2017-2018 Midterm Rankings

Introduction
Well, it finally was time for Steve Yzerman to cash in. After several years of carefully cultivating one of the deeper prospect pools in the NHL, the Lightning used that depth to complete a trade deadline blockbuster that leveraged prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden to land playoff reinforcements Ryan McDonagh and J. T. Miller. Have no fear, though, the Lightning still maintain a deep stable of solid youth, some of whom are already contributing at the NHL level while an extremely youthful Syracuse Crunch team has found its voice and is playing well beyond its years down in the AHL. So, even though a couple of bigger names have moved along, don't expect that to diminish a likely youth movement to come in Tampa Bay over the next two or three years, particularly on the lower lines at the forward position.

As per custom, it's now time for a review of the prospect ranking rules. Any player 24 or older on opening night of the Lightning's season is considered an overage prospect for the purposes of the rankings, hence why Yanni Gourde and Matt Peca were considered overagers earlier this season. A skater with 41 NHL games in a single season or 82 career NHL games of service is considered graduated from prospect status on the website. This has included newly minted Bolt Prospects alumni Mikhail Sergachev, Gourde, and Jake Dotchin so far this season. Goaltenders who have 30 NHL decisions in a single season or 41 career NHL decisions are considered graduated. Lastly, any NCAA player is considered a prospect for the duration of their college career regardless of age.

So, let's begin...

1.) D Cal Foote, Kelowna (WHL) (2017 Supplemental Ranking: 2) (Kelowna Rockets photo)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-4, 212 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 1st round, 2017
Season totals: 58 GP, 17-48-65, +24, 46 PIM

Cal, who is, of course, the son of ex-Avalanche star blueliner Adam Foote, has had a highly productive season to vault him to the top spot in our rankings. The right-handed defender has already eclipsed his career totals in goals and points this year while also earning a gold medal for Canada at the U20 World Junior Championships. Touted as more of a solid-but-unspectacular style of defenseman in his draft season, Foote has exceeded expectations with his offensive development to the extent that the Lightning were reportedly unwilling to part with him at the deadline for playoff help. That's probably a smart move given the paucity of quality, right-handed defensemen in the league. Foote is big, strong, and has an above average ability to distribute passes and get his shot through on the power play as evidenced by his 29 power play assists (#5 in the WHL at the time of this writing). His skating continues to improve and he looks like, at a minimum, a #3/4 defenseman who will have a long career in the league with the possibility his growth curve may top out as more of a #2 defender. Foote could flirt with a spot on Tampa Bay’s blueline as soon as next year, following the path of Mikhail Sergachev. He will likely join Syracuse as soon as Kelowna is finished this season.

2.) C/W Mitchell Stephens, Syracuse (AHL) (6)
Age: 21
Vitals: 5-11, 190 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 2nd round, 2015
Season totals: 60 GP, 18-17-35, 15, 16 PIM

After a bit of a pedestrian start to his rookie campaign, hardworking forward Mitchell Stephens exploded in the month of January (8 goals and 14 points in 12 games) to rocket up the Syracuse Crunch scoring leaders list and earn an AHL All-Star berth. Universally lauded for his work ethic and willingness to play bigger than his stature, Stephens seems like a natural NHL third liner who possesses the skill level to spot as a complementary scoring liner and penalty killer. In his draft season, the NHL originally envisioned moving Stephens to wing as a sort of Ryan Callahan clone, but Stephens has primarily stayed at center throughout his junior and minor pro careers, which ultimately only adds to his value as he continues his path toward the NHL.

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

While Stephens had a mid-season explosion for the Crunch, Anthony Cirelli has arguably been the most consistent of Syracuse's rookie pros, likely accounting for Cirelli's call-up to Tampa Bay for what looks like the remainder of the regular season. Cut from a similar cloth as Stephens, Cirelli is universally lauded for his work ethic but he has a mature, almost cerebral side to his game. A one-time Memorial Cup champion and two-time Memorial Cup finalist, Cirelli's been a winner throughout his junior career. He understands the 200-foot game and uses his excellent wheels to get into prime position in all three zones (especially the forecheck) and in all three phases of the game. Like Stephens, we look at Cirelli as a player who looks like a perfect third line centerman on a Cup contending NHL team who can spot from time to time on a scoring line and still provide production.

4.) W Mathieu Joseph, Syracuse (AHL) (9)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-1, 172 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2015
Season totals: 57 GP, 13-28-41, +8, 35 PIM

The third of our cluster of productive Syracuse rookie pros is winger Mathieu Joseph. After a short settling-in period, Joseph's been a fairly consistent performer for the Crunch on the season and leads the team in scoring. Lightning quick, if you'll pardon the pun, and ruthlessly tenacious, Joseph's a wonderful forechecker who in many ways exemplifies the kind of puck retrieving north-south winger teams are after these days. Because of his speed and penchant for retrieving pucks, Joseph really can play as a complementary winger anywhere from line one through four with enough skill to keep up with the big gunners and enough grit to stay toe to toe with the tough customers.

5.) W Adam Erne, Tampa Bay (NHL) (11)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-1, 210 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2013
Season totals (TB): 16 GP, 3-0-3, E, 6 PIM
Season totals (SYR): 41 GP, 12-14-26, +4, 38 PIM

And now for something different. Adam Erne brings to the table a muscular power forward's style that stands as a contrast to many of his fellow prospect brethren. Built with a wide base and being seemingly impossible to knock off pucks, Erne is surprisingly quick and skilled and even drew comparisons to NHL veteran Patrick Marleau during his draft season. Now up in the NHL for his second extended stint with the big club, Erne provides a measure of versatility to the Lightning because he plays with enough jam to contribute on a lower line but also has the skill and speed and puck retrieval ability to spot on a scoring line if needed. Ultimately, though, we look at his ceiling as being a bullish goal-scoring winger if he can gain the consistency and trust, defensively, to work his way up to a scoring line with a good playmaker. At the least, he can settle in as a hard-to-play-against bottom sixer – especially if he can add PK duty to his résumé.

6.) D Slater Koekkoek, Tampa Bay (NHL) (7)
Age: 24
Vitals: 6-2, 193 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 1st round, 2012
Season totals: 33 GP, 4-4-8, +4, 16 PIM

The wait for Slater Koekkoek's arrival is still on. Koekkoek's spent the year with the big club this season but has split most of his time between the press box and lower pair assignments where he's often seen single-digit minutes in ice time. It's a surprising fate for a player the Lightning made a side deal with Las Vegas to protect this year and who has the raw athletic tools that should make him a top-four NHL defenseman. Koekkoek's got the prototypical blend of size and speed. Indeed, he's sort of a mini-Hedman in that respect. And, Koekkoek's shown some ability to find the scoresheet in his limited minutes this year, but if there's one critique from his short sample set of ice time it's that he hasn't been as robust physically or as good getting out of his own end as previous NHL cups of coffee. He was kept in Tampa at the deadline, perhaps for depth, but his long-term future as a member of the Lightning is somewhat in doubt with Hedman, McDonagh, Sergachev, and Coburn all left-siders under contract ahead of him next year.

7.) W Alexander Volkov, Syracuse (AHL) (16)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-1, 191 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2017
Season totals: 60 GP, 16-17-33, +13, 39 PIM

The Lightning went off script when they used a second rounder in the June draft on little-viewed overage Russian winger Alexander Volkov and they've been rewarded thus far by a very solid rookie campaign in Syracuse. Volkov's drawn comparisons to Lightning winger Ondrej Palat for his tenacious 200-foot game and surprising amount of jam for a European player. Volkov had an excellent camp and, a bit like Joseph became a consistent producer for the Crunch after a brief settling-in period in Syracuse. His game should be very coach-friendly and he should be the type of player who can play anywhere from line one to four and in all three phases of the game as a complementary winger.

8.) W Boris Katchouk, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) (12)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-3, 190 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season totals: 55 GP, 41-40-81, +51, 28 PIM

Boris Katchouk is... a bad man. That's how that sentence ends. Whereas Adam Erne has the size and wide base necessary to play a gritty power forward’s game, Katchouk is the rare breed who enjoys and thrives at it. Muscular and mean, Katchouk's also shown he has hands by scoring a total of more than 70 goals and counting over his last two junior campaigns. Paired with a playmaker, he's the type of winger who can create space for his linemates and pay off the effort by finishing when given the puck back. Katchouk won a gold medal for Canada at the U20 World Junior Championships along with fellow Bolt prospects Cal Foote and Taylor Raddysh. Katchouk will likely be an instant folk hero in Syracuse next season with a view toward eventually becoming a valuable complementary winger (are you sensing a theme in these rankings, yet?) who can play anywhere on lines one through four for the Lightning in the NHL.

9.) W Taylor Raddysh, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) (5)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-2, 209 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 2nd round, 2016
Season totals (Erie/SSM): 54 GP, 31-47-78, +28, 26 PIM

Although similar in stature to Katchouk, fellow Sault and Team Canada gold medal winner Taylor Raddysh brings a markedly different style to the table. More of a pure scorer, Raddysh is closing in on 300 points in his distinguished junior career where he's won U20 World Junior Championships silver and gold medals and been a Memorial Cup finalist. There are negatives to overcome, though, as Raddysh's skating is considered middling and he needs to play with a bit more jam and attentiveness to the full 200 feet of the rink. He's more of a boom-or-bust, scoring-line-or-nothing prospect who we'll learn a lot more about when he gets into Benoit Groulx's program in Syracuse next year.

10.) D Dominik Masin, Syracuse (AHL) (17)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-2, 198 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 2nd round, 2014
Season totals: 59 GP, 8-14-22, +23, 58 PIM

A Bolt Prospects favorite, Dominik Masin has quietly had a pretty stellar campaign with the Syracuse Crunch this season that has lessened the sting of trading Hajek at the deadline. A lefty blueliner with decent mobility, Masin's calling card is excellent gap control and a willingness to efficiently finish his checks when the opportunities present themselves. Think of Masin as a bigger, left-handed, and slightly less mean/crazy version of ex-Lightning defender Radko Gudas. Masin's formed a rock-solid pair much of the year with fellow prospect Erik Cernak and they've both been among the Crunch's plus-minus leaders all season. Just as encouraging as Masin's defensive development has been, he's also cleared the 20-point plateau this season and may threaten to top 30 points by the time the year closes. Given the Lightning's depth at left-handed defense, Masin likely tops out in this organization as a third pair defenseman but he looks to have the overall ability to comfortably spot on the second pair and handle the load.

11.) D Erik Cernak, Syracuse (AHL) (20)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-3, 221 lbs
Shoots: R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2015
Acquired: Trade with Los Angeles
Season totals: 60 GP, 2-9-11, +26, 47 PIM

Acquired in the Ben Bishop trade from the Kings organization, Erik Cernak's been the perfect peanut butter to Masin's jelly this season as a rock-solid pair down in Syracuse. Cernak is a big, rugged, and responsible right side defender whose skating and mobility have improved greatly since his draft year. A rookie pro, Cernak hasn't yet shown the offensive chops his pairing partner has, but there's time for that part of his game to develop. Given how rare good righty defensemen are, you might be able to make the argument Cernak's got a higher ceiling in this organization. On first glance, he looks to slot in as a third pair defenseman, though, who will probably get his first cup of coffee no later than next season.

12.) C Alex Barré-Boulet, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL) (N/A)
Age: 20
Vitals: 5-9, 167 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: Free agent 2018
Season totals: 62 GP, 51-62-113, +27, 65 PIM

Recent signee Alex Barre-Boulet begins in our rankings at the 12 spot. A late bloomer, Boulet has vaulted past the 50-goal and 110-point marks already this year and is leading the high-flying QMJHL in scoring. The undrafted 20-year-old is slightly taller than many of the Lightning's undrafted signees but is very slight of build and doesn't quite have the blazing speed to match his obvious playmaking and scoring gifts. It's pretty hard to argue with the Lightning's record of identifying and developing undersized, overage and/or undrafted players ranging from the likes of Cory Conacher to Tyler Johnson to Ondrej Palat to Cedric Paquette to Jonathan Marchessault to Yanni Gourde (and I'm probably missing one or two). If you're a forward who's slipped through the cracks, you should be dying to get into Tampa Bay's camp and the Lightning contract surely is a seal of approval. Expect big things from Barre-Boulet, presumably starting next season with Syracuse or whenever the Armada is done this year.

13.) W Dennis Yan, Syracuse (AHL) (19)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-1, 202 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2015
Season totals: 42 GP, 11-10-21, +9, 20 PIM

We have a saying at Bolt Prospects: All Dennis Yan Does Is Score. A prolific goal-scorer in junior (46 goals in 64 games with Shawinigan last year), Yan's had a decent rookie-pro campaign already potting 11 goals in fairly efficient fashion. If this were the Rick Dudley days, we might go so far as to say Yan's an NHLer from the blueline in, but what he needs to continue to improve at is his 200-foot game and willingness to do more of the dirty work along the wall and in the high traffic areas to make him a bit less of a one-trick pony. With that said, though, if you're going to pick one trick, that's probably the one you want. A boom-or-bust prospect, Yan can be a goal-scoring top-six forward in the NHL or not be in the NHL at all.

14.) D Ben Thomas, Syracuse (AHL) (15)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-2, 180 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 4th round, 2014
Season totals: 51 GP, 4-14-18, +5, 54 PIM

After a surprisingly good rookie pro campaign last year with the Crunch where Ben Thomas became a regular on the team's second pair, Thomas has maintained his production levels this year in a slightly diminished third pair role. One of those rare and coveted righty defenders, Thomas is a bit undersized and lacks the elite wheels although he has decent mobility overall. His strong suit is his ability to move the puck and distribute in the offensive third, but he struggles with bigger forecheckers and is still settling in with his coverage responsibilities in the defensive third. Thomas' star may have been dulled a little by Foote and Cernak's arrival in the organization, but we'd still expect him to get a diagnostic cup of coffee some time next season at the latest to see if he really does have third pair upside in the NHL.

15.) C Alexey Lipanov, Sudbury (OHL) (13)
Age: 18
Vitals: 6-1, 170 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2017
Season totals (Barrie/Sudbury): 51 GP, 14-21-35, -3, 18 PIM

If you want a penny prospect stock we think may pay off nicely, consider investing in Russian centerman Alexey Lipanov of Sudbury. Lipanov had solid production as an OHL rookie with Barrie before being moved away from friend/linemate (and super-prospect) Andrei Svechnikov to a bad Sudbury team at the deadline. Lipanov missing the Russian U20 World Junior Championships roster was a bit of a surprise/blow, but we still like what we see there, and so do the Lightning as evidenced by the club inking him to a contract earlier this year. Think of Lipanov as the Russian version of Anthony Cirelli: a smart, 200-foot centerman with good work ethic who might even have a touch better playmaking skills. Now that he's had a year to settle into North America we're excited to see what he can do developmentally next season either with Sudbury or if he takes the leap to Syracuse. With Sudbury missing the playoffs, Lipanov is probably a couple weeks away from joining the Crunch for the remainder of their season and playoff run.

16.) G Connor Ingram, Syracuse (AHL) (18)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-1, 202 lbs
Catches: L
Acquired: 3rd round, 2016
Season totals: 29 GP, 16-9-0, 2.47 GAA, .907 sv%

Between trades and injuries up top in Tampa Bay, rookie pro Connor Ingram's been the one constant among six goaltenders for the Syracuse Crunch between the pipes this season. And, with a solid win-loss record and a sub-2.50 GAA so far you have to respect what the young netminder has done to give his club an opportunity to win much more often than not when he's been pressed into service. Not an overly big goaltender who we might think of when considering the Frantz Jean mold, Ingram's a battler who's displayed above-average maturity and ability to shake off bad goals/games and move on to the next play. He probably tops out as an NHL backup and our suspicion is we likely won't see him in Tampa for a couple of years yet.

17.) C/W Carter Verhaeghe, Syracuse (AHL) (22)
Age: 22
Vitals: 6-1, 181 lbs
Shoots: L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2013 by Toronto
Acquired: Trade with New York Islanders
Season totals: 43 GP, 11-23-34, +9, 26 PIM

Carter Verhaeghe was somewhat of an unheralded offseason acquisition from the New York Islanders in the Kristers Gudlevskis trade, but the versatile forward has proven to be one of the backbones of the Syracuse Crunch attack this year. The former Niagara captain and third round pick of the Maple Leafs is a streaky, yet versatile playmaker who split the previous two seasons between the AHL and ECHL levels before breaking through full-time with the Crunch this year. Verhaeghe is just 22 years old, so we suspect there's still a little more development to go in his game and we expect him to get a diagnostic cup of coffee with the Lightning sooner rather than later to see if he can follow in the likes of Yanni Gourde's footsteps to the big club.

18.) C Otto Somppi, Halifax (QMJHL) (NR)
Age: 20
Vitals: 6-2, 188 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 7th round, 2016
Season totals: 56 GP, 28-52-80, +36, 26 PIM

One of the real risers of this season has been Finnish-born centerman Otto Somppi of the Halifax Mooseheads. Plagued by injuries and inconsistency the prior couple of seasons, a healthy Somppi has topped 80 points and will likely break the 30 goal mark by season's end. Somppi's portfolio included a highlight-reel lacrosse-style goal, but it's been Somppi's overall productivity and consistency that has likely played him off the brink of organization extinction and into an entry-level contract and a chance to play with Syracuse when the Mooseheads are finished this season and into next.

19.) D Oleg Sosunov, Moose Jaw (WHL) (HM)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-8, 230 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 6th round, 2016
Season totals: 57 GP, 7-18-25, +40, 58 PIM

A year ago, monstrous 6'8" defender Oleg Sosunov was mired in an MHL campaign with Yaroslavl Jr. that saw him go 32 games without registering a point in limited ice time. Shockingly, at a higher level of hockey, Sosunov has thrived in his first season in the WHL, already topping 20 points and sporting a gaudy plus-minus rating to boot. Unlike some players his height, Sosunov is thickly built and strong with the wingspan of a condor, a surprisingly smooth skating stride and decent, if unspectacular, balance and agility. He's an extremely raw lump of clay that is just now getting some opportunity and is making the most of it. The ultimate flier, if Sosunov continues to ascend the development curve at the pace he has over the last year, it's not crazy to conceive of him being an intriguing #4/5 defenseman at the NHL level. He’s already signed and will be in Syracuse next year.

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

The lower half of our rankings consist of a number of NCAA and future NCAA prospects we endearingly refer to as our "stealth prospects." Tops among these is sophomore centerman Ross Colton out of Vermont. While his club was mired in a down season that contributed to a dip in Colton's plus-minus, the 21-year-old still managed a career-high 16 goals in 36 games. Colton's offensive gifts make him a prime candidate to earn a contract sometime over the next couple of years and, coming out of the NCAA ranks, he should be an instant contributor either for Syracuse or Tampa Bay. Colton’s season has finished already, so if he and the Lightning are in agreement about turning pro now, the door is open.

21.) C Ryan Lohin, UMASS (HEAST) (23)
Age: 21
Vitals: 6-0, 193 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 7th round, 2016
Season totals: 36 GP, 9-16-25, -2, 26 PIM

Somewhat similar to Colton, Ryan Lohin's Massachusetts club struggled through a bit of a rough season but he managed to maintain offensive production similar to his freshman campaign. His numbers haven't been as explosive as Colton's, but he came out of the tight-checking USHL as a point-a-game player, so that skill is in his set of tools. His junior season will be a telling indicator as to whether he puts himself on track to get in position to earn an NHL contract and move up to the next level. Lohin’s River Hawks were eliminated in the Hockey East tournament, so he’s already looking ahead to next season.

22.) RW Jonne Tammela, Syracuse (AHL) (HM)
Age: 20
Vitals: 5-10, 187 lbs
Shoots: L
Acquired: 4th round, 2015
Season totals: 24 GP, 3-2-5, +4, 16 PIM

There may be no more heartwarming a tale in these rankings than that of Finnish centerman Jonne Tammela, who missed nearly all of last season and the start of this season with a serious knee injury. After missing a year of hockey, the speedy and pesky forward has surprisingly been a decent little contributor in the Crunch lineup. Known as an instigator coming out of KalPa in the Finnish league, Tammela's a hardworking forechecker with good speed and deceptive quantities of skill. Hopefully, he'll stay healthy now and get back on track to be a solid complementary winger.

23.) RW/C Sammy Walker, Edina (USHS) (HM)
Age: 18
Vitals: 5-9, 150 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 7th round, 2017
Season totals: 31 GP, 35-44-79, 16 PIM

Another "stealth prospect" worthy of your penny stock investing might be Edina HS speedster Sammy Walker. The diminutive Minnesota commit torched the Minnesota high school ranks (again) this season to the tune of over two points a game, including 35 goals in 31 games. Yes, it's Minnesota high school hockey, which has a somewhat uneven skill level that can be tough to judge when diagnosing prospects. Yes, the proof will be in the pudding when he gets to the NCAA as a Golden Gopher against bigger, stronger, older players. But there's some raw material there for a Lightning organization renowned for cultivating small, quick skill players into big-time NHL contributors, and some additional credibility winning the prestigious Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. With the high school season done, Walker will now likely re-join USHL Sioux City, where he went scoreless in four games earlier in the fall.

24.) C Cole Guttman, Dubuque (USHL) (HM)
Age: 18
Vitals: 5-10, 165 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 6th round, 2017
Season totals: 17 GP, 6-5-11, E, 21 PIM

Cole Guttman, a University of Denver commit, has had a bit of a rough season this year missing time with injuries, which has limited his effectiveness and production. Still, he's got top-notch skill after putting up over a point a game last year for Dubuque, which is how you get a scholarship at a blueblood program like Denver. He's a little bit taller than Walker, but again, Guttman's a slightly built guy who will certainly have a chance between a Lightning organization that knows how to develop these types of players and the coming time in an NCAA strength and conditioning program that will almost certainly get Guttman up to speed physically for the pro game. The Dubuque captain is finished for the year after undergoing hip surgery this winter.

25.) D Nick Perbix, Omaha (USHL) (HM)
Age: 19
Vitals: 6-2, 191 lbs
Shoots: R
Acquired: 6th round, 2017
Season totals: 44 GP, 4-18-22, +11, 16 PIM

Rounding out the Midterm Rankings is another nice "stealth prospect" in the form of righty defenseman Nick Perbix. Like Walker this year, Perbix came out of the Minnesota high school ranks last year with great numbers against uneven competition. Perbix has passed the test in the tighter checking USHL thus far, though, at a half-a-point-a-game pace. Big, mobile, and a fine puck mover, this St. Cloud State commit might be undervalued on these rankings and is yet another guy worthy of your Lightning prospect penny stock investing attention.

Dropping out: 1 Mikhail Sergachev (graduated), 3 Brett Howden (traded), 8 Jake Dotchin (graduated), 10 Matthew Peca (age), 14 Libor Hajek (traded), 24 Christopher Paquette, 25 Matthew Spencer

*Chad Schnarr and Timothy Bennett contributed to this report