Welcome to the first-ever Tampa Bay Lightning roundtable discussion. In this post, our team of Lightning contributors consisting of Eugene Helfrick and myself were joined by Chris Haddad and our prospect expert Josh Bell.
We talked about the upcoming NHL draft and who the Lightning should target with their picks, what their prospect system looks like as a whole and who might be able to make the full time jump next season to the Lightning.
2020 NHL Draft Targets
With the Lightning’s first pick not occurring until late in the second round, it’s mostly impossible to guess who they could get. However, two undersized forwards with first-round toolkits should be on their shortlist: Alexander Pashin and Theodor Niederbach. If they can get either in Round 2, that would be a huge win.
Outside of that, the third round will define this year’s draft for the Lightning. They have two late picks that have a ton of value, especially as good prospects inevitably fall. Look for a defenseman and/or one of the many power-forwards in this spot.
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This is also a goalie-rich draft, with some great prospects available in the sixth and seventh round. I’d love to see the Lightning take someone like Garin Bjorklund or Will Cranley.
It seems like the more we discuss Lightning targets, the more online rankings pick up on things and rank those targets out of reach for the club. One of these players is gritty winger Alexander Pashin. He fits in the Lightning mold of Martin St. Louis/Tyler Johnson/Yanni Gourde, but it is really hard to pin down if he’ll be available at the end of the second round.
This draft is deep in defensemen and with three picks in the late third/early fourth, drafting Ian Moore, Alexander Nikishin, or Thimo Nickl would beef up their organizational depth and provide a legit NHL prospect. Going defense in the second would probably make Tyler Kleven and Yan Kuznetsov available. Guys like Zayde Wisdom, Evan Vierling, and Dylan Peterson could be targets later on.
The best-case scenario for the Lightning is to take the best player available. I think they will take a forward, but don’t count them out from going for a defender if they believe that’s the best option. Their first pick will likely be a late second-rounder. If they choose a forward, I’d look for them to take a highly skilled guy. Eugene and Chris both mention Pashin, who would definitely fit in well and fit the mold of the Lightning’s typical pick.
A few others I might target are Veeti Miettinen, Emil Heinemann, and Daniil Gushchin. They are likely to be lower, second-round picks but they could all potentially have high ceilings. They all have a great, offensive package which Tampa Bay would love. Or, they could go for a more power-forward type to mix up their system. Keep an eye on Jaromir Pitlick, Tyler Tullio, and Will Cuylle if that’s the case.
On the D side, if a player like Emil Viro or Joni Jurmo is still on the board, look for the Lightning to pounce. They are offensively-skilled defenders that might very well still be on the board, but both look to be very promising defensemen in that range.
As all of the others mentioned above, with the Lightning not selecting until most likely late in the second round, I feel a guy like Alexander Pashin would fit the mold of a Lightning pick really well. Although he is only 5-foot-7, his skill is one of his most notable traits. He can create chances for his teammates out of nowhere and has a nose for the back of the net.
For the late third-round picks, I could see the Lightning going for a defenceman like Tyler Kleven like Chris mentioned above. He has good size and can move the puck really well. He is more of a defensive defenceman and would serve someone like Victor Hedman really well. They could also go the offensive route and draft someone like Tyler Tullio. He is a skilled player and would be a good fit as well.
As for the later rounds, it’s hard to predict what the Lightning might do. They could take a goalie to bolster their pipeline but I could also see them leaning towards taking someone like Xavier Simoneau or Lleyton Moore. No one is capable of predicting the future but it will be exciting to see who they ultimately take when the draft rolls around.
Lightning Prospect System
I feel like the Lightning’s prospect system is very mediocre, but that’s not a bad thing. The fact that the Syracuse Crunch are able to stay competitive despite the big club raiding them constantly for starting talent and trade assets is impressive. It could be a rough few years once Cal Foote and Alex Barre-Boulet graduate, but that’s to be expected. A great 2020 draft, however, would go a long way to fixing these issues. A few names to keep an eye on would be forward Maxim Cajkovic and goalie Hugo Alnefelt as both are good prospects with high upside.
I think the Lightning have a few prospects who will become middle/bottom six forwards in the NHL (Barre-Boulet, Alexander Volkov, Gabriel Fortier, Taylor Raddysh), a top-four defenceman in Foote, and then a bunch of guys who will have cups of tea in the big-leagues but may top out as “quad-A” guys. After them, the system is pretty underwhelming.
Not having a first-round pick this season hurts but the draft is deep enough where they can secure a true NHL prospect in Rounds 2-4. After Foote, there is a really big drop off in defensemen prospect quality. There is a good goalie prospect in Hugo Alnefelt which is nice.
In my January farm system rankings, I had the Lightning at 19th in the league. Trading Nolan Foote to the New Jersey Devils likely puts them in the bottom-10 in the league, though. They have some potential with the names mentioned by Eugene and Chris, but the Bolts will hope that the 2020 NHL Draft can re-stock their cupboard.
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That being said, you can’t feel too bad for the Lightning looking at their young, extremely talented NHL roster. Their prospect pool has had numerous graduates over the last few seasons. The organization has done well bringing prospects up, which has led to their reserves seeming depleted.
Like everyone stated above, I think the Lightning’s prospect system is mediocre when looking at it as a whole. They have some solid prospects like Foote, Barre-Boulet and Volkov but after that, it kind of takes a plunge. They don’t have a plethora of talent at every position and the upcoming draft is crucial to restocking their cupboard.
I was also thinking along the lines of what Josh said in his answer above. Although the Lightning prospect system is nothing to write home about, it is extremely impressive how they still have some options given the trades that they continually make and the talent they have at the NHL level. The Lightning are a serious contender every year and this year should be no different.
Player Primed to Make the Jump
Foote seems to be heir to the throne on the blue-line, as the Lightning still lack a good answer for a partner for Hedman. If Jan Rutta can shine in the playoffs, then he could take that spot and allow Foote to play on the third pairing in a limited role. If not, he may get thrown into the fire in a top-four role.
I also expect Barre-Boulet to earn a spot on the roster out of training camp. He has a great skillset and could easily take a spot in the bottom-six depending on who gets traded this year.
Luckily for Foote, the Lightning are stacked with solid blue liners so there’s no urgency for him to win out a top-four job out of camp. If the team re-signs Kevin Shattenkirk cheap again, he could be a good mentor for Foote. Barre-Boulet is an exciting middle six prospect who could take Barclay Goodrow’s job sooner than later.
Foote seems like the leading contender, and might command a roster spot. That being said, the large number of free agents coming off the Lightning blue line could help that. Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, and Luke Schenn are all unrestricted free agents. Foote could easily take one of those spots.
Once again, I agree with Eugene and Chris that Barre-Boulet is one to keep an eye on. One more to watch is Cajkovic. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him impress in camp and earn a spot, or at least a look at the NHL level. More likely though, he’ll spend a season in the AHL.
I think Foote has a really good chance at making the Lightning out of training camp next season. With all of the defencemen Josh listed above that are set to become free agents, I don’t see why Foote couldn’t grab a bottom pairing spot in training camp come next season. He has been developing nicely in the AHL with the Crunch and seems ready to make the jump.
I can also see someone like Barre-Boulet, Mitchell Stephens or Volkov making an impact come next season as well. Stephens had a nice long look in the NHL this season and he impressed the coaches. Barre-Boulet tore up the AHL and Volkov is jus a great all-around player. In my opinion, all three of them are deserving to make the team next season.
Thanks for taking the time to read the post. If anyone wants to discuss anything that we mentioned above or the Lightning in general, do not hesitate to comment down below. We would love to hear your takes!
My name is Mathieu Sheridan. I am a writer here at THW who covers the OHL and prospects in general.