Top Shelf Prospects: Tampa Bay Lightning

Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”.  As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks).  You can find all the articles here.  Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).

TopShelfProspectsThe Tampa Bay Lightning suffered a disappointing season this year.  Despite having the NHL’s leading scorer in Martin St. Louis, and another man who finished in the top 5 in Steven Stamkos, the Bolts just couldn’t do enough to keep the puck out of their own net, and finished 14th in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the NHL as a result.  The season cost head coach Guy Boucher his job, as he was replaced by John Cooper.  It also led to Tampa finding a new goalie as Steve Yzerman traded for Ben Bishop at the trade deadline.  The Lightning were better down the stretch, with these two changes giving Tampa fans hope for the future.  The disappointing season led to one further big change for Tampa as they amnestied Vincent Lecavalier, saying goodbye to the long-time face of the franchise.

If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that enveloped the Tampa Bay organization this year it is that they got the third overall pick in the NHL Draft.  They used it to snag Jonathan Drouin, who I had rated as the best prospect in the draft.  They also came out with another solid pick in Adam Erne early in the 2nd round.  This goes with Tampa having two first round picks in 2012, and having their AHL affiliate win the Calder Cup in 2012 (the Norfolk Admirals), and make it all the way to the finals this year (Syracuse Crunch).

In terms of prospect rulings. Brett Connolly has now played 73 career NHL games, and was considered graduated prior to this season when he only played 5 games.  It was a major setback year for the former 6th overall pick as most expected he would be a full time member of the big club after his performance in 2011-12.  Still he’s played enough NHL games that I think Bolts fans have gotten a good look at him, and will not be going into a profile of him here.

2013 Draft Prospects Reviewed by LWOS: Jonathan Drouin, Adam Erne

 

#1 Prospect, Andrey Vasilevsky, Goalie
Born July 25 1994 – Tyumen, Russia
Height 6.03 — Weight 190 — Shoots Left – Catches Left
Drafted in the first round, 20th overall, by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 NHL Draft

Vasiliveski played in four games at the World Junior Championships for Russia this year, helping the squad to a Bronze medal finish in Sochi.  He was even better than he was during his breakout 2012 Tournament (2.01 GAA, .953 SV%) putting up numbers of 1.81 GAA and .950 this year.  Overall though there was more consistency and maturity seen as he didn’t have the one period breakdown as he did in the semi-final against Canada the previous year.  He was still splitting the net with Andrei Makarov though.  However we would expect that the Russian net will be all his in the 2014 tournament.  In league play he split the year between the KHL and the MHL (Russian equivalent to the AHL).

Coming in at 6’3″ tall, Vasilevski has the ideal height and size that NHL teams are looking for more and more in goaltenders today. He is big and takes up a lot of space. When he gets out on his angles he doesn’t leave shooters with a whole lot of net to look at.  As evidenced by his performance in international competitions Vasilevski is mature beyond his years, and this helps him maintain a cool and calm composure in the net.

Vasilevski has quick and agile legs that cover the bottom of the net. He is very hard to beat down low. He also has an effective glove hand, something that more and more European goalies are learning to develop in recent years. Vasilevski is very good in his lateral movement, he gets side to side in his crease quickly and doesn’t overcommit to cross-ice passes.

There are not a lot of huge weaknesses in Vasilevski’s game. Like many young goalies he is going to need to better control his rebounds. However this will come with time and experience. Overall, his technique is still a little raw, but the talent is definitely there and just needs to be refined.

The Lightning will hope to get Vasilevski over to North America as soon as possible and get him used to the smaller ice surface at the AHL level.  He’s likely a few years away from an NHL impact, but the kid has the talent, and is one of the top goalie prospects in hockey.

 

#2 Prospect, Nikita Kucherov, RW
Born Jun 17 1993 — Maikop, Russia
Height 5.11 — Weight 174 — Shoots L
Selected by Tampa Bay Lightning round 2 #58 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft

When the NHL lockout dragged on the Quebec Remparts found themselves with Mikhail Grigorenko, Nick Sorenson, and Nikita Kucherov and only able to play 2 of the 3 players on any given night due to the CHL’s rules on how many import players can dress on any given night. This led to a decrease in ice time, and some healthy scratches for Kucherov. As time wore on the situation just didn’t make sense for all involved and a November trade saw Kucherov (in his last year of junior eligibility) as the odd man out as he was traded to the Rouyn-Norenda Huskies. Things couldn’t have worked out better for Kucherov who lit things up for his new squad to the tune of 26 goals and 57 points in 27 regular season games. He continued this pace into the playoffs putting up 24 points in 14 games,helping the Huskies reach the QMJHL semi-final, and even helping to knock out the Remparts in 5 games in the second round.

Kucherov is a dynamic offensive player. He possesses great skating ability, and it is his edgework, agility, and lateral mobility that really set him apart from other players. Combine those with great stickhandling, and very good ability to accelerate and change gears, and he is extremely difficult to contain one-on-one.  He is a smart player who sees the ice extremely well and has good hockey sense.  Great passing skills, and soft hands make him a dangerous playmaker.  He can exploit the defense both with and without the puck as he can find openings and has a strong arsenal of shots including very good wrist shots, snap shots, and one-timers.  His release is quick.  Kucherov may only be 5’11”  but he is willing to go to the corners and front of the net battling in the dirty areas of the ice.

Kucherov showed a real commitment to defence in Rouyn-Norenda this year, improving his backchecking intensity, and defensive zone coverage.  He became especially adept at cutting down passing lanes and creating turnovers with his quick and active stick.  He showed good backpressure, helping out the defence, and forcing the opposition to make plays quicker than they wanted to.

Kucherov still needs to bulk up to be ready to play at the NHL level.  Expect to see him start the year at Syracuse next year, and to be an injury call up at some point.  He likely won’t be a full time NHLer until at least the fall of 2014.

 

Super Sleeper, Mark Barbiero, Defence
Born Mar 23 1990 — Montreal, PQ
Height 6.00 — Weight 201 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 6 #152 overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft

Barberio just seems to get better and better every year.  He really took off in Norfolk in 2011-12, and continued the strong play this season in Syracuse.  He led the AHL in scoring by a defenceman in 2011-12, and finished 6th in 2012-13 despite playing only 73 games. His contributions were a key component of the success that the Lightning organization has put together at the AHL level over the last two seasons.  He even managed to make his NHL debut this year, getting in two games for Tampa.

Barberio’s offensive game is built on his intelligence and poise with the puck on his stick.  He makes excellent reads and gets the play started from the blueline.  These smart decisions, and his strong passing skills make him a a natural powerplay quarterback, leading to excellent scoring opportunities for the Syracuse forwards.  A quick and agile skater, Barberio walks the line and opens up shooting and passing lanes effectively.  He has a hard and accurate slap shot which he can keep low to advantage of traffic in front, or rip top shelf on a one timer.  Barberio has been known to take too many chances pinching, or leading the rush, but he is getting better at picking his spots.  He still takes some risks to create offence, but does so more selectively and effectively than he had early in his AHL career.

Barberio’s defensive game has long been a question mark, even going back to his junior days.  It was the improvement in this side of his game that really allowed him to blossom in the AHL the last two years.  You see, there was never really much question about his offensive talent, but his riverboat gambling style, and a lack of upper body strength used to make him a defensive liability that just didn’t get trusted with big ice time by his coaches.  Under John Cooper he cleaned up those areas of his game, and has become a top AHL matchup defenceman, and effective penalty killer.

With his former AHL coach in John Cooper now leading the Lightning, Barbeiro will get a long, hard look in Tampa’s training camp next year.  He very well could crack Tampa’s opening day lineup, and even if he doesn’t will be high on the depth chart for a callup.

 

Adding to this group are players like Slater Koekkoek (who needs to stay healthy), Alex Killorn (who looked good in his time with Tampa last year), Nikita Nesterov (a talented Russian who might be a steal given his talent level and being a 5th rounder due to the Russian Factor), Richard Panik (a goal scoring RW who put up lots of points for syracuse), Vladislav Namestnikov (a skilled centre who needs to stay healthy), J.T. Brown (the 2012 NCAA free agent prize) and Andrej Sustr (the 2013 NCAA free agent prize) we see a deep system in Tampa.  Now that they have the top end talent in Drouin to put the cherry on top of the sundae, they will be highly ranked in our final prospect pool rankings.

 

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