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Tampa Bay Lightning Depth Forward Candidates for 2024-25 Roster

Tampa Bay Lightning Roster

Depth forward price tags are one of the most overlooked aspects of team-building in the National Hockey League. Previous Stanley Cup winners rely on cheap depth options to round out their roster behind their superstars. The Tampa Bay Lightning have always found affordable bottom-six options to complement roster players with high salaries like Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. For the upcoming 2024-25 season, who are potential players who can emerge to help fill the bottom six at a cost-effective price? 

Three Young Depth Forward Options for the Tampa Bay Lightning

Head Coach Jon Cooper continues to do a marvellous job finding diamonds in the rough from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League. Every season, Tampa Bay calls up an impactful roster player to complement the cap-strapped organization. Last season, Maxwell Crozier and Emil Martinsen Lilleberg appeared to be stable third-pairing options in the future with their solid play down the stretch. The Lightning forward depth needs a splash of youth and speed. What route can they go with their bottom six next season from within the organization?

Mitchell Chaffee

The undrafted forward signed a one-year contract with the Lightning last summer with ambitions of a solid role in the American Hockey League. Yet, Mitchell Chaffee provided a better impact than expected. After recording 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 36 games with the Crunch, Chaffee earned a chance with the big club. In 30 regular season games with the Bolts, Chaffee notched four goals and three assists for seven points. Now, what makes Chaffee a bottom-six candidate next season?

Chaffee’s best attribute is his ability on the forecheck. Furthermore, the winger worked well in the bottom six to press opposing defencemen. This pressure led to chances off the forecheck and cycle for him and his linemates. Chaffee has third-line potential and will need a new contract for the 2024-25 season. We don’t expect Chaffee’s next deal to break the bank. Therefore, he is a fantastic depth option for $1.5 million per season or less.

Gage Goncalves

A second-round draft pick in 2020, Gage Goncalves is a homegrown talent in Tampa Bay. He came from the Western Hockey League as a member of the Everett Silvertips. In 2021-22, Goncalves transitioned to pro hockey with Syracuse in the American Hockey League. His production continues to slightly improve each season, with his best in 2023-24. Last season, Goncalves recorded 13 goals and 45 assists for 58 points in 69 games. Moreover, he earned an opportunity to play two NHL games, where he took six penalty minutes.

Goncalves offers strength and skill as a potential power forward to the bottom-six next season. He appeared solid in his two NHL games with the Lightning, and we see room for growth with his work ethic and frame. Goncalves is an upcoming restricted free agent, but his new deal will be cost-effective for the Bolts. He can fulfill his maximum potential as a second-line forward in years to come.

Waltteri Merela

Another undrafted gem, Waltteri Merelä, cracked the Tampa Bay Lightning opening night roster after a solid pre-season performance. The Finland native came to North America for the first time in 2023-24. The 25-year-old split time between the NHL and AHL last season. With the Crunch, Merelä potted 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 55 games. Furthermore, he notched one goal in 19 games with the Lightning. 

Merelä’s work ethic and puck protection skills project a potential fourth-line depth winger for the Lightning one day. He is also an upcoming restricted-free agent like Goncalves. Again, we don’t expect Merelä’s next contract to take up a significant percentage of the salary cap. He proved reliable at times and can help inject youth into the bottom six for next season. 

Main Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports


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