As the Tampa Bay Lightning approach the 2020 trade deadline, they find themselves not only in a playoff position but fighting for first place in the Atlantic Division for the third straight season. Due to this, it likely means that general manager Julien BriseBois will be looking to add this year, even if it is only a small amount of depth to help shore up the lineup.
Whenever you start discussing whom the Lightning could acquire, however, a second thought should come to mind – what are their assets? There’s no such thing as a free trade after all, and the only way to return a great player is to make a great offer.
With potentially two first-round selections at the 2020 draft (conditional picks complicate things), the Lightning already have an extra asset to spend should the right player be available. However, with the 2020 draft looking like one of the deepest in years, trading a first-rounder for a deadline commodity would not be in BriseBois’ best interests.
Due to this, prospects may be heavily featured over picks if a trade were to be made by the Bolts. With a bevy of skilled players, the Lightning could make an attractive partner for a rebuilding team to strike a deal with.
So, who are the Lightning prospects that could draw the most attention at the trade deadline?
Cal Foote: The Lightning’s Untouchable Prospect
If you take even a short glance at the Lightning’s prospect pool, one name stands out – Cal Foote. As right-shot defenseman with top-four potential, Foote is easily the franchises’ most desirable player right now.
Despite his potential value on the market, however, the Lightning will have no interest in parting ways with their 2017 first-round selection. Not only will the franchise be in desperate need of a cost-controlled defenseman over the next year or so, but Foote has done nothing in his young professional career to make the team think that he isn’t the real deal.
So, barring a massive overpayment, there’s no reason to expect Foote to be on the move at the deadline.
Current Lightning NHLers Who Could Be Sold
If the past has taught us anything, it is that the Lightning are not afraid to sell high on an NHL-caliber prospect at the trade deadline if it means upgrading at another position. Currently, Tampa Bay has three prospects who have earned significant NHL ice-time over the last season or so, but could be traded for the right package. Those players are Mitchell Stephens, Mathieu Joseph, and Carter Verhaeghe.
Of the three players, Stephens looks the most secure in his position with the franchise right now. Since receiving a call-up back in December, he has cemented himself in the Lightning’s nightly lineup. With his tough, smart play, he brings a needed element to the bottom-six that could be a major help in the postseason.
Joseph and Verhaeghe, on the other hand, have a less secure position with the Lightning. While both players have found incredible success at the AHL and NHL levels, they haven’t been able to lock down their spot in the lineup.
Given that they are restricted free-agents this offseason, it could make sense for BriseBois to offer one in a package deal to a team looking for a cost-controlled top-nine forward with the potential to be more. Since Joseph is younger and scored 13 goals in his rookie season he may be more valued, but Verhaeghe could be desirable for a team in need of a play-now forward.
Lightning’s Tradeable AHL Prospects
While the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, haven’t had their best season in 2019-20, the team still has been able to showcase some of the franchise’s top young talent. Out of their roster, a handful of forwards could become a desireable piece in a trade.
Related: Checking in on the Struggling Crunch
First off is Alex Barre-Boulet, who has been one of the Crunch’s leading scorers over the last two seasons, posting 68 points in his rookie season alone. While he is one of the Lightning’s highest-rated prospects right now, he could be moved due to the franchise’s incredible forward depth.
Outside of Barre-Boulet, the Crunch also feature high-potential forwards like Taylor Raddysh, Alexander Volkov and Boris Katchouk. These forwards haven’t reached their full potential yet, but given the right opportunities and a change of scenery, they may be able to kickstart their promising careers.
Other Lightning Prospects Who Could Draw Attention
When you look at the Lightning’s 2018 blockbuster trade with the New York Rangers that returned Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, a major factor was the inclusion of non-professional prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden. These two players showed glimpses of potential that drew the eye of the Rangers, and they have both already broke into their starting lineup this season.
If the Lightning were to swing for a McDonagh-esque trade at the 2020 deadline, they would likely need to pull from their junior or NCAA prospect pool to do so. Luckily, they have a number of names who could put a trade package over the top.
Arguably the player who could draw the most attention is Maxim Cajkovic. As their third-round selection at the 2019 Draft, Cajkovic has all of the trappings to become their next great undersized forward. His skill ceiling is immense, and given the right opportunities to grow, he could be a starter in just a few seasons.
Also of note are forwards Gabriel Fortier and Sammy Walker, along with defensemen Nick Perbix and Max Crozier. While none of these prospects have the pop like Hajek or Howden did at the time of their trade, they could still be additional pieces for a franchise looking to add some more depth and potential to their prospect pools.
Lightning Aren’t Lacking in Trade Asset Options
Despite Tampa Bay’s somewhat middling pool of prospects, they still have enough talent to draw from in order to make a splash at the deadline.
While they should never give up key assets just to make a trade, knowing that they could swing a trade at least give BriseBois options at the deadline. Given how they went out in the 2019 playoffs, just having options will be valuable so that the perfect trade could be made if it presents itself.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.