Projecting Top-End Potential for Tampa Bay Lightning's Best Prospects
The Tampa Bay Lightning have no shortage of young, talented players in their organization. The system has produced talents like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Radko Gudas over the last few seasons. There is some serious potential for the prospects in the system currently as well.
Hockey Prospectus ranked the Lightning with the top organizational depth in the league back in September. The prospects haven’t disappointed this season, and many have made an impact at the NHL level.
In July, Bolts Prospects ranked the team’s best prospects in the system. Projecting a player’s future impact on the highest level is difficult, but the Lightning have plenty to choose from.
Excluding the prospects currently on the team, here is the top-end potential for the Bolts’ top five prospects.
5. Slater Koekkoek
Slater Koekkoek is currently in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires. He has 17 points in 19 games and is an impressive plus-17 in that span. A big defenseman, Koekkoek projects well at the NHL level.
He plays a game similar to young Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. He has a great shot and makes solid decisions coming out of the defensive end. Like Hedman, Koekkoek could also see some time at the point of a power play.
His solid offensive abilities can open some eyes, but he is a bit of a liability on the defensive end. Until he improves his defensive play, Koekkoek won’t see much time in the NHL, if any. However, quality time in juniors should help the young defenseman reach his potential sooner.
4. Vladislav Namestnikov
Vladislav Namestnikov could have been looked at to fill the roster spot vacated by the injured Steven Stamkos. They are both centers with good size, but Namestnikov adds a left-handed shot to the lineup.
He had 21 points in 44 games last season with the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch and has matched that total in 15 games this year. Namestnikov has every skill necessary to produce in the NHL. He has put on a few necessary pounds over the last few seasons and is listed just shy of 190 pounds.
Namestnikov just had his 13-game point streak snapped, but he has been consistent this year. If he maintains this consistency, he just might get his call-up this season. He has the potential to be a top-six forward when he becomes a full-time NHL player.
3. Nikita Kucherov
Nikita Kucherov could be called up sooner rather than later. If you don’t take my word for it, you might believe general manager Steve Yzerman. Yzerman told Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times:
"He's playing in all situations. He may get some time on the penalty kill. He's learning good habits. But if he continues on this path, he'll be up sooner rather than later."
Kucherov has 24 points in 15 games with Syracuse this year and is winning 50 percent of his faceoffs despite being a right wing. At 5’11”, he isn’t a huge body, but he has a powerful shot and great hockey sense.
He could be the replacement for Martin St. Louis in the next few seasons. That is, if he doesn’t replace a current winger like Ryan Malone.
2. Andrey Vasilevskiy
No. 1B Goaltender
Andrey Vasilevskiy is an exciting goaltender. A season ago, the Lightning looked like they had no choice but to wait for Vasilevskiy to join the big club. Thanks to an impressive start by Ben Bishop, his services aren’t necessary—yet.
He currently plays in the Kontinental Hockey League—one of the best leagues in the world. He has a 2.44 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 14 games this year. The 6’3” goaltender is off to a great start overseas.
Vasilevskiy has a lot of skill and poise—two crucial aspects the Lightning need in the crease. The young goaltender has this season left on his KHL contract before he can join the Lightning.
Vasilevskiy could be the goaltender that takes Anders Lindback’s place on the roster. That would make for another interesting No. 1A versus No. 1B competition in the blue paint.
1. Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin was the Lightning’s first-round selection in this year’s draft and could have earned a spot on the team out of training camp. Drouin was part of the last group of roster cuts, which sent him back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Halifax.
He has taken advantage of that opportunity. Drouin finished with 105 points last season, which earned him the first-round selection. He has upped his production so far this year with 39 points in 17 games.
Drouin has scored in 11 straight games, including seven straight multipoint games. He has 23 points in seven November games and has helped Halifax to a 19-8 record.
Drouin is a complete player that will make a significant impact in the NHL as soon as he is ready, presumably next season.