Is Verhaeghe the Lightning’s Next Breakout Rookie?

Over the years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have made a habit of pulling incredible NHL talent from unexpected sources. From undrafted sensations like Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde to late-round draft picks like Ondrej Palat and Mathieu Joseph, several key contributors for Tampa Bay found NHL success despite the odds being stacked against them.

In the 2019-20 season, Carter Verhaeghe could add his name to that illustrious list of against-all-odds players for the Lightning.

Carter Verhaeghe
Despite being a relative unknown, Carter Verhaeghe could be the next breakout rookie forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

As a young player who fought his way from the ECHL into a starring role in the AHL, is everything in place for Verhaeghe to follow in Gourde’s recent footprints and take on a starting role with the Lightning?

How Verhaeghe Got to the Lightning

Despite being a third-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs back at the 2013 Draft, Verhaeghe was traded to the New York Islanders before the start of the 2015-16 season. While in the Islanders’ system, he bounced around the ECHL and AHL, posting inconsistent scoring totals that wouldn’t suggest he had NHL potential.

Michael Grabner
Carter Verhaeghe was one of five prospects included in a trade that sent Michael Grabner from the New York Islanders to the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

After a spending a few years with the Islanders, Verhaeghe was traded to the Lightning for goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. At the time, the trade was seen as nothing more than a minor-league swap of underachieving players in need of a fresh start.

Verhaeghe Burst onto the AHL Scene

In his first season with the Syracuse Crunch, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, Verhaeghe posted 17 goals and 48 points in 58 games. These numbers were more than solid for an AHL forward, but they weren’t enough to really show that he had an NHL future.

In the 2018-19 season, though, Verhaeghe put it all together. He led the AHL with 82 points while scoring 34 goals, which put him in a tie for the league lead along with teammate Alex Barre-Boulet.

What makes Verhaeghe so impactful for the Crunch is his consistency. As said by JustinG of

The longest stretch he’s gone without recording a point in his Crunch career is five games. Only twice has he gone without a point in three or more games. That’s pretty darn consistent.

Where Can Verhaeghe Fit With Lightning?

Under normal circumstances, Verhaeghe likely wouldn’t be able to find a spot on the Lightning’s opening night roster. The Bolts have one the deepest forward corps in the league, so making room for a rookie would be difficult.

However, Verhaeghe would have to clear waivers this season if he were unable to fight his way onto the roster out of training camp. Given that he was the top-scoring player in the AHL last season, another team would likely be happy to give him a chance on their opening night line-up.

With this in mind, the Lightning may keep Verhaeghe on their NHL roster, even if he starts out the season as a healthy scratch. Tampa Bay showed with Danick Martel that they are willing to dedicate a roster spot to a player in order to keep them with the franchise even if they aren’t planning on playing them consistently that season.

Tampa Bay Lightning Danick Martel
The Tampa Bay Lightning dedicated a roster spot to Danick Martel throughout the 2018-19 season despite him only playing in nine games that season. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

However, when the Lightning eventually suffer a mid-season injury, Verhaeghe could find himself in a starting role with the franchise. He is one of those players that, once given a taste of NHL playing time, he likely will never let go of his roster spot.

Lightning: Be Ready for Verhaeghe’s Breakout

Given the Lightning’s history of players coming out of seemingly nowhere and becoming nightly contributors at the NHL level, it would come as no surprise to see Verhaeghe fight his way onto the 2019-20 starting roster. He has the scoring acumen to become an NHL scoring threat, and Tampa Bay have shown that they are more than willing to give opening night roster spots to whoever earns it out of training camp.

A starting role may not be all for Verhaeghe’s rookie season, though. If he can show flashes of his AHL-leading scoring talent, he could very well find himself contributing alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the Lightning’s top-line.

Related: Lightning’s Defense Still Powered by Former Rangers

Sure, this may seem like a bit of a stretch right now, but nothing is impossible for a player like Verhaeghe. If given the right opportunity, he could very well become the Lightning’s next rookie sensation.