Alex Killorn is one of this year's wave of young talent. Who will be next for the Lightning?
The Tampa Bay Lightning have returned to respectability thanks to a strong wave of young talent, but the organization’s depth doesn’t stop there. The Bolts still have another group of prospects that could be ready for the NHL in the next few seasons.
With current young players like Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson all performing at high levels, Tampa Bay shouldn’t need another wave of talent—but they have one. Coach Jon Cooper has used lineups that include the “Kid Line” of Johnson, Palat and Panik against some of the league’s toughest opposition.
Tampa Bay currently sits in third in the Eastern Conference, thanks in large part to their youth movement. Based on projections and current success in their respective leagues, here are the next five Lightning prospects that will make it to the NHL.
Vladislav Namestnikov could be the next forward called up from the AHL to the big club this season.
Vladislav Namestnikov could be the next forward up if the Lightning continue to be bitten by injury. He is the second-rated forward for the Bolts that hasn’t already made an NHL debut. He trails only Jonathan Drouin.
Currently with Syracuse in the American Hockey League, he has 21 points in 16 games and just ended a 13-game point streak. With Nikita Kucherov now in the NHL, Namestnikov is the team’s leading scorer averaging 1.31 points per game.
A physical presence, Nikita Nesterov could make his way to the Lightning if they run into more injury issues.
Nikita Nesterov is by all means the next-man up on the blue line for the Lightning. Dmitry Korobov already made his NHL debut this season, so Nesterov takes over as the next likely d-man to get the call up.
Nesterov was a fifth-round pick in 2011 and has a physical edge to his game. He isn’t a great skater, which could limit his time in the NHL given the speed of the league.
Almost Radko Gudas-like, Nesterov is only 5’11” but has a solid presence on the ice. Opponents need to know where he is on the ice at all times to avoid big hits.
He has eight points in 16 games for Syracuse this season, but he is an injury or two away from a call up this season.
Jonathan Drouin is tearing up the QMJHL in anticipation of his NHL debut.
Can Lightning prospects be mentioned without bringing up Jonathan Drouin? Drouin was the Lightning’s first-round selection this past season and was one of the last cuts out of training camp this season.
After Steven Stamkos’ injury left the Lightning in a pinch, eyes could have turned to Drouin to fill the role. Currently, he is still playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for Halifax. And, he is tearing up the league again.
Probably biased general manager Cam Russell told CTV: “In the last month, he’s easily been the best player in the CHL. He gives us a chance to win every single game he plays.”
Slater Koekkoek may be one of a few Lightning prospects that will benefit from the team's age.
Slater Koekkoek is the top-rated defensive prospect for the Bolts. With his improving durability, Koekkoek could be another dangerous offensive weapon for the Lightning. He is 6’2”, 190 pounds with great hockey sense.
He is one of the Lightning’s more complete prospects, but his health has always been a concern. This season, he has 23 points in 26 games for Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League. The Canadian d-man is a more impressive plus-27 in that span.
With a few members of the Lightning’s blue line aging, Koekkoek could be another big part of the Bolts next season.
Adam Erne burst onto the scene with an impressive Team USA camp, but he might be an NHLer soon enough.
Not to be outdone, Adam Erne is holding his own with the Quebec Ramparts in the QMJHL. Erne has 35 points in 26 games for the Ramparts On Dec. 6, Erne and Jonathan Drouin will go head-to-head as Quebec heads to Halifax.
Erne has scored in practically every game this season. While he wasn’t a part of the last wave of cuts this season, the second-round pick of 2013 will be a part of the NHL club soon enough.
His situation is similar to Drouin’s with QMJHL eligibility rules that make his recall difficult midseason, but give him another training camp, and he might be a part of the big club.