There is no doubt that the Tampa Bay Lightning have one of the best teams on paper in the National Hockey League. With star players such as Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, they are certainly not hurting in terms of talent.
What is even more impressive is the fact that they have a deep prospect pool to work with as well. With all of the talent developing down in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, there is some excitement amongst Bolts fans for the future. Here are the six guys who I think have the best chance to make the jump to the NHL come next season:
Drafted 14th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, Cal Foote has been rounding out his game in the AHL while playing top-pairing minutes for the Crunch. In 62 games played, he scored 6 goals and added 22 assists for 28 points to go along with 38 minutes in penalties.
Although he has taken a while to round out his game, Foote finally seems to be taking a step in the right direction. Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 220 pounds, he has the perfect size to make a smooth transition to the NHL. He does not shy away from being physical in the corners and loves to lay opponents out when given the opportunity.
Foote is also great at staying calm. He makes the smart plays under pressure and makes a great first outlet pass to his forwards breaking through the neutral zone. With the likely departure of Zach Bogosian and Braydon Coburn, there will be spots for Foote to seize if he has a good training camp. All signs point to him being a good player and it will be exciting to see what he can do come next season and beyond.
A second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Mitchell Stephens got a nice long look in the NHL this season. In 38 games played for the Lightning, he scored three goals and added three assists for six points to go along with 10 penalty minutes.
Although his development has taken some time, Stephens has finally turned a corner in his development. A throwback player, Stephens does all of the little things right. He is always hard on the forecheck and is not afraid to be physical. He always sticks up for his teammates and can contribute on offence when needed.
Although I don’t see him being a top-six forward in the NHL, Stephens can certainly still provide value as a bottom-six forward. I expect him to play a bigger role going forward and it will be fun to see what impact he has on the team down the road.
An undrafted free agent, Alex Barre-Boulet is looking like more and more of a steal every day. Playing for the Crunch this past season, he scored 27 goals and added 29 assists for 56 points in 60 games played.
Barre-Boulet has all the tools needed to be a star at the next level. Along with a great shot, he loves to set up his teammates with his elite vision. Using his skating ability, he creates time and space for his teammates and is able to create chances in the slot out of nowhere. Barre-Boulet is also not afraid to shoot. He uses his shot to deceive goalies and can rip a shot top shelf in a moment’s time.
While he most likely will not be given top-six minutes, Barre-Boulet can certainly still make an impact in the NHL next season. He is tenacious on the puck and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas around the net. Given his versatility, I cannot see him being in the AHL much longer.
A second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Taylor Raddysh was in a similar boat to Mitchell Stephens. Both players had immense promise when they were drafted but they needed to round out their respective games.
Fast forward to today and Raddysh is proving that his development has come a long way. Although his skating is still a work in progress, his offensive game has started to take off. In 62 games played this season, he scored 19 goals and added 16 assists for 35 points.
Capable of going to the dirty areas of the ice, Raddysh battles hard in the corners and usually comes away with the puck. He has really good lower-body strength and is hard to knock off the puck. In terms of offense, he does most of his damage in front of the net. Using his size, Raddysh is great at screening the goalie and loves to pounce on loose rebounds.
While some of the players on this list may have a better shot of making the team out of training camp, that does not take away from Raddysh’s talent. He does all the little things well and will be in the NHL sooner rather than later.
A 2016 second-rounder like Raddysh, Boris Katchouk’s game took a big leap this past season. While playing for the Crunch, he scored 14 goals and added 18 assists for 32 points in 60 games played.
Along with the offensive surge, Katchouk has rounded out his two-way game as well. He can be seen backchecking whenever his team turns over the puck and he is great at intercepting passes through the neutral zone. He is also capable of being physical. Although he does not go looking for battles, he can defend himself when need be.
In an interview with Peter Riucci of the Sault Star, Katchouk talked about his confidence on an NHL future: “I’m confident I can make the jump. I’d like to believe that I’m getting closer to making the Lightning.” (from ‘Katchouk ‘confident’ of NHL future’, The Sault Star – 05/17/20)
I personally believe Katchouk is very close to making the Lightning. Every coach would love to have a player like him and I am sure he will crack the Lightning lineup at least once in 2020-21.
A second-rounder in the 2017 NHL Draft, Alex Volkov got a short NHL look as well this season. Playing in nine games for the Lightning, he collected an assist to go along with six minutes in penalties.
Although his performance was nothing to write home about, he showed he could do all the little things right. Known for his vision and shot, Volkov also showed that he could be relied upon to play a more defensive-minded game. This is certainly a positive as he has shown that his two-way game is coming around.
Come next season, I will be extremely shocked if Volkov doesn’t make the team out of training camp. He has all the skills required to make an impact at the next level and he has shown that his work away from the puck is trending upwards.
Although all of these players are at different stages in their development and bring different skills to the table, all of them have shown that they are ready for the next level. With the Lightning having such a deep lineup, it will be a while before all of them get a shot but I have no doubt these players will all be contributors for Tampa sooner rather than later.