Projecting the Best Tampa Bay Lightning at Each Position in 5 Years
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a ton of organizational depth and the potential for an impressive lineup in the next few years. In the next five seasons, there are some players that will be playing big roles for the Bolts.
Five years ago, the Lightning drafted an 18-year-old kid from the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League. Though the potential was there, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy twice in five years is a bit extreme. That player was, of course, Steven Stamkos.
The franchise has dominated the American Hockey League in recent seasons, reaching the Calder Cup Finals in each of the last two seasons—including a championship two years ago. With young talented players like Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Andrey Vasilevskiy in the system, the Bolts should be in good shape.
As careers progress and players develop, they have the opportunity to become big names. These are the players that should be the best at their position in five years for the Lightning.
Steven Stamkos is already one of the better centers in the game. Last year, he led all centers with 57 points. The year before he led the league with a 60-goal season.
Stamkos is far and away the best center on the Lightning and there is little reason to believe he won't maintain that high level—even after his surgery and recovery. In five years, he will be 28 years old and have over a decade of experience in the NHL.
He has hit the 90-point mark in his last three full seasons and broke the 50-goal mark twice in his career. He is the heir apparent for the captaincy once Martin St. Louis, retires and he will be the Lightning's best center in five years.
Though he is officially listed on the Lightning's roster as a center, Alex Killorn is a versatile forward that is also comfortable on the left wing. He has played wing early in the 2013-14 season outside of centers Valtteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos from time to time.
Killorn beats out players like Jonathan Drouin—this year's first-round selection—and Ondrej Palat to take the top projected spot. He has been a complete player for the Bolts this season. At 6'2" and 205 pounds, Killorn has an NHL frame and NHL skill.
He was part of the Calder Cup Championship with Norfolk and has put up 16 points in 24 games so far this season. Killorn is an impressive plus-five and projects to be a top-line forward for years to come.
Nikita Kucherov was successful in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2012 and continued that success to the World Junior Championships for Team Russia. Kucherov joined the Bolts' AHL affiliate this season and put up 24 points in 17 games before his call up to the Lightning.
In his first game, the Bolts made quick work of the Rangers, but Kucherov scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot. He finished plus-two and has shown impressive poise in all situations. The sample size is small, but he could be the next in line for St. Louis's top spot.
Kucherov beats out Richard Panik and Brett Connolly for the top spot in the future.
Victor Hedman has been an exciting talent to watch develop over the last few seasons. The second overall selection in 2009, Hedman has improved every season. He had 20 points in 44 games last season and already has 12 points in 20 games this year.
Hedman has an impressive offensive ability and has improved coming out of the defensive end. He is second on the team in time on ice with 21:34. Those aren't crazy Ryan Suter-like numbers, but they are impressive with the Bolts' seven-defensemen system.
In five years, Hedman will be 27 and in his 10th NHL season. Matt Carle could be on his way out or on the decline and with durability issues from top prospects like Slater Koekkoek, Hedman should be the anchor of the defense for years to come.
Ben Bishop has had an impressive start to his first season as a full-time No. 1 goaltender. He has 14 wins and is second in the league in that category. Bishop has already played in more games this season than in any of his first five seasons.
Maintaining a realistic approach, Bishop won't perform at a 14-3-1 clip consistently for the rest of his career, but even remotely similar numbers would be great for a Lightning franchise that has struggled to find a consistent goaltending presence.
Andrey Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis won't make things easy on the current Lightning goaltender, but Bishop should be the best goaltender for the Lightning in five years.