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2016-2017 Midterm Rankings (11-19)

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11. RW Dennis Yan, Shawinigan (QMJHL) (14)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-1, 183 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season totals: 64 GP, 46-29-75, +23, 52 PIM

Yan took a big step forward this year in that he never slumped like he did last season when the second half of the year was filled with goose eggs on the scoresheet. Not good for a guy who’s job it is to score. Yan did just that this year, though, raising his goal totals from 33 and 32 the previous two seasons to 46 in his final junior season. His assist numbers fell from 37 to 29, but a lot of that could have been due to the loss of Anthony Beauvillier, who’s now with the Islanders, and the fall of Alexis D’Aoust, who went from 98 points to 60 in 50 games. Yan will enter Syracuse next year under the watchful eye of Crunch coach Benoit Groulx, who will have the task of developing Yan’s 2-way game. The USA-born, Russian-raised Yan wasn’t heavily considered for Team USA this year for the WJC’s despite his goal-scoring ability, but then again Alex DeBrincat was cut from the team and they still won Gold. Yan will probably be a hot-and-cold scorer for Syracuse next year. The sooner he can find consistency and excel at playing both sides of the puck, the sooner the Lightning will promote him.

12. D Jake Dotchin, Tampa Bay (NHL) (25)
Age: 23
Vitals: 6-3, 212 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 6th round, 2012
Tampa Bay totals: 27 GP, 0-7-7, +9, 31 PIM
Syracuse totals: 33 GP, 3-9-12, +10, 77 PIM

One of the great success stories on the Lightning farm this year is the emergence of Jake Dotchin as a solid NHLer. He slotted in as a perfect complement to Victor Hedman with the Lightning, allowing Jon Cooper and Rick Bowness to move Anton Stralman to the second pair, which was in dire need of assistance. Development can’t happen without opportunity and Dotchin is taking advantage of a perfect opportunity for what he is and what he brings to the lineup. As a big, physical, righty defenseman with decent skating, good smarts, and the ability to move the puck up the ice accurately, Dotchin was exactly what the Lightning needed – and exactly what they weren’t getting from other options in that spot. Dylan Blujus, who was ahead of Dotchin on the righty D depth chart, sustained a long term injury allowing Dotchin to be the first available from Syracuse when a call-up was needed, and Dotchin took it from there. He passed the 10-game call-up wall marker with ease – or rather punched through it. He is benefiting from playing next to Victor Hedman, who’s been a point machine this year from the backline. Let’s not take too much away from young Dotchin, though. He’s a smart, solid, stay-at-homer with a big right-hand shot. If you have size and can play a smart game at the NHL level while showing good mobility, there’s a place for you. He likely won’t ever be a 35-point player or run the first power play unit, but he’s a valuable member of the organization. The question now is what the Lightning will do in the expansion draft. Both Koekkoek, who has a higher upside, and Dotchin require protecting. It’d be hard to see either go, and the assumption is the Lightning can only keep one next to Hedman and Stralman. Yzerman may have to get creative here.

13. D Erik Cernak, Erie (OHL) (New)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-3, 203 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: Trade with Kings (Drafted: 2nd round, 2015)
Season totals: 50 GP, 3-18-21, +31, 50 PIM

Acquired in the Ben Bishop trade, Cernak is a defenseman in the Hajek-Dotchin-Spencer-MacLeod mold – a big, mobile, defensive-defenseman. Like the others, Cernak has size and good skating ability. His role on a stacked Erie Otters team is that of a stay-at-homer and shutdown defenseman. As Dotchin has proved, there’s a place for that in the organization. Erie led the OHL with 319 goals and despite being firmly in the top-4, Cernak only got in on 29 of them (was also fourth in plus/minus among D). Maybe that’s fair and maybe it isn’t, but the other three in the top four had point totals of 81, 40, and 33. Twenty-one seems fairly low for a high pick like Cernak, but he plays a certain role and plays it well. He played five games for Slovakia at the WJCs, contributing an assist and minus-3 rating in five games. He signed his ELC when he was with the Kings, so he should be in AHL Syracuse next year.

14. D Dylan Blujus, Syracuse (AHL) (16)
Age: 23
Vitals: 6-3, 203 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 2nd round, 2012
Season totals: 16 GP, 1-5-6, +2, 14 PIM

Blujus was having a solid year on the Crunch’s top pair before undergoing wrist surgery. He was ahead of Dotchin on the depth chart and may have gotten the nod for Tampa Bay had he been healthy when Dotchin was recalled. Blujus moves the puck well and was part of Syracuse’s power play before the injury. He’s slowly making his way back with the Crunch, trying to get to 100% by the playoffs. Hopefully another window opens for the former second rounder who skates well and takes what the game gives him offensively.

15. D Dominik Masin, Syracuse (AHL) (11)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-2, 190 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2014
Season totals: 60 GP, 2-2-4, -7, 58 PIM

Masin dropped a bit in the rankings due to an early, slow transition to pro hockey and others earning higher spots. Since the fall when Masin found himself scratched periodically, Masin has really come on in the second half of the season, earning more and more ice time. Masin is as chippy as ever and hasn’t lost his tendency to get under the opposition’s skin with hits or after-the-whistle festivities. With Peterborough, he would start slow and have great second halves when he could stay healthy. A 40-point player last year with the Petes, Masin is still very raw, but has the foundation to be a quality 2-way defenseman with an edge. He has to continue to add weight to back up his aggressive play.

16. C Tanner Richard, Syracuse (AHL) (12)
Age: 23
Vitals: 6-0, 194 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2012
Season totals: 39 GP, 12-15-27, E, 39 PIM

We thought Richard was a dark horse to make the Lightning out of camp, but his NHL debut was delayed for a few months. Richard had a slow start to the year after having 54 points in 71 games for the Crunch last year. He was okay in his three NHL games, but didn’t stand out – not that that’s a bad thing. He kept his play simple and played his role. Just when he was re-finding his game with the Crunch he ended up in Groulx’s doghouse, then was injured. The Crunch acquired Byron Froese in his absence so when Richard finally returns he may be in more of a 2-way role for Syracuse. He’s still a good playmaker who makes his living annoying opponents. There are many other centers in the system so the window could be closing for Richard. Raised in Switzerland, the pending RFA could keep pursuing the NHL in North America next year or be a quality player in the Swiss league. Both Richard and Swiss native Joel Vermin are rumored to be coveted by Swiss clubs.

17. G Connor Ingram, Kamloops (WHL) (18)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-0, 212 lbs
Catches: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2016
Season totals: 45 GP, 26-14-2-2, 2.44 GAA, .927 sv%, 5 SO

If not for Flyers prospect Carter Hart of Everett, Ingram may be the goaltender of the year in the WHL this season. Ingram had a stellar season, tying Hart for the league lead in save percentage while breaking his own club record in that category. Ingram finished second to Hart in GAA and shutouts as well. The two also battled for the crease with Team Canada at the WJC’s with Ingram taking the No. 1 spot from Hart, then Ingram eventually getting pulled after giving up two soft goals in the semifinals. Hart took over and won the game and started the Gold Medal Game won by the USA. That kind of pressure was good for the jovial Ingram, who is one of the most likeable players around. On the ice he is an excellent junior goaltender with the potential to be a solid pro. Size may be an issue as he tends to play small. He’s in the same general category as former Bolt prospects Dustin Tokarski and Adam Wilcox – a good pro with the ability to be at least an NHL backup someday if the opportunity opens. Ingram isn’t signed, but Yzerman mentioned after the Wilcox-McKenna trade that the plan is for Ingram and a veteran to split time in Syracuse next year. As of the time of this writing, Ingram and Kamloops are down 2-0 in their first round series to Kelowna, so it’s possible Ingram could be in Syracuse sooner than later.

18. D Ben Thomas, Syracuse (AHL) (NR)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-2, 181 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 4th round, 2014
Season totals: 62 GP, 2-15-17, -5, 28 PIM

At one time Ben Thomas wasn’t considered a lock for a contract, now he’s looking like he could really turn into something. Thomas’ smooth skating and ability to move the puck up ice quickly have stood out in Syracuse and the first-year pro who couldn’t find ice time with WHL Calgary is playing in all game situations for the Crunch. Thomas was thought to be primarily a puckmover but his defensive play has been pretty solid this year for the Crunch, often getting end-of-game shifts on defense. If his development continues on this trajectory, he could find himself in the NHL before his Entry Level Contract expires. Thomas stands out for doing the little things right in nearly every game and has been impressive this season. One of the top stories of this prospect season.

19. C/W Ross Colton, Vermont (Hockey East) (24)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-0, 190 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2016
Season totals: 33 GP, 12-15-27, E, 22 PIM

Colton had an excellent first season of college hockey, leading the Catamounts in goals (tie) and tying for second in points. He was one of only two teenagers on the team when the year began so he’ll be counted on to be a big part of the Vermont program moving forward. Colton was coming off a 66-point season in 55 games for USHL Cedar Rapids, which was second in the league. The Lightning may have something here. Their goal when drafting Colton and Ryan Lohin out of the USHL was to identify undrafted college-bound players early so they didn’t have to bid for them as free agents later. So far so good on both.

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