Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: Tampa Bay Lightning Prospects
The Lightning had a strong season, finishing second in the Atlantic Division. On the eve of the playoffs, it felt like disaster struck, as Steven Stamkos was diagnosed with a blood clot. Despite the loss of a key player the Lightning soldiered on, making the Eastern Conference Finals and taking the Pittsburgh Penguins to seven games. Along the way, stories included an injury to Vezina candidate Ben Bishop, and the redemption of Jonathan Drouin. Stamkos would return for game seven, but they could not get past the eventual champs.
As the off-season hit, many thought that change was coming in Tampa. Instead Steve Yzerman surprised many by locking up Stamkos to an eight-year deal. He then locked up much of the rest of the team’s core, getting Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Alex Killorn, and Vladislav Namestnikov to sign new contracts. There is still work to do on a new deal for Nikita Kucherov. While some depth players have been added, and others have left, the focus of this off-season has been keeping the band together. With free agency looming, the big question that remains is what happens with Vezina Trophy finalist Bishop.
Draft Picks: Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Connor Ingram, Ross Colton, Christopher Paquette, Oleg Sosunov, Otto Somppi, Ryan Lohin
Graduates: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Nesterov, Jonathan Marchessault
Tampa Bay Lightning Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Slater Koekkoek
Defense — shoots Left
Born Feb 18 1994 — Winchester, ONT
Height 6’2 — Weight 198 lbs [188 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 1, #10 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Slater Koekkoek had and excellent second season as a professional. He scored five goals and 15 points in 60 games in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. Koekkoek played a solid two-way game and earned a call up to Tampa. He played nine regular season games and 10 playoff games.
Koekkoek has really improved his speed going forward, but could use some work on his first step. His acceleration is decent. He improved his backwards skating this year, and improved his gap control. His agility, balance, and lateral mobility are very good and will serve him well going forward.
Koekkoek has a number of offensive skills. His slap shot is hard and accurate, and Koekkoek understands the importance of keeping it low and on net. Koekkoek is also a very good passer, and his excellent vision helps him to quarterback the power play (though he’s been a second unit guy in Syracuse). He is a good puckhandler. He shows the ability to join the rush, and smart decision making to do it at the right times. Despite all these skills, Koekkoek has not been able to put up big points at the pro level. He is still young, and there is a chance he can put it all together and greatly increase his scoring. If he does not, he will still be a good-two way defender with some secondary offence.
Defensively Koekkoek is a physical presence. He is a player who just loves to throw big body checks, and can strike fear into opponents coming down his side of the ice. Koekkoek is also a willing and able shot blocker. Over the last two years he has worked on his positioning and cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He has also added muscle to his frame and worked to be able handle bigger forwards at the next level. There is still more room to fill out though. He is tall and has a good frame to put that muscle on to.
Koekkoek will come to camp looking to build off his playoff experience and earn a full-time spot with the Lightning. He’s a bubble player right now. A strong cap would earn him a spot, while a weak one will see him back in Syracuse, preparing to be the first call-up.
#2 Prospect: Brayden Point
Center — shoots Right
Born Mar 13 1996 — Calgary, ALTA
Height 5’11” — Weight 165 lbs [180 cm/75 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 3, #79 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Point had an excellent season. He captained the Moose Jaw Warriors and put up 35 goals and 88 points in 48 games. Despite playing 12 less games, he scored more points, and finished with just three less goals. Point also had six goals and 16 points in the playoffs. He captained Canada’s World Junior team.
Point is a very good skater. He has good top end speed, very good acceleration and a quick first step. His agility and edge work are both very good, and his balance and strength on the puck is surprising for a player his size. He skates with a low centre of gravity and is very tough to take off the puck when he has it, and he can be gritty and win board battles due to this good balance. He plays bigger than his size as a result, throwing hits and being physical in all three zones.
Point is an excellent playmaker. His hockey sense, vision, passing skills and decision making are all at a very high level. His stickhandling is also good. He has the ability to control the puck and the poise to slow the play down and wait for a teammate to get open. Point also has a very good scoring touch in close to the net where he tips in shots or pounces on rebounds, he also has the soft hands to make a move and fool a goaltender in tight. Point has added muscle and this resulted in him having more power on his wrist shot. It could still be better, but it is accurate and features a good release.
Point plays the game hard in all three zones. He is gritty on the backcheck and willing to battle against bigger players in his own end of the rink. He comes back hard, and is always moving his feet which really helps him in bringing back pressure off the rush. Point is also very good at anticipating plays and causing turnovers, or stealing the puck off of a bigger defender. While his balance can help him win battles for loose pucks, his size is a bit of a detriment when a bigger, stronger open does have the puck as he has some difficulty containing those forwards in the cycle game. Point also shows good skills in the face-off dot, where excellent timing and quick hands serve him well.
Point will graduate to the pro ranks. He will likely spend the season with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.
#3 Prospect: Adam Erne
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Apr 20 1995 — New Haven, CT
Height 6’1″ — Weight 210 lbs [185 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 2, #33 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Erne finished his junior career on a tear, scoring nearly a goal per game in the 2015 QMJHL Playoffs. He did not carry that momentum into his first AHL season, as Erne struggled to adjust to the pro game. He also suffered a hand injury that kept him out almost two months of the year. Overall, he scored 14 goals and 29 points in 59 games.
Erne’s skating has really improved over time. His stride is long and powerful, which allows him to generate good top speed, but also gives him the balance and strength necessary to be strong on the puck and fight through checks to get to the dirty areas of the ice. Erne’s strong acceleration allows him to go wide on defenders and beat them before cutting to the net. His edge work and agility are decent as well.
Erne is a power forward in training who plays a very physical game. He loves to get in on the forecheck and throw big hits, the type that can really set the tone for his team. He just loves to win battles on the boards and to fight for position in front of the net. Erne is at his best when he drives the net and uses his soft hands to beat the goalie in close. He can do this by taking defenders wide off the rush, or in the cycle game by just fighting through checks and barreling his way to the crease. He drives the net effectively without the puck as well. Erne also has a good wrist shot and a quick release which he can also use to beat goaltenders. His vision and playmaking ability continue to improve, but there is a ways to go.
Erne is already advanced in his defensive game and is reliable in his own zone. He brings the same strong physical play in the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone. Most times he plays his position extremely well, keeping his man to the outside and cutting off shooting and passing lanes. The only issue he can sometimes have is getting a little overzealous in his approach and looking for the big hit which will get him out of position in the defensive zone.
Erne is still learning how to play his power forward style in the pro ranks. It may take him a bit more time before he is NHL ready, but Erne has the skills to bring an element of physical play and power that would add a new dimension to the Lightning forward group going forward.
#4 Prospect: Dominik Masin
Defense — shoots Left
Born Feb 1 1996 — Mestec Kralove, Czech Rep.
Height 6’3″ — Weight 198 lbs [191 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 2, #35 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Masin spent his second season in North America, playing for the Peterborough Petes. He broke out offensively scoring eight goals and 32 assists for 40 points in 57 games. Masin also played for the Czech Republic in the World Juniors.
Masin’s skating improved over the course of the year. He still needs a bit of work on his edge work but has improved his speed and mobility. While he’ll never be confused for a speedster, Masin has gotten to a level where his speed is average. His excellent positioning and hockey IQ are able to mask any deficiencies and help him handle speedy players.
Offensively, Masin’s game has come a long way. He has gotten offensively each year. Masin was once only a defensive defender, but now makes strong, heads up passes, both out of his own end to start the rush and in the offensive zone as well. He has become more poised and confident with the puck on his stick as well. Masin still doesn’t have a big slap shot from the point, but it is now decent. He also uses a good wrist and snap shot when pressured at the point. Masin learned how to get his shot through traffic, as well as the importance of keeping it low and on net for rebounds and deflections.
Masin has good size and plays an excellent defensive game. He played big minutes for the Petes and always against the other teams’ top offensive lines. He has great hockey IQ, and the ability to read the play. His positioning is excellent, and he breaks up plays with a good active stick. Masin maintains excellent gap control and is very hard to beat one-on-one. He is physical in the corners and in front of the net, and can use his size to throw big hits.
Masin should advance to the professional ranks this season. He will likely start the year in Syracuse. The Lightning will keep a close eye on him, seeing if his newfound offensive ability will continue into the pro ranks.
#5 Prospect: Brett Howden
The Lightning drafted Howden with the 27th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Howden, including a full scouting report. We will not repeat it, as nothing has changed since June. You can check out the report here.
#6 Prospect Libor Hajek
The Lightning drafted Hajek with the 37th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Hajek, including a full scouting report. We will not repeat it, as nothing has changed since June. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Nikita Gusev
Left Wing – Shoots Right
Born Jul 8 1992 – Moskva, RUS
Height 5’11” – Weight 181 lbs [180 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 7, #202 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Gusev was traded to SKA St. Petersburg last season. Put in an offensive role with one of the KHL’s top clubs, he scored 13 goals and 35 points in 33 games. He also added 14 points on SKA’s playoff run.
Gusev is a bit undersized and is forced to make up for that with excellent skating ability. He has excellent speed and rapid acceleration. Gusev is an absolute speed demon. He also has very good agility and edge work. Gusev has good core strength and is stron on the puck.
Gusev is highly skilled. He can stickhandle in a phone booth, with the slick, soft hands to make plays. He controls the puck extremely well on both the cycle game and the rush, and is able to extend plays and find openings. Gusev has excellent vision. Once he does find that opening, he will feather a tape-to-tape pass to his teammate. He also has a good release on his wrist shot. He gets that wrister, or a hard slap shot on net regularly.
Gusev’s defensive game is a work in progress. He has a tendency to not move his feet enough in the defensive zone, and get caught puck watching. He needs to work on his defensive intensity, as well as his positioning. Gusev needs to be taught to keep his man to the outside and keep the front of the net clear.
Gusev will spend the season in the KHL with SKA. The Lightning will try to convince him to bring his game to North America next year. If he does, he could jump straight into the lineup, bypassing the NHL.
While Andrei Vasilevskiy is graduated, he is just 22 years old. He is one of the top young goalies in the world and should man the crease in Tampa for a long time. There is depth behind him with Kristers Gudlevskis, and Adam Wilcox in the system. The Lightning have decent depth on the blue line as well. Beyond Koekkoek, Masin and Hajek are Matthew Spencer, Dylan Blujus, and Ben Thomas. The team also drafted Johnathan MacLeod relatively highly, but he has to turn his play around after a tough season. Up front Howden, Boris Katchouk, and Taylor Raddysh join a group that includes Point, Erne, Gusev, Dennis Yan, Anthony Cirelli, Tanner Richard, Mitchell Stephens, Matthew Peca, and Joel Vermin. Overall Yzerman continues to assemble a good group that will supplement the Lightning core going forward.