The Tampa Bay Lightning offense is one of the best in the entire NHL statistically. They are ranked first in the league in goals with 117 and have many talents to thank on the roster in order to be this effective. Faces of scoring for the club consist of players who get usual attention such as captain Steven Stamkos and forward Brayden Point. Winger Nikita Kucherov also would be in the mix no doubt as one of, if not the top contributor for the Bolts in 2020-21, if he was not sidelined with an injured hip that required surgery.
One player who does not get as much attention as other names mentioned but brings a lethal force with him as well is forward Yanni Gourde. He is currently in his sixth campaign with Tampa, and continually grows in his game and becomes a bigger weapon for the franchise. Certain names will always steal the spotlight more in Stamkos and Kucherov, but Yanni is a hard-working juggernaut who will burn opposing defenses and goalies in his own right.
His Gradual Growth
Unlike some other key contributors for the Lightning, Gourde was not drafted by the team. He played for the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) for four seasons before signing on in the American Hockey League (AHL) and bouncing around between minor leagues. His offensive prowess in the QMJHL shined with the Tigres more with each passing campaign.
He tallied the following while with Victoriaville:
- 2008-09: One assist in four games
- 2009-10: 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points in 59 games
- 2010-11: 26 goals and 42 assists for 68 points in 68 games
- 2011-12: 37 goals and 87 assists for 124 points in 68 games
Gourde then joined the Worcester Sharks in the AHL. His hockey tenure in the minor leagues eventually led him to be sent down to the ECHL for a couple of seasons to suit up for the San Francisco Bulls as well as the Kalamazoo Wings. He had to not only travel from different teams in a certain league but also had to travel through different minor leagues as well. His time split in the AHL and ECHL took place during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns. He posted the following numbers during his pre-Lightning organization minor league years:
- 2011-12 (AHL w/Worcester): One goal and two assists for three points in four games
- 2012-13 (Worcester): Eight goals and six assists for 14 points in 54 games
- 2012-13 (ECHL w/San Francisco): Four goals and six assists for 10 points in eight games
- 2013-14 (Worcester): four goals and 20 assists for 24 points in 25 games
- 2013-14 (ECHL w/Kalamazoo): 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 30 games
Gourde’s big break occurred when he officially signed on with Tampa in early 2014 and immediately spent time in the AHL with their affiliate-club Syracuse Crunch. He got experience playing with future NHL talents in Jonathan Marchessault and Vladislav Namestnikov among others and produced two goals and six assists for eight points in 18 contests during that season.
The Crunch proved to be a good fit, as Gourde continued to further his development with the team. He accrued 57 points in 76 games during the 2014-15 regular season (29 goals and 28 assists), 44 points in 65 games for 2015-16 (14 goals and 30 assists), and 48 points in 56 games for 2016-17 (22 goals and 26 assists).
On top of that, Yanni saw some postseason action as well for Syracuse. He suited up in three games for the 2015 playoffs, getting a goal and an assist, but his big run with the AHL team took place with the 2017 playoffs. He put up nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points in 22 postseason games that year, with the team going all the way to the Calder Cup Final. They lost to the Grand Rapids Griffins in six games, but he and the rest of the players got valuable crucial game experience. That experience would make a significant difference down the road for other important games in his career.
Gourde’s constant improvement helped him receive his first recall during the 2015-16 season, and he suited up for his first NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 15, 2015. The Bolts claimed victory that night, winning 5-4 in overtime, and Yanni got his first NHL point by assisting on a goal by forward Mike Blunden.
After splitting seasons between Syracuse and Tampa both in 2015-16 and 2016-17, Gourde earned his keep as an NHL regular for the 2017-18 season. To this day, his first full NHL campaign remains his best in point production. In 82 games, Yanni netted 25 goals and 39 assists for 64 points. Although that remains his best NHL season, he followed up with very solid campaigns after too:
- 2017-18: 25 goals and 39 assists for 64 points in 82 games
- 2018-19: 22 goals and 26 assists for 48 points in 80 games
- 2019-20: 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points in 70 games
During Gourde’s time with the Lightning so far, he has been a part of three playoff runs for the club. He had two goals and five assists for seven points in 17 games during the 2018 run and tallied a goal in four games for the 2019 postseason. Then there was the famous 2020 playoff run, which ultimately saw Tampa win their second Stanley Cup in the team’s history. On that warpath to the championship, Yanni carried his offensive load with 14 points (seven goals and seven assists) in 25 matchups.
That was good for fifth on the squad in points behind Kucherov (34), Point (33), defenseman Victor Hedman (22), and winger Ondrej Palat (18). He helped the organization add another championship to their name, and was another player from the ECHL to win the ultimate prize in hockey (along with now-former Bolt teammate Carter Verhaeghe). Yanni made it to the top of the hockey mountain.
Gourde’s Play This Season
Gourde is a few seasons removed from his career-high year in 2017-18, but he has the capability to hit those numbers again and even surpass them. It might not be this season he does it, but the Lightning has enough stable depth and skill that he could be in a prime spot to reach new scoring numbers with help if not by his own talents. As for 2020-21, through 32 games so far, he totaled 12 goals and nine assists for 21 points.
He might not be the first player opposing fans think of when discussing Tampa’s roster, but Gourde deserves attention for what he is capable of doing on the ice. The 29-year-old plays an underrated role for the squad based on other players he is surrounded with who gain more attention than he does. Faces of the franchise will be looked at for the Lightning as Stamkos, Hedman, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy; and offensive leaders will be more looked at as Stamkos, Point, and Kucherov once he returns to the lineup. Yanni can just play his game though, and not have a focus on carrying the torch for the club.
I think Gourde has the perfect role for the Bolts. He will always be a dangerous threat in games, but he will not get planned against like his other teammates will when opposing coaches look down the Tampa lineup. Time will tell how Yanni does the rest of the 2020-21 season, and whether he will eventually break his own career highs. Regardless, he is a special player that is one puzzle piece of many on a powerhouse Lightning roster.
I have been a hockey fan for most of my life, and have played the game myself for more than six years. I graduated from the State University of New York at Oswego in 2018, with a bachelor’s in Broadcasting & Mass Communication. Previous positions held include being a Sports Analyst for Oswego’s student-run TV station, WTOP-10; News/Sports Intern for WIVB-TV Channel 4; and Sports Beat Writer Intern for Pro Player Insiders.