Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature 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.
I will link 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 2017-18 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 a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Tampa Bay Lightning Prospects
Coming off a Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to take the next step as the 2016-17 season started. Unfortunately, a series of injuries meant that the team took a step back instead. Things were not all bad for the Lightning. Winger Nikita Kucherov had a break out season, becoming one of the elite forwards in the game. Defenceman Victor Hedman proved he is one of the best all-around defencemen in the world. He earned a Norris Trophy nomination. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy finally took over the number one spot. It was not enough though. Despite a furious stretch run, the Lightning finished just out of the playoffs.
Top Prospect: Mikhail Sergachev
Defense — shoots Left
Born June 25th, 1998 — Nizhnekamsk, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 212 lbs [191 cm / 96 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1st round, #9 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in June 2017
Sergachev made the Montreal Canadiens out of training camp. However, the Habs sent him back to the OHL after just three games. He would get in a fourth game late in the year as an “emergency” call-up. Back in Windsor, Sergachev had 10 goals and 43 points in 50 games. He added a goal and three points against London in the playoffs but the Spitfires fell in seven games. Sergachev and the Spitfires would come back strong. He was one of the best players at the Memorial Cup as Windsor took home the big prize.
Sergachev is a very good skater. He has the speed and acceleration necessary to join the rush and create offence in transition, as well as recover defensively if he gets caught. His excellent agility allows him to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Sergachev shows good strength on the puck and wins battles along the boards, and in front of the net due to his strong balance and good lower body strength. He will need to get even stronger going forward though, if he is to play a similar style of game against men. This has already started, as he was stronger this season than he was in his draft year.
Sergachev can do it all. He is good with the puck on his stick, showing stick handling poise and great passing skill. Sergachev effectively starts the rush with good breakout passes, and can also break down the defence with good passes on the power play. He has high-end hockey IQ, and makes the smart play with the puck on his stick. Sergachev has an absolute bomb of a slap shot and an effective wrist shot, both of which he can use to score from the blueline. He keeps the puck low and gets it on net, even through heavy traffic, allowing his teammates to set-up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds. Sergachev’s offensive game is among the best of any defence prospect. He could be a power play quarterback in the NHL in just a few short years.
Sergachev is also a big body on the backend who plays good defence with a physical edge. He keeps his man to the outside, is strong on the boards and in front of the net, and generally plays strong in his own end. However, there are times when he could work better in front of his own net. He can sometimes lose his man in coverage, and will need to work on this going forward. He also has had a few off nights over the course of the year, and could stand to be more consistent on a night-in, night-out basis.
The Lightning have a choice to make here. Sergachev can not go to the AHL. He either needs to play another year with Windsor or play in the NHL. The conditional draft pick acquired in his trade to Tampa is tied to games played, and complicates the decision. Still if Sergachev comes to camp ready to play a full-time role in the top six, the Lightning likely keep him up. It will be a step hill to climb, and its more likely he plays another year of junior.
#2 Prospect: Brett Howden
Center — shoots Left
Born March 29th, 1998 — Oakbank, Manitoba
Height 6’3″ — Weight 191 lbs [191 cm/87 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round, #27 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
The Moose Jaw Warriors captain had a breakout season. He put up 38 goals and 81 points in just 58 games. Despite playing 10 fewer games than his draft year, Howden set career highs in goals, assists and points. He was not quite as good in the playoffs with just two goals and an assist in the Warriors seven-game, first round loss. He joined Syracuse down the stretch and had three goals and six points over eight games (regular season and playoffs).
Howden is a good skater. While his first step, and his acceleration could use a little work, he does have good top end speed. He excels in other areas though, as his agility and edge work are very good, allowing him to maneuver through traffic on the rush, and in the zone. Howden also has very good lower body strength. He has excellent balance and is tough to knock off the puck. Howden’s strong stride allows him to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. He could stand to add some weight though, before he is ready for the next level.
Howden has good size. He takes advantage, using leverage and working hard in the dirty areas of the ice. Howden creates offence by winning battles along the boards, as well as establishing position and getting tip-ins and rebounds in front of the net. He also has a strong wrist shot and good release. Howden protects the puck well in the cycle game, extending plays, and keeping the puck down low in the offensive zone to create for teammates. He uses his body, and long reach to shield defenders from the puck.
Howden has excellent vision and hockey IQ, finding teammates for good scoring opportunities, and finding openings in the defence to get himself open for a pass. Not usually one to try for a high risk play, Howden plays a simple straight line game. However, this is very effective. He has a non-stop motor that puts pressure on opposing defenders. He also has the skills to produce offensively when his hard work creates opportunities.
Howden is a strong defender. He is willing to back check hard and does all the little things that will make him a coaches favorite in his own end of the ice. Howden cuts down passing lanes and blocks shots. He supports his defence in the corners and can pin his man on the boards and take him out of the play. One-on-one he forces attackers to the outside and takes away good scoring opportunities.
Howden will head back to Moose Jaw. He should be one of the top players in the WHL, and has an excellent chance to play in the World Junior Championships. He is still a couple of years away from NHL action.
#3 Prospect: Cal Foote
The Lightning drafted Foote with the 14th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Foote. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#4 Prospect: Taylor Raddysh
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born February 18th, 1998 — Caledon, Ontario
Height 6’2″ — Weight 209 lbs [188 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2nd round, #58 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
It was a breakout season for Taylor Raddysh. He scored 42 goals and 109 points in just 58 games in helping the Erie Otters to the best record in the OHL. He also stepped it up in the playoffs with 12 goals and 31 points in 22 games, helping the Otters to the OHL Championship. Raddysh was even better in the Memorial Cup with five goals and 11 points in just five games, but the Otters finished second in the tournament. He was also a silver medalist for Team Canada at the World Juniors, scoring five goals in seven games.
Raddysh has very good size and good speed. He has good acceleration which allows him to gets in quickly on the fore check. Once there, he finishes his checks, punishing opposing defenders, causing turnovers and creating offense. He could be even better if he could improve his first step. This would allow Raddysh to win more races for loose pucks than he already does. It is not bad, but it could be just a bit better.
Raddysh has good agility, and can weave through traffic, both with and without the puck. He can cut to the outside on a defender and once he gets a step is hard to stop. Raddysh has the power in his stride to fight through checks and get to the net, as well as the balance to be strong on the puck when being hit by opposing defenders.
Raddysh is a goal scoring threat. He has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. With his strong hockey IQ, Raddysh is able to find openings in the defence to set up for a one-timer. He goes hard to the net and pounces on rebounds. Raddysh protects the puck well down low on the cycle, using his body and his stick handling to keep the puck away from the opponent. He has excellent vision and has really improved his play making, making tape-to-tape passes to teammates and threading the needle through tight spaces to create scoring opportunities. Raddysh uses his size, strength and balance to win loose pucks on the boards, and create increased offensive opportunities for his linemates.
Raddysh’s defensive game has really improved. He comes back on the back check and is willing to play a gritty game in his own end. His defensive positioning has really improved over his draft year. He is more disciplined and does not get himself out of position looking for big hits, or by puck chasing as he used to. He also keeps his feet moving when defending in his own end, which was an issue previously. His defensive game is not perfect, but he has improved. It is not a liability.
Raddysh will head back to the OHL to continue his development. With big changes expected in Erie, he could be a big piece dealt at the trade deadline as the Otters start to rebuild. He will likely find himself on another contender. It is also likely that he plays for Team Canada at the World Juniors again.
#5 Prospect: Anthony Cirelli
Center — shoots Left
Born July 15th, 1997 — Woodbridge, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 184 lbs [185 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 3rd round, #72 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Cirelli was traded from the Oshawa Generals to the Erie Otters at the 2016 OHL Trade Deadline. Overall, he put up 25 goals and 64 points in 51 OHL regular season games. He was even better in the playoffs with 15 goals and 31 points in 22 games, and eight points in five Memorial Cup Games. Cirelli also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors, with seven points in seven games.
Cirelli is a strong skater. He has good speed and acceleration, allowing him to play a strong two-way game. He also has strong edge-work, and agility. Cirelli has good balance, and wins battles in the corners, and in front of the net. However, he will need to keep getting stronger as he moves to playing against pros.
Cirelli is good at working the cycle game. He has strong stick handling ability, protecting the puck down low. He also has good vision, and good hockey IQ. Cirelli finds the open man and keeps the puck moving. If an opening presents itself, he is willing to drive to the net. He is also able to feather a pass to an open teammate. Most of Cirelli’s goals come in close to the net. He has the soft hands and good hand-eye co-ordination to finish in tight. His wrist shot has a good release, but could use more power.
Cirelli is a strong two-way centre. His defensive game is advanced for a junior hockey player. He is very strong in the face-off circle and has been tasked with taking key draws for both Team Canada and the Otters. Cirelli back checks effectively supporting the defence down low, but must bulk up to be effective at doing so in the pros. He anticipates plays extremely well, cutting down passing lanes, creating turnovers and transitioning to offence.
Cirelli heads to the AHL this year. He will continue to bulk up and refine his game before he is ready for NHL duty. There is a lot of depth in the Tampa system, so there is no need to rush him.
#6 Prospect: Adam Erne
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born April 20th, 1995 — New Haven, Connecticut
Height 6’1″ — Weight 210 lbs [185 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2nd round, #33 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Erne had a solid season with Syracuse scoring 14 goals and 29 points in 42 games. Due to the injuries in Tampa, he was given a number of call-ups and may not have been completely ready. Erne scored just three goals in 26 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 play making ability continue to improve, but there is a ways to go.
At this point Erne seems just a little bit to slow to play this style in the NHL. Defenders seem to close on him before he can get his shot off. He also can not generate the seperation from defenders that he did in junior and does in the AHL. Adjusting to the speed of the NHL game is his biggest challenge at this point.
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 likely needs more time in the AHL. He still needs to work on playing his power forward style at the pro level, finding the time and space to create offence against bigger, stronger, and faster opponents. It can take time for power wingers to find their game in the pros, and Erne needs a little bit more. He could see more call-ups if injuries hit.
Sleeper Prospect: Mathieu Joseph
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born February 9th, 1997 — Chambly, Quebec
Height 6’1″ — Weight 172 lbs [185 cm / 78 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 4th round, #120 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Joseph had a breakout season with the Saint John Sea Dogs. He scored 36 goals and 80 points in 54 regular season games. Joseph took his game to another level in the playoffs, helping the Sea Dogs to win the QMJHL Championship. He scored 13 goals and 32 points in 28 games, as well as five points in four games at the Memorial Cup. Joseph really started to get mainstream attention at the World Juniors, scoring five points in seven games for Team Canada.
Joseph is an excellent skater. He is a speedster, with the quick acceleration and high end speed to create real problems for defences. He can get behind his man and go for a breakaway. Joseph can also beat his man to the outside and cut to the net. He has good agility and edge work. Joseph is strong on his skates. He battles hard in front of the net and in the corners. He is a lot stronger than he was in his draft year, and the effect on his game is noticeable.
Joseph plays a north-south style. He goes to the net and has the soft hands to finish when he is there. He is also more than willing to battle in the corners, and to dig out loose pucks. Most of his assists come from his ability to forecheck and create turnovers, or to maintain possession in the cycle game. His stick handling is decent, but it is his skating that is most dangerous to opponents. Joseph has a decent shot and good release.
Joseph is strong defensively. He plays a gritty game and agitates opponents. His tight checking and physical play annoys opposing forwards. He is also very good on the penalty kill, cutting down passing lanes. His positioning is very strong. Once Joseph creates a turnover, he can transition quickly to offence.
Joseph will likely form an excellent two-way line in Syracuse with Cirelli. He will also need time to continue to add muscle for the pro game, and continue to develop his skills. He projects as a future third liner, and penalty kill specialist. There might be some untapped offensive skill to move higher in the line-up, if he can continue to develop.
General manager Steve Yzerman has built one of the deepest systems in the game. When most teams would have folded due to a season filled with injuries, the Lightning were able to stay in playoff contention until the final weekend of the season. In addition to the forwards listed above, the Lightning added Alexei Lipanov, and Alexander Volkov at this year’s draft. They join Boris Katchouk, Mitchell Stephens, Dennis Yan, and Matthew Peca as notables in the system.
The defence needed a blue chip prospect, and Yzerman got that in Sergachev. They also added a top pick in Cal Foote. The Lightning have depth in Jake Dotchin, Libor Hajcek, Erik Cernak, Dominik Masin, and Ben Thomas. The Lightning have one of the youngest starters in the NHL in Vasilevskiy, so the fact that they do not have a strong goalie prospect ready to play is not a concern. They do have a solid long-term project in Connor Ingram.
Main Photo: WINDSOR, ON – FEBRUARY 25: Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev #31 of the Windsor Spitfires moves the puck against the Barrie Colts on February 25, 2016 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)