkos for the next few years.
Vladislav Namestnikov has great speed that can put pressure on defenses and open up a lot of ice. When healthy, he is great on his skates and can push by defensemen in a hurry. That speed will fit perfectly into an already-fast Lightning lineup.
Namestnikov dominated the Ontario Hockey League with 30 goals and 38 assists in his first season with the London Knights and 71 points in 63 games the following season. The 20-year-old center had 28 points in 62 games with Syracuse last season.
His speed should keep a fan’s eyes busy.
Nikita Kucherov is an offensive powerhouse thanks to a solid one-timer and wrist shot. Imagine a power play with Stamkos on one side and Kucherov on another. Kucherov has average size at 6’0"; he is a game changer on offense.
Kucherov played in Russia’s MHL for the past few seasons. Most recently, he played for CSKA-Red Army and recorded 43 points in 23 games, including 24 goals. He was drafted by the Quebec Remparts in the CHL draft in 2012 but is looking to make a mark in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Fans need to keep an eye on this young star’s shot. Anyone who likes offense should like what they see.
Mark Barberio had a breakout season with AHL Syracuse last season, leading all defensemen in points with 61. Barberio is a stud controlling the puck in the offensive end and was a mainstay on the point of the Crunch’s power play last season.
He shows a lot of poise and composure in the offensive end. He possesses a solid shot and puck control skills that will impress any Lightning fan who wants to get some production from the blue line.
Goaltenders get a lot of credit for size and agility, but Andrey Vasilevskiy is a fundamentally sound goaltender who should excite Lightning fans—especially due to the recent goaltending woes. At 19, his 6’3” and 204-pound frame should be enough to make fans excited, but adding a technical aspect to the game is even better.
Vasilevskiy had success in Russia’s KHL last season appearing in eight games for Salavat Yuleav Ufa. He went 4-1-0 with a 2.22 goals-against average and a shutout.
Being squared up to shooters and taking away the first shot is crucial in the Lightning’s system. The hope is that he develops into the goaltender of the future.