Historically one of the most successful scouting and drafting departments in the league, The Al Murray led Tampa Bay Lightning group made 7 relatively mysterious selections from their draft table in Dallas this June. Despite a questionable draft outcome, however, the Lightning are currently in the process of developing one of the most well-rounded prospect pipelines in the league. From a dynamic forward group built on the fundamentals of Hockey IQ, strong skating and reliability, to a steadfast blueline that focuses on making the simple plays right and protecting their own zone first, the Lightning system is still top-notch. That’s not to discredit their situation behind Andrei Vasilevsky, in which the Syracuse Crunch have worked in co-operation with the organization to begin developing a potential long-term successor in Connor Ingram.
After being forced to wait until the late second round on Saturday morning to make their first selection, Murray kicked off the Lightning draft with a player that fits the mould of his past successes…
2|59 Gabriel Fortier, C, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL
One can only guess at how high Murray and his staff may have had Gabe Fortier ranked on their list. Despite the fact that he was selected higher than most draft analysts had projected him to be, Fortier seems to check most of the boxes that the Lightning have typically honed in on with their early selections. A technically solid and speedy skater with a hockey IQ that allows him to anticipate the flow of a game and react accordingly. He’s strong on both sides of the puck, and despite his 5’-10” (listed smaller by some resources) stature, is a branded competitor, making good on his fore-check and back-check each shift. An offensive breakout could be in Fortier’s future, but his current trajectory is similar to other Lightning prospects Alex Barre-Boulet (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada/Undrafted), and Otto Somppi (Halifax Mooseheads/206th overall in 2016).
3|90 Dmitri Semykin, D, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, MHL
This is kind of where things began to get weird for the Lightning. What we might call weird, however, at the Lightning table, is par for the course, especially in the third round. Dmitri Semykin has been noted to be a smart defence-first, two-way defender who makes a precise breakout pass. While he’s been an effective penalty killer in the second-tier Russian league, he’s also racked up a whopping 118 PIM’s through 41 MHL games, making the positive trait somewhat ironic. His selection in the third round is reminiscent of the 2017 second round selection, Alex Volkov, another (at the time) unfamiliar Russian playing in the second-tier league. Volkov’s scoring touch has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Syracuse Crunoffencense – perhaps the organization is banking on Semykin’s mature presence to provide an equally valuable boost.
4|121 Alexander Green, D, Cornell University, ECAC-NCAA
By the time the fourth round of the draft comes around, chances are most teams are picking from fairly unique remaining lists, and the Lightning is no exception. Alex Green, an overage defenseman who just concluded his freshman year at Cornell University was the Lightning selection in the 121-hole. Unsurprisingly, the 6-2, right-shot defender was unranked by any major scouting organization heading into the draft. In many cases, the current offensive output will be scrutinized when projecting a player’s offensive potential at the NHL level. This may, unfortunately, be the case for Green who put up relatively insignificant numbers at Cornell, and even previously for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. Contrary to his statistical details, however, Green is a sharp two-way defender who does a solid job distributing the puck, both in break-out scenarios, as well as while his team is dominating the offensive zone. In fact, the “defensive” selection was capable of burying two goals for Team Stamkos during the Lighting 3-on-3 tournament at development camp. There is some sleeper potential here that remains to be fully realized, but Green will be working towards proving that in the NCAA before the Lightning will double-down with an ELC.
5|152 Magnus Chrona, G, Skellaftea AIK J20, SuperElit
A goaltenders job is to cover the net. The bigger you are, the more net you cover – its science. Magnus Chrona is a large human. The 17-year-old netminder could still have a bit left in him in terms of height but is already teetering at 6-4, 209 lbs. – That’s a pretty good start. Aside from his size, Chrona is a fairly mysterious prospect, having primarily only played in Sweden’s second tier and lower junior leagues. That’s, of course, disregarding his single game played for AIK in the SuperElit league in which he chalked up an 8.80 GAA and 0.714 save percentage. As for a modern assessment though, Chrona has some excellent tools aside from his height that could make him a prospect to watch in the coming years. It’s seeming like he’ll end up playing his D+1 campaign back in Sweden, however, the Lightning could make room for him to work into a tandem role in Syracuse with Connor Ingram further down the line.
6|183 Cole Koepke, F, Sioux City Musketeers, USHL
A highly offensive player who seemed to have slipped through the cracks only to land in Al Murray’s lap at 186th overall is Sioux City Musketeers forward Cole Koepke. Ranked in excess of 200th overall in most reputable scouting publications, Koepke lacks the on-ice intuition and rapid decision making of most successful offensive players – a trait that could prove difficult to pick up along the way. It’s likely a contributing factor to the 20-year-old falling into the sixth round, in addition to the injury that held him out of competition in most of his first draft-eligible slate. Bound for The University of Minnesota-Duluth, Koepke’s individual goal-scoring instinct will be tested against his lack of team-oriented hockey IQ in a battle to determine a more accurate development trajectory.
7|206 Radim Salda, D, Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL
In the year of ‘risk versus reward’ for the Lightning scouting staff, they nab one of the riskiest from Saint John’s blueline in Radim Salda. For a seventh-round selection, Salda has a significant offensive ceiling, but his risk factor is exceptionally high. His raw skills can be tantalizing to the untrained eye, but the Lightning has undoubtedly come to terms with the amount of development that Salda’s defensive processing will require. Even in Saint John, the Sea Dog’s staff were vocal in their recognition of Salda’s poor decision making despite his ability to put the puck on a string and create offence. At times, his decision making was so bad that it wouldn’t have been surprising to see his name on a few teams’ DO NOT DRAFT lists… but hey, let’s focus on the positives:
Yup, Radim Salda is back. 💣💥 pic.twitter.com/78eH16zCPS— Saint John Sea Dogs (@SJSeaDogs) January 8, 2018
7|214 Ty Taylor, G, Vernon Vipers, BCHL
It’s tough to accuse Al Murray of deviating from the team’s draft flavour favor of positional desires after selecting a second goaltender with their last pull in the 2018 Entry Draft. Ty Taylor is an exceptionally athletic net minder who registered outstanding numbers for the Vernon Vipers during his second season playing in the BCHL. In Taylor’s case, athletic might translate to risky, hence the selection at 214 overall. When facing less technical shooters, sometimes goalies can have success by relying purely on athleticism and intuition in the crease, such isn’t as true as you begin to face more dynamic offenses and are forced to take a more systematic approach. His technical attributes will need to be improved significantly while he attends the University of New Hampshire if there’s going to be a legitimate shot of him becoming any more than an AHL backup. The last notable goaltender to have been developed by UNH is Casey DeSmith, though the Wildcat’s coaching staff has had some turnover since then.
Development Camp Notes:
The Lightning held their annual development camp immediately following the Entry Draft in Brandon, Florida at the newly improved Ice Sports Forum. The camp ran from June 26 through to June 30th.
Of the names on the list, 21 are Lightning draft picks, with 5 additional invitees. 6 of the players attending camp have already got their foot in the door with the organization by being featured in games with the Syracuse Crunch – most notably Connor Ingram and Dennis Yan. Both Cal Foote and Ryan Zuhlsdorf were unable to participate in camp due to personal reasons, leaving the group looking quite bare on the back end for the four-day meet up.
Several of the other players listed will be expected to contribute at the AHL level immediately, including, but not limited to the aforementioned veterans. Taylor Raddysh’s professional debut has been highly anticipated by most people who follow the team and NHL prospects in general. Since his breakout at the 2017 World Junior Championships, there has been ample debate regarding his professional trajectory and whether or not the skills that have led to his success in junior will entirely translate to the professional pace. The remainder of 2018 will be very telling for the rookie’s future at the next level.
The Lightning have checked off most of their offseason to-do list despite being unsuccessful in the John Tavares sweepstakes. Since the offseason began, the team has inked a total of thirteen new deals comprised of mainly RFA extensions. Cameron Gaunce, an AHL defender was brought in as a UFA, plus Ryan McDonagh inked a seven-year extension prior to becoming a UFA next July. The details of the ten deals are as follows:
Adam Erne – SPC, 1 year @ $800,000
Nikita Kucherov – SPC, 8 years @ $9,500,000
Cedric Paquette – SPC, 1 year @ $1,000,000
Slater Koekkoek – SPC, 1 year @ $865,000
Cameron Gaunce – SPC, 1 year @ $650,000
Kevin Lynch – SPC, 1 year @ $650,000
Ryan McDonagh – SPC, 7 years @ $6,750,000
Ross Colton – ELC, 2 years @ $925,000
JT Miller – SPC, 5 years @ $5,250,000
Louis Domingue – SPC, 2 years @ $1,150,000
Edward Pasquale – SPC, 1 year @ $650,000
Carter Verhaghe – SPC, 1 year @ $650,000
Daniel Walcott – SPC, 1 year @ $650,000
Slater Koekkoek’s extension is notable – the former first-round pick has yet to make a lasting impression on the Lightning, resulting in yet another one-year deal. It’s probable that the Lightning are adamant to see this one through rather than cutting ties with Koekkoek early. Whether the Lightning are able to land Erik Karlsson in the end or not, it’s unlikely that Koekkoek see’s much of an increased role with the team this year without key injuries.
JT Miller had been rumored to be an expendable piece for the Lightning in their pursuit for bigger and more expensive players. The term on his new contract, however, indicates that Yzerman, at least, was happy to retain the 25-year-old forward long-term. With Nikita Kucherov now locked up long-term, the Bolts have 12 roster players committed to the 2019-20 season, with over $13 million remaining to round out the edges. Nonetheless, extensions for players like Brayden Point, and Andrei Vasilevsky will be looming, which could cause the need to dump salary. The most likely option at this point is Tyler Johnson and his $5 million smack-a-roo’s for the next 6 calendars. Considering what it took for Winnipeg to rid themselves of Steve Mason’s single remaining season at $4.1 million, the cost of shedding Johnson could be ugly. While the scenario would likely open a spot in the lineup for one of Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, Alex Volkov, or Mathieu Joseph there’s also a chance that one of them (and more) could be the price of earning back the cap space.
Aside from signings in the offseason, the team had also inked five prospects to pro contracts since last summer’s 31-in-31 series.
Michael Bournival – SPC, 1 @ $650,000
Otto Somppi – ELC, 3 @ $763,333
Cal Foote – ELC, 3 @ $925,000
Alex Barre Boulet, ELC, 3 @ $759,258
Alexey Lipanov, ELC, 3 @ $778,333
Working out an ELC may have been a condition of convincing Lipanov to cross the pond and develop in the OHL rather than Russia. His first season in North America was at times, disappointing, but that’s a pill the Lightning will have to swallow. Because Lipanov was drafted while playing in Europe, however, he’s not bound by the NHL-CHL player agreement and will be eligible to try his hand in either the AHL or ECHL this coming season if the Lightning see fit for his development.
Alex Barre-Boulet was a small prize of an undrafted free-agent signing from the QMJHL who surprisingly decided to sign with the Lightning, despite their already log-jammed pipeline. The 5-10, 21-year-old scored nearly 2 points per game for the league leading Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. He’ll get a shot with the Syracuse Crunch in the fall, a squad which already has no shortage of talented forwards.
Since Alex Barré-Bouletis 20 years old, the Lightning cannot slide his three-year entry level contract, even if he doesn’t play a game for them this season.
Since Alex Barré-Bouletis 20 years old, the Lightning cannot slide his three-year entry level contract, even if he doesn’t play a game for them this season.— Andrew Zadarnowski(@AZadarski) March 1, 2018
Nearly two years after being drafted in the 7th round, Otto Somppi had a breakout season with the Halifax Mooseheads, earning his ELC in April.
To Los Angeles:
Peter Budaj , 35 | G
Andy Andreoff, 27 | LW
The Lightning acquire forward Andy Andreofffrom the Kings for goalie Peter Budaj. Interesting trade since Andreoffhas one year left and could be a bottom-six guy for the Lightning, or at least some type of depth player. Budajwasn’t in the Lightning’s plans
The Lightning acquire forward Andy Andreofffrom the Kings for goalie Peter Budaj. Interesting trade since Andreoffhas one year left and could be a bottom-six guy for the Lightning, or at least some type of depth player. Budajwasn’t in the Lightning’s plans— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) June 13, 2018
Matthew Peca (AHL) -> Montreal Canadiens
Alex Gallant (AHL) – > Vegas Golden Knights
Matt Bodie (AHL) -> UFA
Erik Condra (AHL) -> Dallas Stars
Some Lightning prospects are holding their heads high part way through the offseason. In order of most to least, here are the players I believe have benefited the most from the results of the draft and their own results over the past year:
Mitchell Stephens, 21 | C
With Matthew Peca heading north to Montreal, Mitchell Stephens will have full reign to lead the Crunch offense from center-ice. While Peca hadn’t necessarily been blocking Stephens from a long-term career growth, his departure will certainly help Stephens to see an increased role sooner.
Connor Ingram, 21 | G
Nothing like a little fire under your rear end to keep development moving along at a steady pace. We’ve seen it in several instances that internal goaltender competition can have positive results when it comes to development. Ingram remains to be the Lightning’s undisputed best goaltending prospect, but a little motivation from the 2018 draft could get him slightly more focused.
While there are players that’ve received a minor boost from the events of the last several months, there are just as many, and more who’ve seen their chances of becoming an NHLer dwindle with the passing days. Some of the Lightning prospects who are starting to see a steeper hill to climb include:
Jonne Tammela, 20 | LW
Despite overcoming a serious knee injury over the last year and a half, and finally getting into the Syracuse Crunch lineup, Jonne Tammela’s trajectory has been dropping steadily. The additions of Gabe Fortier and Cole Koepke at the draft in Dallas hamper Tamela’s chances of climbing the depth chart even further.
Kristian Oldham, 21 |G
As much as internal competition can play to a goaltenders positive interest, there’s an equal chance that it can works against them. Kristian Oldham had a tough campaign at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and clearly isn’t as strong of a goaltender as Ingram, and possibly Chrona.
The Lightning seem to be heading in a direction that certainly favors some of their prospects, though that certainly gets easier to say when you have a lineup of prospects who are worth favoring. With what is looked at by many as a cautious, “wait-and-see” draft by the Lightning now in the books, its time for the organization to look forward to development. Some might argue that it’s been the Lightning’s development strategy that’s had the biggest hand in the success of their prospects.
With cap complications looming, and for another consecutive year, several less than desirable contracts on the books, Steve Yzerman will have to work some magic. In all likelihood, some trust will have to be given to one or two young forwards who’ve yet to see the NHL whatsoever.
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