The Tampa Bay Lightning have one of the weakest prospect pools in the NHL. But that’s OK since they are also back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions.
The recent Brandon Hagel trade will have some long-term consequences on their prospect pool as it cost the Bolts two first-round picks and two NHL prospects in Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh. GM Julien Brisebois is banking on Hagel being a key part to helping Tampa win more Stanley Cups, and his scouting staff to make the most out of later-round picks.
The Lightning have an impressive track record of doing exactly that, filling out their roster with later-round draft picks and free agent signings of prospects.
Tampa is still a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and should be able to win again before the sand runs out of the hourglass on their core of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Steven Stamkos.
- Hugo Alnefelt, G – Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round three, 71st overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
The big Swedish netminder has higher prospect stock coming into this season than any other Tampa prospect with a 2019 U18 Gold Medal and a 2020 WJC Bronze Medal in his back pocket. Alnefelt is in his AHL rookie season and expectations are high. While his record and performance are not bad at 3.0 GAA and a .884 SV%, it has seen his stock take a drop.
Alnefelt was recalled to the Lightning in December and made his NHL debut in relief for one period and allowed three goals against off ten shots. With arguably the top goaltender in the world as the incumbent starting goalie in Vasilevskiy Tampa can be patient with Alnefelt and allow the 20-year-old to develop in the AHL.
Alnefelt has NHL size and is very athletic. He can allow some soft goals and has looked like he needs time adjusting to the smaller angles of North American ice and tracking and reading plays.
- Jack Thompson, D – Soo Greyhounds (OHL)
Drafted: 2020 round three, 93rd overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
Thompson is a rapidly rising prospect and a great value pick by the Lightning as a 2020 third-round pick. Thompson found some ice in Europe when the OHL never got going during the pandemic and played in 18 games in HockeyEttam in Sweden scoring nine goals and 18 points in as many games. Thompson only managed to play in one AHL game but recorded a point.
Thompson started his final OHL season wearing the “C” for the Sudbury and exploded out of the gate with 14 points in his first seven games. Since traded to the rival Soo Greyhounds for a shot at the OHL Championship, Thompson is on pace for 50+ point season and could challenge for 20 goals.
Thompson is a strong skater and has enough size and strength to make the transition to the AHL next year. He is an offensive defenseman with his hard and accurate point shot. He can distribute the puck well on the power play and is good at making breakout passes and supporting transition to offence. Defensively he makes good reads and decisions, plays physically within his limits but will need some adjustment time at the pro level.
Thompson is able to log big minutes at the OHL level and anchor a strong defense. He projects as an NHL player with a ceiling of a middle-pairing and offensive defenseman, with a floor of a bottom pairing and second power-play specialist.
- Alex Barre-Boulet, RW – Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 signed as a free agent
After the Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup win, the team lost their entire third line to salary cap concerns. Expectations were that the Lightning would need to fill those roles with cost-effective players, and Barre-Boulet being on a new contract with a $758K cap hit and no longer waiver exempt was a slam dunk. He was the top-rated Lightning forward prospect by many but was not the answer.
The Lightning placed him on waivers, and he was claimed by the Seattle Kraken. After failing to make the expansion teams roster, he was placed on waivers again and reclaimed by Tampa where he was then assigned to the AHL roster. At 24-years-old and two years remaining on his contract, time is running out for Barre-Boulet to crack an NHL roster. He will finish the year in the AHL and possibly on the black aces during the Lightnings 2022 playoff run.
- Dylan Duke, C – University of Michigan (NCAA)
Drafted: 2021 round four, 126th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
Duke is an undersized, highly skilled forward. Drafted from the US National Development Program, he posted 66 points in 76 games and was a force for USA at the U18 with four points in five games. As a freshman with the Michigan Wolverines, he has struggled to find quality ice time behind the Wolverines All-Star roster.
Duke is short, but stocky and will use his time in the NCAA in the gym to add some bulk for when he moves to pro hockey. Duke will see an elevated role as a sophomore in Michigan after several of their star players sign contracts after the current season. Despite his limited playing time he is gaining valuable experience on a contending team and has still produced eight goals and 17 points in 37 games.
Tampa is not shy to draft or sign short players so long as they have skill. Martin St. Louis, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde have all helped pave the way for players like Duke to have NHL success. Duke will play a few more seasons in the NCAA and then cut his teeth in the AHL before the Lightning look to insert him into the roster, but when the day comes, he will be auditioning for a top-six role.
The Leafs are home against the Devils and are
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- Jack Finley, C – Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
Drafted: 2020 round two, 57th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
Finlay is a monster at 6-6 and 223 pounds. He skates well and has some offensive upside. He will not be an NHL first-line center but could develop into a solid and valuable third or fourth-line center.
Tampa’s first selection in the 2020 draft was limited to just three games in his D+1 season due to COVID and a season ending shoulder injury. He has bounced back in his final season in the dub scoring 16 points in 21 games with 40 penalty minutes with the Spokane Chiefs. The Winnipeg Ice added the big center to bolster the roster in a bid to win a WHL Championship and to take a good run at the Memorial Cup.
Finlay has worked on his skating and speed and was signed by the Lightning to his ELC. He can provide a good net front presence screening the goalie and has good hand-eye coordination for tips and rebounds. Finley is excellent on board battles and establishing the cycle, using his huge frame to protect the puck. Finley could still improve his skating and become more physically aggressive to make an impact at the pro level when his size is less of an advantage.
- Nicklaus Perbix, D – St. Cloud State University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2017 round six, 169th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
One of the biggest risers in the Tampa System has been the big defender from the Huskies in the NCAA. A great example of how the Lightning find value later in the draft, Perbix. was drafted for his size and defensive game.
His D+1 season was in the USHL and in 56 games with the Omaha Lancers he posted 29 points, showing he had some offensive upside. At the NCAA level, his offensive game has been slow to develop but as a senior, he has 31 points in 30 games and was named to Team USA for the Olympics as well.
Perbix will need to be signed after the Huskies season, which may end with a NCAA Championship and before the August deadline or he will become an unrestricted free agent. The Bolts prospect pool can’t afford to lose this asset for nothing so look for Perbix to begin his pro career with a few AHL games at the end of the season. At 23-years old and with his experience and play at the Olympics, his adjustment time in the AHL may be short.
- Sammy Walker, C – University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Drafted: 2017 round seven, 200th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
Sammy Walker has been the Golden Gophers Captain for the past three seasons. He had a breakout freshman season with 26 points in 37 games and since then his offensive game has levelled off, leaving some scouts to question if he has peeked offensively already.
While his lack of offensive production may be a red flag, it has been consistently good. Walker is a speedy and undersized forward. He competes hard and has a non-stop motor. Walker is defensively sound as well and plays all the big minutes on a strong Golden Gophers roster.
Walker will be pursuing his second Big Ten Championship and then, like Perbix, will need to be signed by the Lightning to begin his pro career to avoid losing him to the College free agent loophole.
- Gabriel Fortier, LW/C – Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round two, 59th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
The undersized Fortier is your prototypical Tampa player. He has an unmatched compete level, has a good skill set, and is defensively responsible. Fortier is a second-year pro, paying his dues and developing into a top player and leader for Syracuse. With one more season remaining on his contract and waiver exemption, he could see more time in the AHL before he cracks the Lightning roster. When he does, it is likely to be in a bottom-six role.
Fortier is a versatile player, he can play any forward position, in any situation and can easily slide up and down the roster in a pinch. Fortier has been a leader throughout his career and is a player that Coaches will love. His offensive upside may not have a ceiling that earns him a regular top-six role, but you can bet he will play in the NHL.
- Gage Goncalves, C – Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Drafted: 2020 round two, 62nd overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
Goncalves had a breakout 2020 season with the Everett Silvertips scoring 33 goals and 71 points in 60 games. The Lightning selected him with their second, second-round pick. He was then invited to the Team Canada World Junior Selection Camp and had a strong showing before ultimately being cut.
The short COVID season limited him to just 23 games with Everett and he produced 34 points wearing an “A” as an assistant captain. Goncalves is in his first year as a pro in Syracuse and has adjusted well, he is on pace for 28 points as a rookie and playing regularly in their top-six.
Goncalves has average size and could use a little more bulk. Goncalves is competitive and is dogged in pursuit of pucks. He drives play to the goal but is more of a playmaker than a sniper. His offensive upside will limit him to a bottom-six role, but he is defensively aware enough to develop into a bottom-six player with offensive upside.
- Amir Miftakhov, G – Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Drafted: 2020 round six, 186th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning
The Russian goalie made his presence know to North American fans with his 2020 WJC performance leading Russia to the Silver Medal. At just 6-0 Miftakhov is on the small side for NHL standards, but his performance with Russia at the WJC was enough to convince the Lightning to select him as an over age prospect in the 2020 draft with a sixth-round selection.
His D+1 season during the pandemic was split in Russia between the KHL and the VHL where he posted strong numbers. Miftakhov has now signed his ELC and is in his rookie season in North America with the Crunch in the AHL. Syracuse is not a strong team, but the rookie has solid numbers with a 6-8-4 record and a 2.92 GAA and .895 SV%.
The 21-year-old is adjusting well to North America and the smaller ice and in a year or two could be a viable option for the Lightning as a low cap hit back-up for an all-Russian duo in goal.