It has been said that youth will not endure. So, when talk arises about the Tampa Bay Lightning at the precipice of a Stanley Cup contending window, time is of the essence. Looking at the present off-season of the Chicago Blackhawks, it is inevitable that personnel changes are a challenge that must be met.
Assuming the probable roster moves, it felt prudent to develop a short list of prospects to watch this season. All players on this list are presumed to begin the year on the Syracuse Crunch roster. Barring an unforeseen trade or transaction, it is unlikely that these players see any significant ice time in Tampa.
Coach Jon Cooper has shown the poise to make a gutsy roster change in the past. Last year, Cedric Paquette was expected to and began the season in Syracuse, with potential spot duty in Tampa. After a blistering pre-season, and injuries to Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan, Paquette was recalled six games into the season.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Paquette’s play made decisions difficult for Cooper and his general manager, Steve Yzerman. Paquette ultimately played 64 games for the Lightning and only six for Syracuse when odds were stacked that it would have been the other way around.
Let’s take a look at five potential Paquettes for Tampa this year.
- ANTHONY DeANGELO – The number one draft pick of the Lightning in 2014. Last season, DeAngelo was named the outstanding defenseman in the OHL. Presumed to begin the season in Syracuse the right-handed shot is higher on the depth chart that might otherwise be thought. Certainly Anton Stralman is at the top but after Stralman? Andrej Sustr, perhaps newly signed RFA, Luke Witkowski would be ahead of DeAngelo. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see how DeAngelo would see five to ten games in a Lightning sweater. Then the question becomes how well the 19 year-old defenseman acclimates to the NHL game. Clips of DeAngelo have impressed and the OHL D-man of the year doesn’t hurt the confidence. If given a sliver of a shot, it would be hard to believe that DeAngelo wouldn’t impress, particularly in the attacking zone.
- SLATER KOEKKOEK – Up in Tampa last season for the proverbial cup of coffee, Koekkoek vindicated himself well in three NHL games. He’s big and unafraid to hit. He plays sufficiently well with the puck in all three zones. Along with DeAngelo, Sustr and Nikita Nesterov, Koekkoek is part of the future of the Lightning’s blue liners. Having three games isn’t much of a sample size but Koekkoek has the size, speed and skills to make a splash at the NHL level, if given that opportunity. Clearly, a lot would depend on his pairing partner but Koekkoek is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. Having had three surgeries on both shoulders withinathree-year span, last season was the first since 2011 that didn’t end on a surgeon’s tableforKoekkoek.
- ADAM ERNE – Tampa fans have not seen Erne at Amalie Arena yet. There is a good possibility that they won’t see him in the upcoming year. Here is what stands out about Erne. At six feet, one inch he is big and at 206 pounds, he is strong. Last season Erne led his junior team, the Quebec Ramparts in goals with 41 in addition to tallying 45 assists. Erne may be the longshot on this list to impact the Lightning but he has the body and skills to bring some offense to the team and that is never a bad thing.
- MATTHEW PECA – After four years playing NCAA hockey, Peca played the last eight games of last season in Syracuse. Peca helped lead Quinnipiac Univesity in Connecticut to three consecutive NCAA tournaments including the final championship game in 2013. Earlier this month in the Lightning development camp, Peca drew rave reviews as he led his team to the annual 3– on– 3 tourney championship by leading all players with 10 goals. No doubt that Peca has the tools and at 22 he is the oldest player on this list except for the last player.
- KRISTERS GUDLEVSKIS – Two seasons ago, Ben Bishop was hurt as the Lightning was about to begin the first round of the playoffs. Anders Lindback was the backup and a young Latvian goalie was the emergency backup. In the four game sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, Gudlevskis saw some action in games 2 and 4 of the series. It was not playing in an NHL playoff that gained Gudlevskis his greatest notoriety. It was the Sochi Olympic tournament where he was between the pipes in a close nearly miraculous upset of eventual gold medal winning Canada. Gudlevskis stopped 55 of 57 shots in the 2-1 loss. If Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy suffer an injury, Gudlevskis will get the call. His previous NHL and vast international experience will serve him and the Lightning well.
There it is. A list of five Tampa prospects that will by all expectation, begin the year in Syracuse. Most likely will stay in Syracuse all season unless something unforeseen occurs. But any of these five have the necessary skills to at the worst; open some eyes in the organization. At best, they could make some noise and push some of the players ahead of them on the depth chart.
There are other players that are young enough to be considered a prospect but have seen sufficient ice time with the Lightning such as Vlad Namestnikov, Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Vasilevskiy to disqualify themselves in my mind. Or others that are old enough for the same disqualification like Jonathan Marchessault and Luke Witkowski.
Keep an eye on these five, Tampa fans. You will talk about them in the near future like you do now about Jonathan Drouin, The Triplets and others. How fast that happens depends largely on what these five do when opportunity knocks on their doors.