If you’re Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois, the last thing you are worrying about right now is your relatively weak prospect pool. Competing for a Stanley Cup often comes at the expense of draft picks and high-value prospects, after all, and the Lightning have been more than willing to part with these assets in order to not only build a Stanley Cup-winning team but then maintain that roster of elite talent.
While the Lightning may not have a pool of marque prospects, however, this doesn’t mean that the franchise is lacking in impact talent throughout their system. As we saw with Ross Colton during the 2020-21 season, even an unexpected prospect can have a major impact should they be able to make the most out of the situation presented to them.
With so much uncertainty throughout the 2020-21 season, the Lightning actually got to see a lot of their top prospects in action. Players like Cal Foote, Alex Barre-Boulet, and Colton all got meaningful ice time, giving them the opportunity to showcase why they should be starters for the future.
Due to this, I’m going to take a slightly different approach with this discussion as we approach the start of the 2021-22 training camp. Everyone knows that Foote, Barre-Boulet, and Colton will be fighting for a spot on the opening night roster, so I don’t really see a reason to continue discussing them here, even if they are some of the Lightning’s top prospects. Instead, I will use this time to spotlight a few players who should be part of that next wave of talent taking over Tampa Bay or will be prospects to keep an eye on in the coming years.
To put it simply, it is time for Taylor Raddysh to take that next step in his career. As a second-round pick by the Lightning back at the 2016 NHL Draft, Raddysh has slowly developed his game while working his way up the franchise’s depth charts.
In three seasons playing for the Syracuse Crunch, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, he posted solid scoring totals while learning how to utilize his size and strength to his advantage. Projected out to a full season, he would have likely posted at least 20 goals and 50 points in 2020-21, which shows that he still has plenty of offensive prowess to bring to the franchise.
However, due to where he is at in his career, 2021-22 may be a make-or-break season for Raddysh with Tampa Bay. If he is unable to lock down a spot in their bottom-six, he could get passed on the depth charts, which may lead to him being traded to a new team so he can have a fresh start.
Similar to Raddysh, Boris Katchouk was a second-round draft pick (44th overall) by the Lightning back in 2016 who has slowly developed his game while playing with the Crunch. While his scoring totals were never anything outstanding, he has been a consistent presence with Syracuse over the last three seasons, who could have scored 20 goals and 50 points during a full schedule.
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Katchouk has both NHL-caliber size and enough scoring acumen to perfectly slot into the Lightning’s bottom-six. In fact, he could find himself playing alongside Raddysh once again, as they did with the Crunch in 2020-21 when they experienced their best season in the AHL.
Given where he is at in his career, it looks like the 2021-22 season will be time for Katchouk to show what he can be for the Lightning. If he finds his niche with the team, he could be in line for a solid rookie season while taking over a starting role on the roster.
Moving away from players who could start for the Lightning this season, let’s look towards the franchise’s top goaltending prospect, Hugo Alnefelt. While Tampa Bay have, arguably, the best goaltender in the world right now, it is never a bad idea to have a quality goalie developing in the background, which is why the team has been willing to invest prime draft picks into the position.
What helps set Alnefelt apart from his contemporaries is the fact that he has been playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for the last two seasons. While his actual statistics are just okay, as he posted a .904 save percentage and a 3.16 goals-against average in 22 games played during the 2020-21 season, when you consider the quality of opponent he was facing and his age (Alnefelt turned 20-years-old in June), those numbers are easier to understand.
Since Alnefelt should be competing for a starting role with the Crunch in 2021-22, he could showcase why he is considered a top goalie prospect. As the Lightning won’t have to rush him into the league, he will be given the time to develop his game and in the coming years, he could become the consistent backup presence the team needs.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. At the NHL Entry Draft, the Lightning select an undersized but skilled forward who fell down the board despite many projecting them to be, at least, a second-round pick. While this can describe a number of impact players for the franchise in recent years, this happened again when Tampa Bay took Dylan Duke in the fourth round of the 2021 Draft.
While it is unfair to compare Duke to players who have already established themselves in the NHL for the Lightning, it is easy to draw parallels between him and other names who have developed within the organization. He is that hard-working, high-energy forward who can not only score points but also be a pest on the ice to keep the opponent in check.
As said in Duke’s draft profile by THW:
Will he ever be a top-end goal scorer? Likely not. But he has the talent and toolkit to become that pain in your neck third-liner that fans are ecstatic to have on their roster, even if he is only playing 13 to 15 minutes each night.
Since he is already committed to playing with the University of Michigan for the 2021-22 season, Duke’s near future is set. He is in the perfect position to develop his game with a top university before hopefully making the transition to the AHL and eventually the NHL. So, while it might be a few years down the line, he is a player Lightning fans should be keeping an eye on.
Lightning Will Need Prospects to Fill Roster Gaps
As the Lightning look to defend their back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships, they will be doing so with a lot of change in their roster. While roster turnover always happens, this offseason has been particularly tough on the franchise as key players departed.
Due to this, however, it will be time for Tampa Bay’s many prospects to hopefully take that next step in their careers and fight for a spot on the roster. If they can do so, they could find their role in the NHL while helping the Lightning stay competitive for another year.
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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.