A golden opportunity awaits one of the defensemen for the Tampa Bay Lightning, two of which are prospects. Jan Rutta has left the Tampa Bay organization, which leaves a substantial hole beside the one and only Victor Hedman. One is a more steady and sturdy defensively-minded player. The other has more offensive tools and upside, while still having defensive acumen to be a two-way defender.
We’ll take a closer look at The Good, The Not-So-Good, and the What Could Be for both of these up-and-comers. But first, let’s take a look at the big man himself, Victor Hedman.
The defenseman who needs no introduction is a phenomenal combination of skating, size, defensive proficiency, and deadly offensive skill. In short, he doesn’t need his partner to “help” him.
Paired with Jan Rutta, they played 856 minutes together. 53.3% “shots for” percentage to go along with 53.6% shot attempts for percentage. Of course, these are fantastic numbers given the quality of competition that a player of Hedman’s caliber often faces. Because of the competition Hedman often faces, he needs to have an even-strength partner who can play good defense in their own end. Rutta checked this box by supporting Hedman on breakouts in addition to having the wheels and puck-carrying talent to take the puck to his own blueline and pass it up the ice.
Without further ado, let’s look at Cal Foote and Philippe Myers.
This kid is steadier than the first four layers of a brick wall. His puck skills are pretty average but he’s quick with his passes, which has put him in good positions while playing with the stacked Lightning team. He always seems to be in a good position and plays a simple game. He hasn’t led any rushes but has the ability to jump up into the play and cash in on opportunities that come his way:
Myers is exactly what a lot of NHL GMs look for on the draft floor: a big, mobile defenseman. Originally selected by Philly in the 2017 draft, Myers has spent his time oscillating between stints in the NHL and AHL.
Not only has he moved a lot between NHL and AHL but also on the ice, as Myers appears to be at his very best when he is in motion. A great example of that is this goal he scored in the AHL:
Good passing, good puck carrying and a deadly wrist shot make him a dynamic player to watch.
The other side of the “steady as she goes” coin comes into how he can be perceived. He often appears passive in his defense, largely due to his positionally sound play. He allows the play to come to him, but that backfires on the rush when he gets beat outside because of his lack of acceleration after switching from back skating to forward skating.
Additionally, because of his average puck skills, I don’t see a high points ceiling for him, but if he is paired with Hedman, I see a lot of his points coming as secondary assists from feeding someone else the puck.
The unfortunate thing with being mobile is that the risk of getting beat by opposition goes up. A deceptive fake one way can cause Myers to over-commit and get beat inside or outside. He also has a tendency to stick check too much in situations when he should keep his stick out and collapse back into D formation. If he can commit more one way or the other, by smothering guys completely (not just stick checking) or collapsing and making sure he has his man around the net, then we will be talking about an NHL regular in a year’s time.
What Could Be
While I don’t have a lot of faith in his upside he has shown glimmers of offensive prowess. Despite his unfavorable deployment, it’s also possible that Tampa is grooming him for a more Adam Larsson-lite type of assignment. If he gets a chance to cycle with the best players on his team at 5×5 or powerplay he can definitely play some frozen tic-tac-toe as he is very good with his quick puck touches.
I honestly get giddy when I think of what could happen with a Hedman-Myers pairing. Myers has the wheels and the skills to make opposing defenders pay when they smother Hedman but leave him wide open to wheel, deal and steal points under their noses. Myers has some success on the powerplay with Josi in his last NHL appearance for Nashville so it wouldn’t be crazy to see him get a shift here and there on PP2 somewhere during the season.
On the other side of the puck, he is no slouch with his defense. When he commits, he is THERE attached to the hip, cross-checking, closing gaps, and being aggressive.
What Has Been
Foote spent 42% of his even strength time on the ice paired with Sergachev. They posted a respectable 51.1 shots for percentage and shot attempts for percentage. Sergachev has worked hard over his tenure to become a defensively sound player who has the tools to be above average offensively.
Cal posted only two of his nine points while paired with Sergachev, a testament to their defensive focused assignment.
However, Cal has a Foote up on his competition by playing 136 minutes with the big Swede last season. Amassing only two points while paired with him but even better shots for and shot attempts for percentages. They are already familiar with each other, and that ultimately works in Foote’s favor.
Myers spent about 33 % of his time with Borowiecki and to be frank, the results aren’t great. They only played 124 minutes with each other but aside from scoring one more goal than they allowed when they were on the ice together, they gave up 28 more shots and 39 more shot attempts. Yikes.
The bright spot for Myers, and a reason for optimism is his results with Roman Josi. Full disclosure, they only played 74 minutes with each other which is nearly half of Myers time with Borowiecki. Myers had the same number of points and as a pairing, they gave up two fewer goals than they earned. However, they had 21 more shot attempts than against. And even though they were outshot (by two shots), given the small sample size it all comes out
in the wash.
General Manager’s Fantasy
While there are good things about Foote’s game that could make him enticing if he is paired with Hedman, the floor is a bit risky on the points side of things. He could cap out at 10-15 points but with some good-to-elite peripherals, a lesser Erik Cernak. But, with prime deployment beefing up his assist numbers and getting 18-20 minutes a night he could hit 30-35 points with his already good hits, shots, and blocks.
The way I see it, if he doesn’t get paired with Hedman we are looking at 15-25 points with some average to good hits, shots, and blocks. His ceiling? If he gets PP2 and deployed at 5×5 with Hedman it’s not out of the question for him to hit 40 points, along with the good peripherals. I’ll Philippe my fantasy cup and drink that up all day long.
My heart says that Myers should get the spot, but my head says that they probably let Foote run with it for a while until Myers or Cernak are forced to take over. We now wait to see which Lightning D will strike.
Thanks for reading. Make sure to follow me @CalebScouting for more prospect news!