31-in-31: Tampa Bay Lightning
Welcome to our annual 31-in-31 Summer Series here at DobberProspects! Every day in July we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s draft, notes from their development camp, and insights into their off-season moves so far. Following this up, the August 31-in-31 Series will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check in often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all summer long!
The Lightning owned seven picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, with only one pick in the first two rounds for newly appointed GM Julien Brisebois. Despite a lack of high-end picks, Tampa Bay added value to their prospect pool in the form of mobile blueliners and intriguing projects along the wing, as well as an addition in goal with their extra 3rd Round pick acquired from Vancouver.
Round 1, 27th Overall: Nolan Foote, LW
With the 27th Overall Pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, the Lightning called the name of Nolan Foote, a 6’3” power winger with familial ties to both the Lightning organization and the NHL as a whole. The son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote and brother of current Bolts prospect Cal Foote, Nolan was touted as either a late First Round or early Second Round selection for the 2019 Draft, which is precisely where the Lightning stepped up to select the Canadian winger.
Proponents of Nolan’s game typically cite three things: size, hands, and a heavy shot. Nolan is a big bodied forward that stands at an imposing 6’3”, with room to fill out his frame and add strength as he currently weighs approximately 190 lbs. His size allows him the ability to be a nightmare down low for his opposition, as he can play the net mouth with ease and take goaltenders eyes away while also not being intimidated by large opposing defenders. For a big man, Nolan’s hands are quite good; he can stick handle in tight and quickly change angles on goaltenders before releasing his heavy shot, which can beat netminders from distance in addition to in close. Nolan plays with the mind of a goal scorer, which will be the calling card of his offensive game at the pro level. He reads the play well and can get himself into position to make himself available for teammates or drive the net to finish off opportunities. For all the reasons listed above, he projects as a player that can play on an NHL team’s first powerplay unit, as his ability to score in tight and play a dangerous net mouth game will be valuable for a team looking to add scoring punch to their powerplay.
In an interview on the draft floor following his selection by the Lightning, Nolan was asked to describe his game, to which he responded, “I model my game after Mark Scheifele. I say Mark Scheifele because he’s really good at finding holes, his hockey IQ is really high, he’s got a great shot; whenever his linemates have the puck, he knows where to be.”
YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RgaroI5Uzo
Nolan Foote skeptics often cite his skating ability as a major flaw in his game. Nolan can often move around the ice with enough ease to make himself available to linemates off the rush, however, no one will ever mistake him for a burner. His first step acceleration at times can be sluggish and you won’t often find him beating defensemen to the outside, which can inhibit his ability to be a dynamic game-breaker at times. Adding an extra gear to his skating ability will be the biggest hurdle for Nolan to overcome when making the jump to the next level, as it may make or break his ability to adjust to the quicker pace of professional hockey. Another criticism of his game is what seems to be a lack of high-end playmaking ability. Nolan has always been more of a finisher than a set-up man, which can be seen in his total of 36 goals and 27 assists in 66 games for the Kelowna Rockets this season in the WHL. Some scouts find his passing ability and offensive zone vision to be just about average, however, I find this criticism to be largely a non-issue as you are ideally drafting Nolan to be a future trigger man.
Nolan will head back to the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL for the 2019-2020 season, and, barring a spike in development, is likely 2-3 years away from cracking Tampa Bay’s pro roster.
Round 3, 71st Overall: Hugo Alnefelt, G
Tampa Bay took their first and only goaltender in the 2019 Draft with their selection of Hugo Alnefelt, a spiritual successor to Connor Ingram after he was dealt to the Nashville Predators on June 14th. Alnefelt is a Swedish netminder that stands at around 6’3” and has a lean build at 183 lbs. He has experienced mixed results thus far in the Swedish junior ranks, posting a 2.59 goals against average and .905 save percentage in 25 games for HV-71’s U20 team, however, what sold some scouts on Alnefelt was his performance at the 2019 World U18 Championships. Playing for Sweden at the U18’s, Alnefelt recorded a sparkling .921 save percentage en route to a Gold medal, appearing between the pipes in five of Sweden’s seven games along the way.
Alnefelt’s calling card is high-end athleticism and good raw tools; he can move about the crease with remarkable agility and ease, which allows him to move post-to-post with his big frame to make highlight reel saves. Generally, he seals the ice well down low and shows lightning quick reflexes up high with an excellent glove hand and capable blocker. Where Alnefelt appears to struggle at times is in some of the finer nuances of goaltending, primarily reading plays properly and tracking pucks to completion. Alnefelt’s biggest pitfall is his, at times, poor and questionable reads, which can leave him out of position and prone to be picked apart by intelligent attackers that wait for him to drop too early. Alnefelt can occasionally get himself out of trouble with his athleticism, however, his poor reads more often than not lead to goals against. Alnefelt is also occasionally guilty of taking his eyes off pucks too early, at times allowing some soft and uncharacteristic goals to go in from far out. He will need to work on his puck tracking ability to make it to the next level, however, Alnefelt owns a good base to develop these finer nuances on top of and owns respectable upside as a future NHL-caliber goaltender.
Round 3, 89th Overall: Maxim Cajkovic, RW
The Lightning selected Maxim Cajkovic with the 89th Overall selection in the 2019 Draft, which, for some, was seen as an incredible value pick. Following his performance at the 2018 World U18 Championships, Cajkovic was seen as a potential top 10 selection, as his scoring pace topped even Jack Hughes, the future #1 Overall selection. Skating for Slovakia, Cajkovic posted a gaudy total of four goals and 11 points in just five games played, which in turn fed into his #1 Overall selection in the 2018 CHL Import Draft by the Saint John Sea Dogs. What led to Cajkovic’s gradual fall down the draft board was his sluggish North American transition in Saint John, where he posted a respectable but modest 22 goals and 46 points in 60 games played for the Sea Dogs. His play in North America, after starting slow before picking up his scoring pace midseason, knocked him out of First Round contention, however, many noted his potential sleeper potential as a top 93 pick.
Cajkovic is most recognized for his slick style of play; his hands are very good and he can open up space on the ice with his hands alone. He is equally gifted as a goal scorer and puck distributor, as he sees the ice quite well and can feed teammates through the seam or in the slot with a fair amount of regularity. Cajkovic is most dangerous as a powerplay specialist, as his ability to control play along the half wall can be intimidating for opposing defenses. Play Cajkovic too tight, and he’ll find a seam to dish to a teammate; leave Cajkovic too much room, and he can pick a corner on your goaltender with his accurate shot, and it’s this dual threat that can make Cajkovic an enigma for opposing defenses and netminders. Reservations on Cajkovic can be placed upon his two biggest hurdles to becoming a pro level player: physicality and hockey sense. Cajkovic at times can be bullied around by larger opponents, and in turn, can lose puck battles en route to turnovers in the offensive zone. In addition, Cajkovic is occasionally guilty of forcing plays in the offensive zone, whether it be an unsuccessful deke or a risky cross-ice pass, which once again results in offensive zone turnovers. However, if Cajkovic can iron out the mental aspects of his game and add strength, the Slovakian winger possesses legitimate sleeper potential as a future top six NHL winger.
As a small anecdote, in an interview with FOX Sports Florida, Cajkovic said this regarding being drafted by Tampa Bay, “Every time I would play the NHL
games, I would create my player and put him [on] Tampa, so I was real lucky to be drafted by Tampa.”
YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHtov7CnVd8
Round 4, 120th Overall: Max Crozier, D
In the Fourth Round of the 2019 Draft, the Lightning selected Max Crozier with the 120th Overall pick. An overage defenseman, Crozier won the Clark Cup with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL during the 2018-2019 season, where he posted 10 goals and 43 points in 60 games played during the regular season with an additional four goals and 11 points in 12 games played during the Stampede’s championship run in the playoffs. Crozier’s game is defined by his mobility and aggressive physical play, as he’s a very smooth skater that can move the puck with ease and transition from offense to defense with good poise and awareness. He’s a competitive and aggressive defender, as he loves to play with a bite to his game and throw his weight into attackers to separate them from the puck and deny zone entries. Though Crozier can generally transition the puck well and get the puck on the stick of his team’s skill players, he likely lacks a high-end upside to his individual skill, which may limit his offensive potential and overall upside. However, Crozier has the tools to be a capable modern-day NHL defenseman and projects to be a potential third pair option.
Round 6, 182nd Overall: Quinn Schmiemann, D
Tampa Bay selected Quinn Schmiemann at 182nd Overall in the Sixth Round of the 2019 Draft, adding to a growing pool of mobile blueliners. Schmiemann is a 6’2”, 185 lb two-way defenseman who spent the previous season with the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL, where he posted five goals and 28 points in 58 games played. Schmiemann is a poised defenseman that can move about the ice reasonably well with a smooth skating stride and roughly average speed, which lends well to his ability as a puck mover. The biggest gripe with Schmiemann is his lack of dynamic skill or speed, which limits his offensive potential and upside as anything beyond a bottom pair or depth defenseman. However, his decision making is top notch, as he regularly makes high percentage plays and gets the puck on the sticks of his forwards with relative ease, which will aid his case for eventually becoming a pro level blueliner.
Round 7, 198th Overall: Mikhail Shalagin, LW
In the Seventh Round at 198th Overall, the Lightning selected Mikhail Shalagin, who for my money may be the most intriguing project and gamble taken by Tampa Bay in this draft class. Shalagin is a big-bodied Russian winger who broke goal scoring records in the Russian MHL after going undrafted in 2017 and 2018. His offensive skill set is a tantalizing blend of size, skill, and goal-scoring ability, which he used en route to an unprecedented 48 goals and 75 points in 43 games played for MHK Spartak Moskva this year in the MHL. Shalagin weighs in at 6’4”, 185 lbs, but owns the hands and puck skills of a small forward, as he can pull off flashy dekes on defenders and netminders with regularity to generate scoring chances. In addition, Shalagin owns a great shot and can beat netminders from outside by picking corners with great velocity. What prevents Shalagin from being a pro level player at this time is his skating ability. His stride is choppy and sluggish, and he can struggle to gain speed on the rush to beat out backcheckers or shake defenders when the puck is on his stick, which may become a serious problem when the pace of play quickens as he transitions to professional hockey. However, if Shalagin can improve his skating ability and learn to play the game with more pace, he owns scary sleeper potential.
Round 7, 213th Overall: McKade Webster, LW
McKade Webster was Tampa Bay’s final selection of the 2019 Draft, as the Lightning selected him at 213th Overall in the Seventh Round. Webster is an overage forward whose 2018-2019 season was cut to just six games, where he posted just two assists for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. Webster is a smaller forward at just 5’10”, 168 lbs, and in turn, his greatest asset is his skating ability and two-way acumen. Webster generates most of his chances by playing a relentless style on the forecheck, causing turnovers that he can transition into scoring chances for both himself and his linemates. He possesses an active stick and commits to playing on the defensive side of the puck, however, his offensive upside is greatly limited by his lack of high-end skill to compensate for his slight frame. Webster is a long term project who at this time projects as a depth player in an ideal scenario, barring a spike in development, as he transitions to the University of Denver in 2019-2020.
Tampa Bay Development Camp kicked off on June 25th, hosting the entirety of the 2019 Class along with all current Lightning prospects and a handful of invitees. The Lightning extended six invites to Development Camp this year, allowing the following players to skate with the Bolts prospects this summer in Tampa:
Peter Abbandonato, LW – An intelligent attacker with excellent playmaking ability, Abbandonato is coming off an excellent season with Rouyn-Noranda that landed him an AHL deal with Tampa’s affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. Abbandonato produced at a torrid pace in 2018-2019, putting up 82 assists and 111 points in 68 regular season games for the Huskies before tallying an additional 21 assists and 27 points in 15 playoff games. Abbandonato isn’t a dynamic skater or stickhandler, but his intelligence on the puck and high-end vision make him a threat in the offensive zone. This likely is not Abbandonato’s final development camp with the Lightning, as he will likely skate with the Syracuse Crunch or Orlando Solar Bears for the next two seasons.
Eli Zummack, C – Zummack is another overage playmaking forward that’s being given a look by the Lightning at this year’s development camp. Zummack is a diminutive center that stands at approximately 5’9” and makes his impact on the offensive side of the puck using his great vision and precise passing ability. Zummack lacks elite speed, which is an issue for a player his size, however, he made himself known as a reliable producer for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL with a solid 68 point campaign in just 61 games played.
Louis Crevier, D – Crevier is a massive shutdown defenseman who went undrafted for the first time this past June, which would indicate that Crevier was at least somewhat on the Bolts radar for one of their late round picks. Crevier stands at a whopping 6’6” and makes his impact on the defensive side of the puck by using his long reach to disrupt plays and deny zone entries. Crevier is a right shot defenseman, which is coveted by NHL clubs, however, he likely lacks the mobility and offensive upside at this time to develop into an NHL defenseman.
Alexander Dersch, D – Dersch is another big, right shot, shutdown defenseman who spent his 2018-2019 season in the QMJHL. Dersch stands tall at about 6’4” and, like Crevier, uses his reach to break up offensive opportunities while also showing a willingness to occasionally play with some bite. Likely lacks offensive upside to be anything more than a shutdown depth piece at best, and will head back to Germany after going undrafted for the second time in 2019.
Matt Greenfield, G – Greenfield is an average sized netminder who has spent the past three seasons playing Canadian college hockey with the University of Calgary. Greenfield is slightly older than most of the players at Tampa’s development camp, as he’s currently 24 years old, and will likely finish out his Canadian college career after posting a 2.17 goals against average and .903 save percentage in 2018-2019.
Clint Windsor, G – Windsor is another older goaltender whose career path is similar to that of Greenfield, as he spent last season split between the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL and the Herlev Eagles in Denmark after finishing his Canadian college hockey career in 2018. A bigger netminder at around 6’4”, and will likely continue to fight for a pro contract in the ECHL next season after posting 2.48 goals against average and .926 save percentage with the Solar Bears in 2018-2019.
Right from the start, the 2019 draftees made a strong impression on both the coaching staff and fans alike. The Lightning’s top 2019 choice, Nolan Foote, was a noticeable player during all sessions, consistently showcasing the attributes that the Lightning fell in love with leading up to his selection. Throughout the course of the week, Nolan was seen using his size and strength to gain body position on defenders in both drills and scrimmages, which allowed him to get into the prime scoring areas to release his shot. Foote was a scoring machine on most occasions during camp and his success culminated in his squad winning the Dev Camp’s 3-on-3 tournament, which should give Bolts fans confidence in their team’s most recent First Round pick. Mikhail Shalagin was also very noticeable in certain spurts throughout camp. Shalagin’s hands were the primary attribute that was sold to Lightning fans following his selection in the Seventh Round, and onlookers watching for that attribute to shine were not left disappointed. There were multiple occasions where Shalagin showed flashes of high-end skill, including one moment where, in one motion, he flipped the puck over the net and batted the puck over the shoulder of Hugo Alnefelt. Another moment from Shalagin should look familiar to many Bolts fans, as he pulled off the patented Nikita Kucherov move through the five-hole of Magnus Chrona. Lightning fans should become accustomed to these jaw dropping moments from Shalagin, as they’re likely to come up in highlight packs as he develops next year in the AHL with Syracuse.
Sammy Walker is a player that seems to be picking up traction within the Lightning organization as a legitimate top prospect, and his performance at camp has continued his upward trajectory throughout the organization. Walker, a skilled center coming off his freshman season at the University of Minnesota, was all over the ice at development camp and showed continued growth in his offensive skill set. Walker is a slick center that appears to have added an extra gear in terms of agility and quickness, while also improving his shot as he was capable of picking corners at times on netminders throughout the course of the week. In an interview with the team’s PR department, GM Julien Brisebois said of Walker, “He’s very skilled. He’s dynamic. He looked really good last year and looks really good so far this year. He had a great freshman season at Minnesota and he’s certainly a prospect we keep our eye on.” Walker will return to Minnesota for his sophomore season, where the Lightning hope he continues his trajectory into a top-flight college forward. Should Walker continue to impress, the Lightning will likely look to sign Walker out of college within a year or two.
In – G Spencer Martin, G Curtis McElhinney, C Chris Mueller, D Luke Schenn, C Gemel Smith, G Scott Wedgewood, RW Luke Witkowski
Out – LW Andy Andreoff, C Michael Bournival, C Gabriel Dumont, D Dan Girardi, C Mitch Hults, G Connor Ingram, C Kevin Lynch, LW J.T. Miller, G Edward Pasquale, D Anton Stralman
Amid a cap crunch with new extensions kicking in for core pieces, significant moves and subtractions needed to be made to a roster that won 62 games in 2018-2019. The most significant of subtractions came on the second day of the NHL Draft, where the Lightning sent top six forward J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a 2020 1st Round selection and the 71st Overall pick (used to select Hugo Alnefelt), which was a strong return for a player that at times served on Tampa’s third or fourth line throughout the season. In free agency, the Lightning had to say goodbye to veteran defenseman Anton Stralman, who was a five-year mainstay before embarking for the cross-state Florida Panthers. Dan Girardi was also let go on the blue line, who was replaced in spirit at a lower price tag by Luke Schenn for the right side of the Bolts defense. Curtis McElhinney was brought in from Carolina to be the Lightning’s new backup goaltender, as a lighter regular season load for the team’s star goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, seems likely in 2019-2020. Tampa’s AHL team in Syracuse was not sheltered from turnover as well, as reliable contributors Andy Andreoff, Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival, and Eddie Pasquale were lost via free agency before being replaced in part by Spencer Martin, Chris Mueller, Gemel Smith, Scott Wedgewood, and Luke Witkowski.
With roster turnover of this magnitude, opportunity comes for younger players at both the NHL and AHL level. Especially after the departure of J.T. Miller, Bolts fans should expect Mathieu Joseph to take on an increased role in 2019-2020 and perhaps may even see some time in Tampa’s top six. The Lightning’s brimming pool of prospects in Syracuse will likely get strong looks in training camp as well, as Alexander Volkov appears to be an early favorite to make the team out of camp, with Mitchell Stephens, Alex Barré-Boulet, and Taylor Raddysh also having a shot to make the team as camp draws closer. On the defensive side of the puck, Erik Cernak will with utmost certainty see an increased role on Tampa’s blue line, with top four minutes seeming likely for the right-handed Slovakian. Bolts fans should expect Cal Foote to make a push to make the team out of camp as well, as he will likely battle for playing time on the Tampa Bay’s third defensive pair.
Thank you for reading the Tampa Bay Lightning edition of Dobber Prospect’s 31-in-31! Be sure to follow me on Twitter @BHolmes_Hockey, and check back tomorrow for Hayden Soboleski’s look into the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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