The Lightning experienced an overwhelming amount of injuries over the course of the 2016-17 season leading to their first playoff miss since 2013. The injury plagued season allowed the Lightning to closely examine several of their ripening prospects, as well as potentially earn some leverage in negotiations with key RFA’s Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, both of which have now been signed to extensions.
The largest impact to the Lightning system was felt on June 15, when Steve Yzerman sent RFA, Jonathan Drouin to Montreal for right-handed defense prospect, Mikhail Sergachev. The trade introduced some unrealized cap relief to the Lightning, as well as opening up a slot in the Lightning top-9. That hole could potentially be filled by UFA addition, Chris Kunitz, leaving other depth roles available for graduating prospects. The blue-line for the Lightning is quickly becoming more crowded with the acquisition of Sergachev, not to mention the emergence of Jake Dotchin, and the slow development of Slater Koekkoek.
TOP 10 RANKINGS (*Prospects based on relevance in a fantasy-hockey keeper league, not actual talent on the ice)
A mainstay in the Lightning top-9 throughout his rookie campaign, Point may have experienced one of the most positive impacts of the Lightning’s injury riddled season (if not, a close second to Dotchin). He shot slightly above average (14.8%) over the course of the year, and could see a decrease in opportunity with a healthy roster, but long term, Point has great offensive value.
Coming off a successful season in Windsor where he played an enormous role in the Spitfires Memorial Cup Championship, Sergachev will have an eye on locking up a permanent role with the Lightning this fall. With the depth the Lightning hold on the blue-line it won’t be easy but Sergachev has the potential to be used as an offensive weapon, something seen almost exclusively in Victor Hedman.
Howden could be seen by some as a dark horse to crack the Lightning roster this fall, but more than likely will return to Moose Jaw for another year of major junior. The Warriors captain joined the Syracuse Crunch for eight games after wrapping up his junior season, sliding seamlessly into their lineup by scoring three goals and tallying 3 assists. He’s got a capable floor to become a fantasy producer, and a ceiling that could see him lining up in the Lightning top-6 within two years.
When Cirelli was selected with the 72nd pick of the 2015 draft, Al Murray was primarily looking at his high aptitude for making responsible plays in all areas of the ice. Over the course of the past two seasons in the OHL, Cirelli has maintained that aptitude, which seems to be deeply engrained in his style of play, while also developing a more creative and effective offensive game. He’ll play with the Crunch this season, but with Lightning injuries, could be on a fast-track to the NHL.
While the timeline for Foote’s arrival to the NHL will likely be extended past some prospects further down the rankings, the responsible rearguard already displays many of the qualities of an NHL defender. Foote thinks the game in a way far beyond his years, and as such, dominates breakouts and transitions to the offensive zone. While his skating mechanics are moderately mediocre, Foote is able to anticipate the play in junior sufficient to compensate for his weakness. Training and development should turn Foote into the player that the Lightning were hoping for when they made their first round selection in 2012… but more on that later.