Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fits: USHL Defensemen

The 2022 NHL Draft is fast approaching. The Tampa Bay Lightning are playing in the Finals yet again. They elected to keep their first-round draft selection for the first time in what seems like forever. But that hasn’t held them back before, with late-round picks like Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. With the draft fast approaching, who is a Tampa Bay Lightning draft fit? 

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fits: USHL Defensemen

The Lightning, since 2010 when Al Murray became their director of amateur scouting and Julien BriseBois became assistant general manager, have drafted 29 defensemen. Out of those 29, six of them came from the USHL. That’s tied for the second-most defensemen taken in one league by the Lightning. The average height and weight of those USHL draftees are 6’1.5” and 195 pounds. 

Other averages include roughly 61 games played pre-draft, six goals, 19 assists and 25 points. The record for most USHL games played for Lightning draftees belongs to Alex Gagne (91) while the least is Roman Schmidt (51). The most goals is 10 from Maxwell Crozier, while the least is one from John MacLeod. Meanwhile, the most assists belongs to Crozier (33) as well, and the least is again MacLeod (six). Finally, the most goals, as can be predicted, is Crozier with 43 and the least is MacLeod with seven. (Also looked at to find fits is league per game stats and world juniors performance.)

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft: Fit #1: Ryan Chesley, Defenseman, USNTDP

The best fit in the USHL class is Ryan Chesley. Chesley has been ranked anywhere from 18th (Bob McKenzie) and 72nd (Smaht Scouting). A lot of rankings have him going between 18th and 34th, making him a late-first/early-second round option. That lands him right within the Lightning’s reach, after recording five goals and 10 assists for 15 points in 25 games against USHL competition. 

If drafted by the Lightning, he would set new highs in USHL goals and goals per game, and World Juniors games played, goals, assists, and points. He would also be above average with his weight (201), USHL points, assists per game, and points per game. The things holding Chesley back from being an even bigger fit is the fact that he is below average in height (6’0”), USHL games played, and assists.  

What Does Chesley Bring To The Table

Chesley is good at controlling play from the point. He displays strong edge work and is able to walk the blue line to open passing and shooting lanes for himself and his teammates. He’s also a very smart transitional defenseman. Chesley does not force stretch passes when they’re not available. He also avoids forcing any passes. But when he does elect to take those shots, he is generally effective. Defensively, he is solid as well. He plays hard on the puck and loves throwing his body around to separate players from the puck.

Despite his offensive abilities, his shot needs work. He also doesn’t really push the pace all too well with his passes. Transitionally, he relies almost entirely on his passing to get up the ice. Plus, this season with the NTDP, he looked uncomfortable at times. They play a very fast-paced, get up ice quick style that does not really fit for Chesley, and he turned the puck over quite a lot. Finally, defensively, he can be a bit too over-aggressive. Not to mention, he isn’t the best of skaters, and can get beat pretty often by shiftier skaters. 

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft: Fit #2: Lane Hutson, Defenseman, USNTDP

The next best fit is a very, very interesting prospect in Lane Hutson. Hutson is ranked anywhere from 27th (FC Hockey) and 72nd (Bob McKenzie). A ton of people have come out and stated that if Hutson was 6’0”, he would be a top-15 pick. Unfortunately, he is a 5’8” and 159 pound defenseman. His size will undoubtedly hold him back. But the skill is unquestionably there.  

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If he were to be drafted by the Lightning, he would set new highs in USHL assists and points, and World Juniors assists and points. He would also be above average in USHL goals, goals per game, assists per game and points per game. The things holding him back from being the top fit is the fact he is below average in USHL games played and World Juniors goals. Finally, he would set new lows in height and weight, which is unsurprising. 

What Does Hutson Bring To The Table

Hutson is an outstanding talent. He is dynamic offensively and transitionally. He gets involved when moving the puck up the ice, and with his high level skating abilities, he excels consistently. As mentioned with Chesley, the pace that the NTDP plays at is extremely fast, and Hutson fits so well with it. But perhaps this writer’s favourite quality is that Hutson is really good at defending the rush despite his size limitations and reach limitations. In fact, his partner, which happened to be Chesley quite often, would make mistakes defending the rush or breaking out. Hutson would, time and again, make excellent recoveries and make up for those errors. 

Unfortunately, the defensive side of the puck hasn’t made the same strides as the forwards. Whereas we have gotten more speedy and smaller forwards like Cole Caufield enter the mix, there aren’t nearly as many defenders. That’s for good reason. A close friend of the site, Sam Tirpak, even mentioned in a mock draft live stream that he can’t “look past” the size of Hutson when projecting him, and sees him as a very high-risk selection. He will get out-muscled at the NHL level and pushed around to the point he could be a liability. However, his skill set offensively and transitionally, as well as his reliability at a lower level defensively, paired with his skating, is tantalizing. Someone will take that risk. Will it be Tampa Bay?

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