Tyler Johnson was part of the last wave of prospects to break out on the highest level.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have one of the best prospect pools in the league and a few of them compare well to current NHL players. The Lightning have managed to put together a solid prospect system thanks to some quality drafting and, if they manage to avoid hurting each other in the minors, could be a solid team for years to come.
Tampa Bay has shown the league just how important NHL-ready talent and depth in the system can be. The Lightning’s laundry list of injuries has forced nine different rookies to get significant minutes in the NHL this year.
The top of the prospect class has some interesting NHL comparables. Based on size, skill and upside, here are the NHL comparables for the top Lightning prospects.
Adam Erne's physical game could win him over in a locker room, but it probably won't win him many Lady Byng Trophies.
Adam Erne was the second-round selection for the Bolts last season. He brings a great combination of physicality (usually within the rules) and skill. He truly is a pest for everyone on the ice—goaltenders, defensemen and, occasionally, forwards.
At 6’ and 200 pounds, Erne has a solid NHL frame already. Adding his persona and skill to the considerations, Erne’s NHL comparable would be a player like Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers. Callahan is notorious for his gritty, annoying play. But, I’d bet that players would rather play alongside Callahan—and Erne—than against him.
Slater Koekkoek could be a great second-pair defenseman for the Lightning.
Slater Koekkoek is the top-rated defensive prospect for the Bolts. He is 6’2” and 190 pounds with great hockey sense. With great all-around skill, his only real hot button is his health and longevity.
Koekkoek would compare well with Chicago’s Johnny Oduya. He could be a great second-pair defenseman and play in all situations. He can chew up a lot of minutes, but won’t be lighting up any aspect of the scoresheet. Every team needs a couple of these defensemen though.
Namestnikov compares well to a current Lightning player. One that has done great things in little time.
Vladislav Namestnikov is AHL Syracuse’s leading scorer with Nikita Kucherov up with the big club. Namestnikov is 6’ and around 170 pounds with good skating ability. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he plays a solid two-way game.
Considering he is still adjusting to the North American game, Namestnikov could project to be a player like current Lightning Valtteri Filppula. Both play a solid two-way game and are good in the faceoff circle. They are opportunistic on offense and usually play with great energy.
Not a big defenseman, Nesterov could eat up some big minutes.
Nikita Nesterov was a fifth-round pick in 2011 and has a physical edge to his game. He isn’t a great skater, but has a good point shot and works hard. Nesterov is a bit undersized for a defenseman at 5’11”, but that doesn’t mean he should be overlooked.
Nesterov would play a comparable game to the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Niskanen. They have both shown offensive prowess at times and can play in all situations, but can also be a little inconsistent. Much like Koekkoek’s role, Nesterov should be a solid depth defenseman in the future.
Jonathan Drouin's great upside projects well to the NHL.
Jonathan Drouin is the Lightning’s top-rated prospect and has torn up the QMJHL again this season. He isn’t a huge body, but isn’t necessarily undersized at 5’11”. He has great strength and amazing puck skills, but can distribute as well. He is the hockey equivalent of a five-tool player.
Given his skill and upside, he would be comparable to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane. Kane is also 5’11” and has the left-hand shot on the wing. They are both ridiculously skilled and can make defensemen and goaltenders look silly with ease.