2017-2018 Final Rankings

Introduction
For the third time in the past four seasons, a Lightning team was able to advance deep into May in the playoffs only to see the Stanley Cup remain elusive. With a roster of mainstays that have been together for over a half decade now, is this the summer that Steve Yzerman decides to make some changes? If he does, Tampa Bay is in the rare and envious position of having a surplus of hungry young lions pawing at the gate to get into the NHL.

To some surprise, a very youthful Syracuse Crunch team was able to once again go multiple rounds in the Calder Cup playoffs after a strong regular season where they remained one of the AHL Eastern Conference's best teams even after divesting its roster of a number of quality veteran players. This development, along with the Canadian junior nationals once again looking like the Lightning's own U20 academy team, highlighted the remarkable quality of the club's pipeline. We count, easily, at least 11 legitimate future NHL players on the 2017-2018 Final Rankings, with the club soon to add another draft class into the fold.

A brief reminder of the rules: Only players under the age of 24 on opening night of the 2017-2018 season are eligible for ranking. Skaters with 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more total NHL games are considered graduated from the rankings. Goaltenders with 30 or more decisions in a single season or 41 or more career NHL decisions are also considered graduated. Lastly, NCAA players remain eligible for ranking for the duration of their college careers regardless of age.

1.) D Cal Foote, Kelowna (WHL) (2018 Midseason Ranking: 1)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-4, 212 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 1st round, 2017
Season totals: 60 GP, 19-51-70, +31, 46 PIM
Playoffs: 4GP, 1-5-6, -6, 4 PIM
Syracuse Playoffs: 7GP, 1-1-2, E, 0 PIM

Maybe the surest of the sure-fire NHLers on this list is Kelowna rearguard Cal Foote. A big, strong, cerebral two-way defenseman, Foote had a dominant season in the WHL in route to setting career highs with 19 goals and 70 points in just 60 games. Foote, who of course is the son of ex-Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote, was a fixture on the Canadian U20 WJC team that won gold and was a WHL Western Conference First Team All-Star. The most persistent critique of Foote, who also boasts a much-coveted righty shot, is that he isn't an elite skater, but he makes up for it with maturity and poise that he uses to make superior reads and establish good position in all three zones. He has the look of a player who will be a top-four NHL defenseman for a decade and a half once he makes the show, and his blossoming offensive game teases his ceiling may be as high as being a top pair contributor. For now, we'd look for Foote to get at least one year of pro seasoning with Syracuse in 2018-2019, possibly tasting a late season cup of coffee in the NHL while he's at it.

2.) C Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay (NHL) (3)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-1, 184 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season totals (TB): 18 GP, 5-6-11, +6, 11 PIM
Playoffs (TB): 17 GP, 2-1-3, +1, 4 PIM
Season totals (SYR): 51 GP, 14-23-37, +2, 14 PIM

From start to finish, there was arguably no more consistent rookie with the Syracuse Crunch than heady centerman Anthony Cirelli. That's why it wasn't terribly surprising the ex-Memorial Cup champion earned a late season recall to Tampa Bay and became a fixture on the third line for the team's Stanley Cup playoff run. At the moment, the rail thin Cirelli lacks a top end gear in his skating, but he successfully compensates with special ability to read plays and get in fantastic position in all three zones. At a minimum, it's hard to envision Cirelli becoming anything less than a really valuable two-way centerman capable of being a dominant third line player who can spot on a scoring line. If he can add some bulk and some acceleration into his game, too, he could be an all-star caliber player. As hard-working as Cirelli is, we'd be shocked if he didn't come to camp bulked up and ready to become a new fixture in the Lightning lineup for the next 5-10 years.

3.) LW Boris Katchouk, Sault Ste Marie (OHL) (8)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-3, 190 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season totals: 58 GP, 42-43-85, +53, 30 PIM
Playoffs: 24 GP, 19-18-37, +7, 8 PIM

Boris Katchouk is a bad man. The young power forward continued to evolve this past season into an unstoppable force, potting 42 goals and posting 85 points en route to becoming a First Team OHL All-Star. Tenacious and occasionally more than a little bit on the mean side, the U20 WJC gold medalist continued to build his bona fides as a legitimate goal scoring sniper, too. He skates well. He doesn't let up on the forecheck. And, he's capable finisher with the puck on his blade. He projects as a NHL power forward who will menace the wings anywhere from line one to line three in the big leagues. Syracuse Crunch fans are in for a treat in 2018-2019 as he'll likely take his talents to upstate New York for at least a year of seasoning before challenging for a spot in Tampa Bay.

4.) RW Mathieu Joseph, Syracuse (AHL) (4)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-1, 172 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2015
Season totals: 70 GP, 15-38-53, +10, 41 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 3-4-7, -3, 6 PIM

The one player who might give Cirelli a run for the money as most consistent pro rookie is right winger Mathieu Joseph. A relentless forechecker with great wheels, Joseph is the kind of hard working complementary winger that coaches love and opponents dread to play against. He's consistently first on pucks, and has underrated vision and hands that makes him a good candidate to play alongside even the most skilled of players. In fact, we'd go so far as to say Joseph's an outstanding darkhorse candidate to make the Lightning out of camp next year because of how well his game should mesh with the top flight talent the big club already has.

5.) LW Alexander Volkov, Syracuse (AHL) (7)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-1, 191 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2017
Season totals: 75 GP, 23-22-45, +19, 63 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 3-3-6, +3, 8 PIM

Alexander Volkov justified the Lightning's semi-surprising second round selection in last summer's draft by leading the Syracuse Crunch in goals with 23 as a 20-year-old rookie. Volkov is a well-rounded 200-foot player the team billed as being in the Ondrej Palat mold, but he boasts a quick release that not even Palat brings to the table that makes him lethal when given even the slightest crack in and around the slot areas. Like Joseph, Volkov's game should be highly appealing to coaches, and he should be considered another strong darkhorse to make the Lightning team out of camp next year. Consistency will be the key.

6.) C Mitchell Stephens, Syracuse (AHL) (2)
Age: 21
Vitals: 5-11, 190 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 2nd round, 2015
Season totals: 70 GP, 19-22-41, +17, 24 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 1-5-6, +5, 4 PIM

It was an uneven, but on balance positive rookie campaign for scrappy centerman Mitchell Stephens in Syracuse. The ex-Saginaw and London forward rode a red-hot mid-season goal scoring tear to punch his ticket as a representative in the AHL All-Star Game, only to see a late season goal scoring swoon put him into more of a lower line role with the Crunch. So, which is the real Mitchell Stephens? There's little doubt his heart and work ethic, especially as a forechecker, should at least make him an NHL lower line pest and PKer. He'll spend much of next year with the Crunch trying to develop the kind of consistency he needs in his offensive production, though, to prove he might also be able to spot on a scoring line, too.

7.) RW Adam Erne, Tampa Bay (NHL) (5)
Age: 23
Vitals: 6-1, 210 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2013
Season totals (TB): 23 GP, 3-1-4, -1, 11 PIM
Season totals (SYR): 41 GP, 12-14-26, +4, 38 PIM

We continue to be teased by the potential of power winger Adam Erne, only to consistently see injuries derail his attempts to reach his ceiling as a NHL scoring liner. Now 23 years old, the stockily built Erne can be an absolute immovable object on the puck, with freakish acceleration, hands, and creativity for such a big man. There's no real reason he shouldn't be a fixture in Tampa Bay next year with a blend of raw athleticism that should make him an option on the wing of any line, but he can't stay healthy. Therein lies the frustration. If he continues to improve his training regimens and can get a little luck, there's no reason he couldn't become a 20-30 goal scoring NHL winger. But will he? Is he more boom or bust?

8.) RW Taylor Raddysh, Sault Ste Marie (OHL) (9)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-2, 209 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season totals (Erie/SSM): 58 GP, 33-50-83, +24, 30 PIM
Playoffs: 24 GP, 13-21-34, -6, 14 PIM

Taylor Raddysh closed a prolific junior career this past season with a U20 WJC gold medal with Canada and an OHL Second Team All-Star selection. He closes his career at the junior level with 120 goals and 292 points in 241 games. A big winger, Raddysh is more of a pure sniper than a power forward. When on his game, he's a lethal finisher, but he lacks the high-end skill and one-on-one creativity to succeed without being paired on a line with a playmaker to help facilitate for him. Raddysh will be one of the more intriguing players to watch as a rookie pro with Syracuse next year. He will need to prove he can play a 200-foot game and keep switched on and keep his feet moving in the pro game if he's going to thrive like he did in juniors. If he learns those lessons, though, there's reason to believe with improved skating he could be a scoring line winger for the Lightning someday down the road.

9.) D Slater Koekkoek, Tampa Bay (NHL) (6)
Age: 24
Vitals: 6-2, 193 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 1st round, 2012
Season totals: 35 GP, 4-4-8, +4, 18 PIM

How did this happen? One look at Slater Koekkoek's athleticism and you would think he'd already be banging on the door of becoming a sure-fire top four NHL defenseman. His skating is Victor Hedman-lite in quality, he's got a big, strong frame, and he's got well above average offensive instincts. And, yet, he couldn't earn the coaching staff's trust and crack the Lightning lineup regularly last season to save his life. It's disappointing. Koekkoek needs to continue to work on using his big frame to physically compete in the defensive third and mind his positioning in his own end as well. If he's still with the Lightning next year, it'll be critical for the 24-year-old to quickly gain the trust of a new assistant over the defensemen, or he risks wearing the bust label.

10.) D Erik Cernak, Syracuse (AHL) (11)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-3, 221 lbs
Shoots: R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2015
Acquired: Trade with Los Angeles
Season totals: 71 GP, 5-13-18, +30, 70 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 1-1-2, E, 4 PIM

Acquired in the Ben Bishop trade, hulking Slovakian defenseman Erik Cernak quietly had a fantastic rookie campaign with Syracuse. Paired up with Czech blueliner Dominik Masin for most of the campaign, Cernak became one of the most reliable defensive stalwarts on the club on his way to posting a robust +30 rating. Cernak's skating has steadily improved over the course of his young career as has his puck distribution, but his size and physicality remain his calling card. Just 21 years old, he's still got another year or two of solid development to go, but he already looks like a very good future option for the Lightning as a third pair guy who may even be able to go up and crack the second pair someday.

11.) D Dominik Masin, Syracuse (AHL) (10)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-2, 198 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2014
Season totals: 72 GP, 9-15-24, +25, 79 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 1-2-3, E, 10 PIM

Cernak's running mate Dominik Masin arguably made the greatest sophomore leap of any player with Syracuse. Big, rangy, and occasionally a little bit on the mean side, Masin quadrupled his rookie point totals with 24 and had a stout +25 rating as a staple in the Crunch lineup. Masin's got good gap control in his own third and continues to develop as a puck distributor breaking out of his own end. Don't be surprised if he gets a cup of coffee in Tampa Bay next season, because athletically he looks like a good second or third pair option for the club down the road.

12.) C Alex Barre-Boulet, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL) (12)
Age: 21
Vitals: 5-9, 167 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: Free agent 2018
Season totals: 65 GP, 53-63-116, +28, 67 PIM
Playoffs: 19 GP, 13-14-27, +11, 14 PIM

The Canadian junior player of the year, Barre-Boulet elected to sign as a free agent with the Lightning over several other NHL suitors. In other words, having signed with the same club that's churned out players like Tyler Johnson, Cory Conacher, Jonathan Marchessault, and Yanni Gourde, we can easily say Boulet's already proven his intelligence. No organization in the league does a better job of developing undersized-but-skilled forwards into NHL players, and Boulet comes to Syracuse after a campaign where he had a gaudy 53 goals and 116 points in 65 games. My goodness. He’s like a free top-60 pick.

13.) G Connor Ingram, Syracuse (AHL) (16)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-1, 202 lbs
Catches: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2016
Season totals: 35 GP, 20-11-0, 2.33 GAA, .914 sv%, 4 SO
Playoffs: 4 GP, 1-3, 3.07 GAA, .904 sv%

Quick question: Can you name a Lightning prospect goaltender (who isn't Andrei Vasilevskiy) who had a better rookie pro campaign than Connor Ingram? Maybe Dustin Tokarski, whose numbers in 2009-2010 were eerily similar to the more-than-respectable .914 save percentage and 2.33 GAA that Ingram put together? Taken on balance, therefore, we'd have to say Ingram exceeded initial expectations and he almost surpassed veteran Eddie Pasquale for the starting job for the Crunch at the tail end of the season – a battle that will continue into next season after Pasquale’s re-signing. Smart and a hard worker, Ingram doesn't necessarily have the ideal size Frantz Jean may look for, but he has the intangibles you see many a successful NHLer bring to the rink. Keep an eye on him. There may be more than originally met the eye there.

14.) RW Dennis Yan, Syracuse (AHL) (13)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-1, 202 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season totals: 43 GP, 13-10-23, +22, 20 PIM
Playoffs: Did not play

All Dennis Yan does is score. Period. Full stop. The quintessential one-trick pony, the sniper potted 13 goals in just 43 games with the Crunch despite not always getting premiere ice time. Does he need to work on his 200-foot game? On his forechecking? On going to the dirty areas? On generally being a better all-around hockey player? Yes. Absolutely. But you can't teach hands like this guy has, because all Dennis Yan can do is score. So, it's probably NHL scoring line or bust for this guy.

15.) C Alexey Lipanov, Sudbury (OHL) (15)
Age: 18
Vitals: 6-1, 170 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2017
Season totals (Barrie/Sudbury): 55 GP, 14-25-39, -14, 20 PIM
Syracuse totals: 10 GP, 0-3-3, +3, 4 PIM
Playoffs: Did not play

It was a bit of a frustrating year for two-way centerman Alexey Lipanov as he transitioned from Russia to the North American junior ranks. Lipanov, a little surprisingly, failed to make Russia's U20 WJC team and saw his offensive production crater after a mid-season trade from Barrie to Sudbury (20 GP, 3-6-9, -14). Still, we see a smart, well-rounded player with good wheels and hands who has the type of character and game that should equate to a rebound season next year. If he does, he has the upside to be a lower line guy in the NHL who can spot on a scoring line from time to time. The first question for Lipanov is whether he plays in Sudbury or Syracuse next season.

16.) C Otto Somppi, Halifax (QMJHL) (18)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-2, 188 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 7th round, 2016
Season totals: 59 GP, 28-55-83, +39, 28 PIM
Playoffs: 2 GP, 0-1-1, E, 0 PIM (injured)
Syracuse Playoffs: 3 GP, 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM

Just when he needed it most to secure a NHL entry-level pact, Halifax centerman Otto Somppi had a banner season with the Mooseheads. The speedy and highly skilled Finnish national had struggled with some injuries and had some mediocre production in two prior seasons before exploding for 28 goals and 83 points in 59 games, one of which was a SportsCentre-ready lacrosse-style goal that got international attention. He's got hands, wheels, and vision, but he's slightly built and has struggled to stay healthy. If he can train better to stay off the trainer's table, as mentioned, no organization in the NHL does a better job of developing this type of player. Hands down.

17.) C Sammy Walker, Edina (USHS) (23)
Age: 19
Vitals: 5-9, 150 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 7th round, 2017
Season totals (Team SW): 20 GP, 16-25-41, 14 PIM
Playoffs: 3 GP, 3-4-7, 0 PIM
Season totals (EHS): 25 GP, 28-30-58, 12 PIM
Playoffs: 3 GP, 4-6-10, 4 PIM
Season totals (Sioux City, USHL): 17 GP, 2-7-9, -6, 4 PIM

The Lightning took a 7th round flyer on diminutive centerman Sammy Walker out of the Minnesota high school ranks, and he quickly paid it off by earning his state's Mr. Hockey award as its best player. Walker posted 28 goals and 58 points in 25 games, granted against uneven competition. Still, 2+ points a game is never anything to sneeze about. He'll take his game to state powerhouse University of Minnesota where we hope for at least three successful seasons of development and growth, after which the pocket-sized forward could enter a Lightning organization that, we'll say it again, is simply the best in hockey at turning this type of prospect into an NHLer.

18.) C Ross Colton, Vermont (ECAC) (20)
Age: 21
Vitals: 5-11, 201 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2016
Season totals: 36 GP, 16-7-23, -11, 47 PIM

Ross Colton is the top rated of what we at Bolt Prospects refer to as the Lightning's "stealth prospects." That is to say, players who play for NCAA clubs off the beaten path who have some good skill and wheels and NHL potential, but simply don't get the headlines. Colton, a 21-year-old coming off his sophomore campaign, was quietly an honorable mention All Hockey East selection with 16 goals in 36 games after putting up extremely stout numbers in the offensively stingy USHL before heading to Vermont.

19.) D Oleg Sosunov, Moose Jaw (WHL) (19)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-9, 230 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 6th round, 2016
Season totals: 71 GP, 7-19-26, +35, 62 PIM
Playoffs: 14 GP, 0-0-0, -6, 4 PIM

One of the real pleasant surprises early in the year was the transition of mammoth defender Oleg Sosunov from third-pair MHLer in Russia to a legitimate contributor for Moose Jaw in the WHL. Standing at 6'9" and well over 220 pounds, Sosunov is surprisingly not as stiff a skater as many prospects his size. He went from going scoreless for a season with Yarolsavl Junior a year ago to a very respectable 26 points and a +35 rating this year, though he slowed down toward the end. North American hockey appears to clearly be his cup of tea, and if he continues to ascend the development curve at the same clip next year, we could be talking about one of the real steals of the century. Sosunov will likely start next season in Syracuse.

20.) D Ben Thomas, Syracuse (AHL) (14)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-2, 180 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 4th round, 2014
Season totals: 72 GP, 4-18-22, +6, 58 PIM
Playoffs: 3 GP, 0-0-0, -2, 2 PIM

After a surprisingly good campaign a year ago, undersized righty defenseman Ben Thomas appeared to take a step backward this season with Syracuse in the AHL. A good skater with above-average offensive instincts, Thomas did manage to post similar numbers as his previous campaign, but he struggled to get the same amount of minutes as he failed at times to have a real grasp on playing his own end of the rink. With Foote and Cernak joining the organization, Thomas is in somewhat of a depth chart conundrum. He really needed to have a much better season than he did this year to break through, and his window may be shut pretty tight now to get to the NHL in this organization.

21.) C Carter Verhaeghe, Syracuse (AHL) (17)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-1, 181 lbs
Shoots: L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2013 by Toronto
Acquired: Trade with New York Islanders
Season totals: 58 GP, 17-31-48, +18, 30 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 1-7-8, E, 0 PIM

A former Islanders third round pick, centerman Carter Verhaeghe had a nice first campaign in the Lightning organization after coming over to the team in the Islanders’ trade for Kristers Gudlevskis. A versatile forward with decent size and skill, Verhaeghe can play all the forward positions and he had a very respectable 17 goals and 48 points in 58 games with the Crunch. The former Niagara captain is still just 22 years old, so he may still have a little more development left in him. Don't be surprised if he does get a diagnostic cup of coffee somewhere along the way as the Lightning try to see what they've got.

22.) C Ryan Lohin, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East) (21)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-0, 193 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 7th round, 2016
Season totals: 36 GP, 9-16-25, -2, 26 PIM

Stealth prospect two is Ryan Lohin from UML in the ECAC. As a sophomore, he picked up right where he left off as a freshman with 9 goals and 25 points in 36 games. Just like Colton, Lohin was a prolific scorer in the typically stingy USHL before getting to the NCAA ranks. And, just like Colton, he's lying in the weeds with pretty good skating and skill.

23.) D Nick Perbix, Omaha (USHL) (25)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-2, 191 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 6th round, 2017
Season totals: 56 GP, 4-25-29, +19, 38 PIM
Playoffs: 4 GP, 0-2-2, +1, 14 PIM

Continuing the theme of good offensive numbers in the offensively stingy USHL, righty defenseman Nick Perbix transitioned from the high school ranks to put up a very respectable 29 points as a rookie with the Omaha Lancers. Perbix has excellent size, and pretty good ability to skate and distribute the puck. He's heading to St. Cloud State in the NCAA ranks and he's another prospect worth keeping an eye on. Big, rangy, righty defensemen who can distribute the puck don't grow on trees.

24.) D Ryan Zuhlsdorf, Minnesota (B10) (NR)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-0, 192 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 5th round, 2015
Season totals: 38 GP, 0-9-9, +1, 40 PIM

Two seasons into his college career, Minnesota rearguard Ryan Zuhlsdorf hasn't yet really hit his stride. An undersized blueliner who is a good skater, Zuhlsdorf had just 9 points in 38 games with the Golden Gophers last season after posting 5 points as a freshman. Now that he's turning upperclassman, we'll see if his game and his production have another gear as his minutes continue to increase.

25.) C Cole Guttman, Dubuque (USHL) (24)
Age: 19
Vitals: 5-10, 165 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 6th round, 2017
Season totals: 17 GP, 6-5-11, E, 21 PIM

We'd like to finish off the rankings with another tale of a prospect ripping up the offensively-challenged USHL, but unfortunately injuries cut short the campaign of diminutive scorer Cole Guttman of Dubuque. Have no fear though, college recruiters saw enough of Guttman putting up over a point a game the year prior for the Saints’ captain to earn a scholarship to the extremely prestigious University of Denver program (now coached by ex-Lightning pick David Carle). Guttman's got serious speed and skill, and in case it hasn't been made clear yet, no organization does more with this type of player than the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

Dropping out: 22 Jonne Tammela

*Chad Schnarr, Timothy Bennett, and Jeremy Houghtaling contributed to this report