Lightning Prioritizing Power Over Scoring Potential in Rookie Forwards

With the Tampa Bay Lightning finalizing their roster for the start of the 2021-22 season, the team looks primed to compete for their third-straight Stanley Cup. While they lost a few key members of their roster during the 2021 offseason, the franchise still features one of the deepest core rosters in the NHL, driven by names like Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman.

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Due to their roster turnover, there were a number of starting roles available in their forward corps heading into the 2021-22 season. These positions are primarily in the bottom six, as the Lightning’s top forwards were all but locked into their positions to start the season.

Blake Coleman Tampa Bay Lightning
After losing their entire third-line during the 2020-21 offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew they would need to build a new, affordable, yet effective line to continue on their quest for three straight Stanley Cup championships. (Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

Given this situation and their continuing cap crunch, general manager Julien BriseBois made a few value signing in free agency to add depth to the franchise but clearly indicated that he was going to rely on at least one or two rookies to make the jump to the NHL. There were starting jobs available, after all, and if a rookie could show that they could step up and earn their starting role, it could be a perfect fit for the franchise.

As their roster cuts came down, it became clear that BriseBois had three waiver-eligible rookies in mind for the final spots on the roster. After all was said and done, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk made the opening night roster, with Alex Barre-Boulet being placed onto waivers.

What Raddysh and Katchouk Bring to the Lightning

Raddysh and Katchouk have a few things in common (other than being selected in the second round of the 2016 draft) that make them appealing to the Lightning right now. First, they are big, clocking in at 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2, respectively. As a team looking to win their third-straight Cup, this sort of large, powerful player is appealing in a bottom-six, as they can grind down opponents with their size.

Second, Katchouk and Raddysh played together on the same line with the Syracuse Crunch, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, in recent years. While on this line with Otto Somppi in 2020-21, they had excellent chemistry and were a driving offensive force of the team.

Boris Katchouk, Syracuse Crunch
Boris Katchouk was the leading scorer for the Syracuse Crunch during the 2020-21 season and has been steadily rounding out his game into NHL form. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In some ways, they are reminiscent of other Lightning rookies who managed to break into the league at the same time due to an exodus of previous talent. They are clear bottom-six players, who are still very young but have the talent to start in the NHL. By playing a sheltered 10 to 13 minutes each night in a bottom-six role, they can get their footing and learn how to keep up with the speed of the game before they open up their full toolkits to dominate play.

If they can get over their growing pains and start to hit their stride by the middle of the season, then the Lightning will be in great shape, and not just for this season. Katchouk and Raddysh have the potential to become a needed pair of power forwards to add to their lineup, which is something every team is looking to add to their roster.

Lightning Give Kraken a Gift With Barre-Boulet

Now onto the bad news. Unfortunately, when you only have two roster spots available and three talented players, you are ultimately going to have to waive someone and risk losing them for nothing. This is what happened to the Lightning, as they lost Barre-Boulet to the Seattle Kraken on waivers.

This loss hurts, as Barre-Boulet was a player who looked like they were just about ready to break out into the league. After being the best player for the Crunch in 2019-20, he got stuck in Taxi Squad limbo throughout 2020-21. While he had a few opportunities to prove that he could play in the NHL, he just couldn’t find his footing in a top-six role, which is fine for a rookie under normal circumstances, but not when you are playing for a team that has to win now.

Ultimately this should be the best scenario for Barre-Boulet. He will get the opportunity to not only take on top-six minutes immediately with the Kraken, but he will have three years at a reasonable $758 thousand cap-hit to establish himself with the fledgling franchise. This means that he doesn’t need to be a 30 goal-scoring forward immediately to be valuable to the franchise, as he can learn the rigors of a full NHL season and still have plenty of time to become a face of hockey in Seattle.

Related: Tampa Bay Lightning That Got Away: Carter Verhaeghe

However, for the Lightning, they don’t have three years for a forward to work their way into a top-six role. Barre-Boulet had the potential to be the better scorer in the future, but Tampa Bay isn’t building for five years down the line. They need to win now, so Raddysh and Katchouk give them the best opportunity to do exactly that.

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