Who's Trending? (Part 1)
The NHL Entry Draft and Free Agency Frenzy are tiny blips in the rearview mirror and the next event – the Nashville prospects tournament – is still a few weeks away (and we’ll be there). August is the low-point of the hockey year and the Bolt Prospects staff has been using this lull to re-charge their batteries in preparation for another long season of daily reports and constant updates and commentary.
Editor’s Note: Batteries is a figurative term. We’re not robots, though we feel like it sometimes.
The prospects themselves are hard at work preparing for the season and/or dumping ice buckets over their respective heads for a good cause. Some, like Jonathan Drouin, have aspirations to make the big club. Others, like Daniel Milan, are hoping to stay in the organization beyond this season.
It’s time to take a look at who’s trending in what direction as camp approaches. The great part about hockey, and especially developmental hockey – is this is subject to change. There are few things more exciting than watching someone turn their career around. This is the Afanasenkov Rule. You never know.
The following 4-part series includes current prospects and players that started last season as prospects who remain in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
Part 1: Prospects Ranked 1-10
C/W Jonathan Drouin
Last team: Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL
Next team: Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL
Prospect rank: 1
Jonathan Drouin is regarded as the best prospect not playing in the NHL. He’s a year more mature, bigger, and more intelligent in all three zones than last year’s camp when everyone thought he could get by on his raw skill and reputation. Big things are ahead, including a likely trip to Vegas as a Calder Trophy finalist. Clear space on your phones for his highlight videos.
Player: G Andrei Vasilevskiy
Last Team: Ufa, KHL
Next Team: Syracuse, AHL
Prospect rank: 2
As of the end of last season, there were three things Andrei Vasilevskiy had to do before becoming an NHL star: 1) Sign an NHL contract, 2) Decide how to spell his name 3) Put in the North America developmental time necessary in to make himself truly NHL-ready. The first and second items have been crossed off his to-do list, and the third could take as little as a couple months or as long as three seasons (the length of Bishop’s contracts). Realistically, he could be in the NHL as soon as next season after Evgeni Nabokov’s contract runs out. Kristers Gudlevskis may have something to say about that, however.
D Slater Koekkoek
Last team: Windsor, OHL
Next team: Syracuse, AHL
Prospect rank: 3
Koekkoek’s trend arrow was peaking up until he suffered his third major shoulder injury in the last three seasons. He was a finalist for the best defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League and had rounded out his game so quickly he was setting an unrealistic precedent for other offensive-defenseman prospects. All reports indicate both shoulders are now structurally secure and it’s smooth sailing from here, but give him time to regain his confidence on the ice. It shouldn’t take too long. He could be in the NHL by the end of the season; he just has to stay healthy and play like he’s not worried about it.
C Vlad Namestnikov
Last team: Syracuse, AHL
Next team: Syracuse, AHL
Prospect rank: 4
In previous offseasons, you could take a big, ol’ fat permanent marker and put Vladdy’s name on the Lightning roster entering camp (#YzermanProblems). There simply isn’t an obvious place to put him this offseason, so he’s going to have to push his way onto the team, and it may have to be on the wing because another center, Brian Boyle, was acquired. Vladdy is a near perfect second- or third-line center in the future, but the future isn’t now. He could be on the Bolts by the end of the season even without injury help if the Bolts simply can't keep him down any longer. He’s a prototypical Cooper-Yzerman player: speed, character, compete level, skill, and intelligence.
D Anthony DeAngelo
Last team: Sarnia, OHL
Next team: Sarnia, OHL
Prospect rank: 5
If “trending” is indeed perceived value, Yzerman single-handedly changed DeAngelo's in Yzerman's post-pick interview. Yzerman was thorough when explaining the extent of homework the club did on DeAngelo, who entered the draft with no one questioning his skills, but everyone questioning his character. Yzerman, Al Murray, and company interviewed everyone remotely associated with the offensive wizard to get an objective view on his future as a person, not just a player. They were obviously satisfied enough to take DeAngelo in the first round. It may be a year or more before he’s in the NHL, but when he hits he has the potential and situation to be a hockey poolie’s dream. Bolt prospect followers longing for a high-end, right-handed puckmover can finally rest easy.
W/C Adam Erne
Last team: Quebec, QMJHL
Next team: Quebec, QMJHL
Prospect rank: 6
Another #YzermanProblem. As recently as the Brian Lawton Era, fans may have seen Erne in the NHL this coming season (if not last season), but there just isn’t room for this developing power forward. Erne can only play in the NHL or juniors, and unlike Brett Connolly years ago, Erne has a solid team to rejoin. It’s possible he could push for a roster spot with the Lightning again this preseason (assuming there are no more suspensions), but when all is said and done, the guarantee of playing time in Quebec City will be too much to pass up. He’s a year or two away from the NHL and the Lightning’s desire to be a more difficult team to play against plays in his favor.
G Kristers Gudlevskis
Last team: Syracuse, AHL
Next team: Syracuse, AHL
Prospect rank: 7
When last we saw Kristers Gudlevskis he was playing in Game 4 against the Canadiens, reminding Canadian fans of his Olympic performance for Latvia. Gudlevskis has the skills to be an NHL starter someday, but he has the inconsistency of a 21-year-old. That's because he's ... wait for it ... 21. This is all part of the goaltender development journey. Can a player combine his skill and approach into predictable, repeatable, positive performances? We’re a year away from a Vasilevskiy vs Gudlevskis fight to be the organization’s No. 2. Get your tickets now.
D Dominik Masin
Last team: HC Slavia Praha U-20
Next team: Peterborough, OHL
Prospect rank: 8
Masin was a wait-and-see prospect even after the Lightning took him near the top of the second round in June until he was a standout at the recent World Juniors camp series against Canada. Masin held his own defensively, was good offensively, and showed he likes to get his nose dirty – or dirty other players’ noses as the case turned out to be. He’s a high-character, defense-first defenseman who could be in the Lightning lineup in 2-3 years. He can play in the AHL as soon as 2015-2016. The next thing to watch is how much offense he’s capable of producing for the Petes. He's caught the attention of OHL prospect followers.
C/W Cedric Paquette
Last team: Tampa Bay, NHL
Next team: (leaning) Syracuse, AHL
Prospect rank: 9
If all you remember of Paquette last year was his defensive gaffe that led to Montreal’s overtime goal in Game 1, stop. Remember that mistake you made on your second day on the job? Did you learn from it? As a first-year pro, Paquette won Syracuse’s top rookie, smartest forward, best power forward, and co-MVP awards. Again, he was a 2012 4th rounder who reached the NHL in two seasons. That’s not supposed to happen, and especially not for an Yzerman team. His promotion for the NHL playoffs shows how high the organization thinks of him and how desperate it was for a pest on the Lightning’s lower lines. Make no mistake; Paquette is a big part of Jon Cooper’s future squads in Tampa as a player who constantly arrives everywhere in ill manner. The immediate question is if there’s room for him now or later. It’s possible he begins his second year in the pros back in Syracuse. He doesn’t require waivers to be sent down.
Player: C/W Matt Peca
Last Team: Quinnipiac, NCAA
Next Team: Quinnipiac, NCAA
Prospect Rank: 10
Peca had a decision to make after being drafted by the Lightning in 2011 – join one of several junior teams coveting him or stick with his commitment to Quinnipiac University. After some Patrick Roy-initiated drama, Peca ended up in Connecticut with the Bobcats. That’s Nick Saban-esque recruiting in the hockey world as Peca has been a key ingredient in the Bobcats’ rise to the NCAA elite. Individually, Peca was a scoring winger his first year and more of a 2-way center on the second line last season. He has always possessed skill and character, but he’s never had size (5’9”). As a junior this season, Peca continues to mature as a prospect and had he not been injured late last year he may have come out to join the professional ranks. There’s never a rush under Yzerman so Peca is returning to school where he hopes to center QU’s top line as a Hobey Baker candidate. It will be interesting to see what role he molds into – scorer, 2-way, or both? Had he chosen juniors, he’d likely be in the pros as a scoring prospect. As it is, he could leave the college ranks as a matured 2-way prospect, which could help him reach the NHL sooner.
Up next: Part 2 (Prospects ranked 11-25)
Coming soon: Part 3 (Unranked prospects), Part 4 (Recent prospect graduates in the NHL)