Who's Trending? (Part 2)

We continue with Part 2 of our Who’s Trending? series, examining player values as camp approaches. As we’ve mentioned many times, the great part about hockey – and especially developmental hockey – is this is subject to change. This is the Afanasenkov Rule.

The series includes current prospects and players that started last season as prospects who remain in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

ICYMI: Part 1

Part 2: Prospects Ranked 11-25

C Brayden Point
Last team: Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL
Next team: Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL
Prospect rank: 11
Trending: Up

Let’s get the Point Machine puns out of the way early. This point machine may have been the Lightning’s sexiest pick of this summer’s draft – an attractive offensive weapon who can put points on the board. The knock on Point is his size (or lack thereof), but the Lightning and its GM, Steve Yzerman, obviously don’t care and have a cupboard full of smallish skill prospects to prove it. Tampa Bay moved up one spot to nab Point, who had 91 points in 72 games last season and faired well at last month’s Team Canada WJC Development Camp and series vs the Czechs. He could be the No. 1 center for Syracuse in two years. For now, expect Point to flirt with the WHL scoring title. He finished 12th last year.

W Jonathan Marchessault
Last team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Next team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 12
Trending: Neutral

Marchessault was expected to be a savior of sorts last season when the Lightning acquired him to inject some offensive life into Syracuse. The Crunch were desperate for scorers and Marchessault and later Yanni Gourde added much-needed skill to the club. Both will do the same this year, with Marchessault playing an additional leadership role. Marchessault was satisfactory for Syracuse last year, finishing with 15 points in 21 games before the Crunch hit the golf course. He provides the organization with impact vet leadership at the AHL level and skill depth for Tampa Bay. His value is as high off the ice as it is on it.

G Adam Wilcox
Last team: Minnesota Golden Gophers, NCAA
Next team: Minnesota Golden Gophers, NCAA
Prospect rank: 13
Trending: Up

Wilcox’s value is so high right now he could be playing himself out of the organization. The junior netminder and all-everything prospect for the Gophers could become a free agent at the end of the year instead of signing with the Lightning. Wilcox looks like an NHL-caliber prospect, and with Vasilevskiy and Gudlevskis ahead of him on the depth chart, Wilcox’s road to the NHL appears blocked. As longtime hockey followers know, things rarely go to plan, but Wilcox has to look out for his career and he could decide to test the market. Another possibility is the Lightning trade his rights so they get at least a pick for him before he finds a clearer road elsewhere.

C/W Cody Kunyk
Last team: Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks, NCAA
Next team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 14
Trending: Up

Kunyk was signed as a free agent last season and spent the last few weeks of the Lightning’s campaign practicing with the team before making his NHL debut. Barring injuries to the big club, Kunyk, who earned positive reviews from the Bolts’ coaching staff, is projected to play this season with Syracuse. He’s a two-way forward with underrated offensive skills who provides quality depth for the Lightning.

W Henri Ikonen
Last team: Kingston Frontenacs, OHL
Next team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 15
Trending: Up

Ikonen is the type of player who can thrive on any line, providing energy, effective wall play, and enough skill to be dangerous. He’s the definition of a complementary player and could be the next Ruslan Fedotenko for the Bolts. He may be in the NHL before his entry-level contract runs out. These player types are must-haves for any organization expecting to win in the playoffs.

D Dylan Blujus
Last team: North Bay Battalion, OHL
Next team: (leaning) Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 16
Trending: Neutral

A former second rounder, it’s not a surprise that Blujus earned a professional contract – most second rounders do. He didn’t knock the door down on his way to the professional ranks like one may expect as his offense didn’t fully develop. He’s a serviceable and responsible defenseman who may end up as a third pair NHL defenseman instead of a top-4. His first battle is earning playing time in Syracuse, though he’s a candidate to start in the ECHL due to the Crunch’s depth. Blujus may be three or four years away from knocking on the NHL door, which is not uncommon for a defensive prospect. He's a coveted righty shot who can move the puck, and as Lightning prospect fans have seen in recent years, those are hard to come by.

W Yanni Gourde
Last team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Next team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 17
Trending: Neutral

Gourde was part of the Lightning’s effort to inject offense into Syracuse and he started to show flashes of his potential late in the season. He was a point-per-gamer for Worcester before the Lightning signed him, but only managed eight points in 18 games with the Crunch. He has the vision and hockey IQ to be a key playmaker for the Crunch this season and next. Tampa Bay and Syracuse may have learned their lesson last year when they didn’t have enough offense-first vets on their forward lines for the majority of the season. Gourde is entering his third professional season after scoring 124 points in 68 games for QMJHL Victoriaville in 2011-2012. If Gourde is a point-per-gamer this season for Syracuse, they likely stroll into the playoffs.

C/W Brian Hart
Last team: Harvard Crimson, NCAA
Next team: Harvard Crimson, NCAA
Prospect rank: 18
Trending: Down

The Lightning took a flier on Hart in the 2012 draft, taking him with a coveted top-60 pick (No. 53) after he had 68 points in 29 high school games with Phillips Exeter Academy. That’s not a bad pick at all, but with most dominant high school players, what they do at the next level could go a number of ways. At 6-3, 215 pounds, Hart is a power forward, a player type that takes extra time to develop. Hart debuted at Harvard with 18 points in 30 games, but fell to 15 points in 31 games last season. While he is a strong two-way player trying to become the sum of his parts, top-60 picks need to be slam dunks for a pro contract and Hart has two more years to impress Tampa Bay before a decision has to be made.

C Tanner Richard
Last team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Next team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 19
Trending: Neutral

Richard had a rough rookie pro season learning the ins and outs of professional hockey. This is fairly common for players making the jump from juniors, which makes it all the more impressive that players like Cedric Paquette can do it smoothly. Like Vlad Namestnikov before him, Richard took time to get used to game speed and defensive responsibilities and saw a lot of his ice time on the bottom lines. Richard’s production peaked with more ice time around the middle of the season, but fell again toward the end. The key for him this year will be to earn a scoring line spot early and hold onto it. If so, he can display his rare player type (gritty playmaker who racks up PIM) more effectively. If not, his trending arrow will fall quickly. A lot of development is taking advantage of opportunities. Some prospects (Justin Keller, Alex Hutchings) never recover.

D Luke Witkowski
Last team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Next team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 20
Trending: Up

Witkowski’s trend arrow is the highest its ever been after his rookie pro season. Unlike Richard, Witkowski (pictured) entered the AHL after four years of college hockey better prepared to make the transition. He was also two years older, which is significant in development years. Witkowski’s progress was praised by Yzerman recently, saying the former Western Michigan co-captain fulfilled a big need in the Lightning system. He is a no-frills, stay-at-home defenseman who can skate well, sticks up for his teammates, and has strong character and leadership abilities. He could find himself in the NHL this season if injuries open a door, and possibly full time next fall. The only reason he is No. 20 in our rankings is his ceiling (third pair defenseman) isn’t as high as others, though his probability level is near 100%.

D Johnathan MacLeod
Last team: US Men’s National Development Team, USHL
Next team: Boston University, NCAA
Prospect rank: 21
Trending: Neutral

Johnny Mac’s story is similar to both Witkowski and Hart. He was taken with a top-60 pick with the comfort of extended development in his future in the college ranks. He could wind up taking a path like Witkowski's and be all the better for it. MacLeod is a physical stay-at-home defenseman expected to see solid ice time next year for the Terriers. He's one to keep an eye on.

W Brendan O’Donnell
Last team: North Dakota, NCAA
Next team: North Dakota, NCAA
Prospect rank: 22
Trending: Up

The Afanasenkov Rule could change to the O’Donnell Rule if Brendan isn’t careful. The 2010 sixth rounder looked to be stalled in his development until midway through last season when his game went to another level. O’Donnell followed that up by dominating the Lightning’s recent Prospect Development Camp, and he’s now firmly on the Bolts’ radar. He’ll be a senior this year in Grand Forks and is primed to continue his breakout. A pro contract awaits.

D Nikita Nesterov
Last team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Next team: Syracuse Crunch, AHL
Prospect rank: 23
Trending: Down

Nesterov made his North American debut last year after playing professional hockey in his native Russia. A lot was expected of the two-way defenseman, but he didn’t quite deliver. It’s not uncommon for a Russian rookie to struggle on a new continent where he doesn’t know the language, but Nesterov’s troubles didn’t improve as well as they should have as the year progressed. He was unable to win many physical battles and his decision-making and puck movement weren’t as good as advertised. He made his mark in Russia being a responsible defenseman who could move the puck and calm things down when needed. The physical, high-paced, north-south North American game may be too much for him overcome to reach the NHL, not to mention he has similar players of his type capable of passing him on the depth chart. This is a big year for him.

D Jake Dotchin
Last team: Barrie Colts, OHL
Next team: (leaning) Florida Everblades, ECHL
Prospect rank: 24
Trending: Up

A sixth round pick in 2012, Dotchin was far from a lock to earn a contract with the Lightning, but thanks to a trade from Owen Sound to Barrie he was able to show enough to enter the professional ranks. Dotchin, like Witkowski and MacLeod, is a stay-at-home defenseman who keeps the opposition honest. His offense is still developing and could continue to develop with confidence and opportunity. Step 1 is making the Crunch over the ECHL and Step 2 is staying there. He should be at least a second pair defenseman in Syracuse by the time his entry-level deal is up in three years.

D Ben Thomas
Last team: Calgary Hitmen, WHL
Next team: Calgary Hitmen, WHL
Prospect rank: 25
Trending: Down

Thomas entered last year – his draft year – as a highly regarded prospect capable of sneaking into the second round. As it turned out, he didn’t progress as expected and was taken in the fourth round. Thomas still managed 31 points in a tough league and that could rise this year. He has a clean slate in front of him with the draft behind him, so there is a sense of freedom. He’s on a good club and could easily get back on his original development path. If so, the Lightning may have another fine two-way defenseman entering their system in the coming years.

Previously: Part 1 (Prospects ranked 1-10)
Coming Soon: Part 3 (Unranked prospects), Part 4 (Recent graduates)