4 Lightning Prospects Who Could Crack NHL Lineup in 2022-23

The Tampa Bay Lightning face a challenging situation with the salary cap next season as they need to stay under the $82.5 million limit while also trying to find room to re-sign critical unrestricted free agents. They took a step in that direction by signing Nick Paul to a seven-year deal worth just over $22 million. The team has also indicated that they are attempting to sign veteran forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Jan Rutta. However, if they cannot sign them or any other significant player in free agency, there are four prospects who could be ready to step into the lineup in 2022-23.

After signing Nick Paul, the Lightning traded veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh to help free up cap space and beyond but they still have a lot of work to do to sign everyone they want to include on next year’s roster. This could give one or all of these four prospects an avenue to make the team next season.

Alex Barre-Boulet

The Quebec native had a very interesting 2021-22 season, as he was waived by the Lightning before opening night and was claimed by the Seattle Kraken. After two games with them, Barre-Boulet was placed back on waivers with the Lightning being the only team to claim him. In 14 games with Tampa, he scored three goals and two assists. He also became a father for the first time, with his son Zack being born in February. With all of this happening, Barre-Boulet had an excellent season in Syracuse tallying 63 points on 16 goals and 47 assists.

Alex Barre-Boulet Syracuse Crunch
Alex Barre-Boulet, Syracuse Crunch (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Barre-Boulet secured a three-year, entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 1, 2018, a signing many feel could end up being one of the best free-agent signings in recent memory. His performance in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the American Hockey League (AHL) indicates that he has the potential to be a top-six player in the NHL. He makes up for his lack of size with intelligence on the ice. He also possesses an agile skating ability, excellent puck skills, and a more than capable shot. He has done more than enough at the AHL level, now he needs to take that skill set to the Lightning.

Cole Koepke

The 24-year-old winger tallied 39 points in 69 games with the Syracuse Crunch this season while picking up valuable experience in being one of the “black aces” during the last playoff run. Koepke could join Ross Colton and 11 other current Lightning players who have at one time, played in Syracuse. He was a sixth-round pick by the Lightning in 2018. He played three seasons with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs before joining Syracuse in the 2020-21 season.

Cole Koepke UMD Athletics
Cole Koepke, UMD Bulldogs (Terry Cartie Norton-UMD Athletics)

Most experts feel that Keopke has the skill set to be a solid NHL middle sixer, as he is a decent-sized forward that can skate well and has a heavy shot. The native of Minnesota will need to improve his defensive skills, but he is not a liability in his own zone. He has the versatility to play in front of the net but is at his best when he can work in space. Koepke can play with speed, something that should benefit him with the Lightning’s system of playing off of counter-rushes and in pursuit of the puck on the forecheck. He is no stranger to winning championships too, having won a National Championship with the Bulldogs in 2019.

Darren Raddysh

If the Lightning lose a defenseman or two in the coming months, Darren Raddysh could be a candidate to make the team. He recently signed a two-year, two-way contract and played four games for the Lightning last season and had six blocked shots, four hits, two shots on goal, and a plus-1 rating. The older brother of former Lightning forward Taylor Raddysh, he has skated in 289 career AHL contests between the Crunch, Hartford Wolf Pack, and Rockford IceHogs, notching 29 goals, 120 points, 147 penalty minutes, and a plus-23 rating.

Darren Raddysh, OHL, Erie Otters
Darren Raddysh, seen here with the Erie Otters (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Raddysh has been described as a player who is a late bloomer. He has been able to provide defensive play while also being able to contribute offensively in the AHL. He started his professional career with a one-year deal with the Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate. He was later traded to the New York Rangers, where he struggled to find opportunities due to the blue line depth in the organization. He proceeded to sign a one-year, two-way contract with the Lightning in July of 2021. Getting a taste of AHL playoff action, the veteran contributed two assists in five games for Syracuse during the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. His improvement and experience may indicate that he is ready for more ice time at the NHL level and now should have the opportunity due to the recent Ryan McDonagh trade.

Gabriel Fortier

Gabriel Fortier was drafted by Tampa Bay in the second round, 59th overall, of the 2018 NHL Draft. He played in 10 games with the Lightning last season, recording one goal. The Lachine, Quebec native also skated in 72 games for the Crunch, tallying 35 points on 14 goals and 21 assists. He seemed to hit his stride after he struggled a bit in the pandemic marred 2020-21 season. In his final full season in the QMJHL, he recorded 26 goals and 33 assists with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.

Gabriel Fortier Lightning
Gabriel Fortier, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Fortier’s style of play perfectly fits the Lightning’s philosophy, as he is a relentless worker with two-way abilities. Much of his success in previous seasons was the result of him being in front of the net battling for pucks or digging pucks out of corners. He is a solid defensive performer with his lack of size being offset by his tremendous speed, which also helps him on the penalty kill. Overall, he is a competitive and high-intelligence player who brings awareness and versatility in all three zones and projects to be a top-nine player in the NHL. His playing time with the Lightning in the near future will depend on what they decide to do with Palat and Alex Killorn.

Related: 4 Former Lightning Making an Impact in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs

In their effort to win multiple Stanley Cups, the Lightning have traded away many picks and prospects to achieve that goal. While not the deepest with prospect talent, they have a handful of players that could step in and play a role for the team next season, something they would love to be able to rely on as they navigate their 2022-23 roster around a tight salary cap.

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