TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Anthony Cirelli to a three-year, entry-level contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Cirelli, 18, played in 62 games with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League this season, recording 21 goals and 59 points to go along with 27 penalty minutes. He ranked first on the team for assists (38) and points. The Woodbridge, Ontario native also led all Oshawa skaters for power-play goals (10) and power-play points (16). Cirelli made his pro debut with the Syracuse Crunch on April 15, 2016 in a match-up against the Utica Comets.
The 6-foot, 171-pound forward has skated in 130 career OHL games over two seasons with the Generals, registering 34 goals and 95 points to go along with 49 penalty minutes. During his rookie campaign in 2014-15, Cirelli led all Oshawa rookies for points, also ranking ninth in the OHL in that category.
Cirelli was selected by the Lightning in the third round, 75th overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Not mentioned in the Lightning's release is the face Cirelli was named captain of the Gens after the trade deadline this year. The Gens were in a rebuilding year after winning the Memorial Cup last spring on Cirelli's double overtime goal. He's a do-it-all player who has a high level of will and grit to battle along the boards or in front of the net, where he scored the Cup-winning goal. As with Vlad Namestnikov at this age, Cirelli has a lot of weight and bulk to add to his frame, but he has the makings of a versatile NHL forward one day who can excel in the faceoff circle.
He played fourth line with the Gens early in the championship year and worked his way up to Line 3 and eventually some scoring line time. He was a first-liner from the get-go last season and will be a focal point of Oshawa next year when he returns to the OHL.
Cirelli's journey to the NHL will likely include at least a couple years with Syracuse, but his versatility could get him there sooner than expected. Being prepared physically for the day-to-day grind of pro hockey will be a determining factor, but there's plenty of time for that.
Cirelli didn't have to be signed this spring as the Lightning had until next June to ink him to a contract. It was a nice gesture of confidence by Tampa Bay to do so now, and they could make a similar gesture to Mathieu Joseph of Saint John of the QMJHL, who had a similar breakout season to Cirelli. Another prospect signing to watch out for is Boko Imama, also of Saint John, who is eligible to play in the AHL next year. Imama could also come to camp without a contract and if the Lightning see fit, could send him back to the Q as an overager to continue his development. He could fulfill the David Broll-role with the Crunch next year, however.