Written by Pete Choquette (@jollymeangiant)
The dog days of summer find us in a rare lull on the calendar here on Bolt Prospects between the ending of Lightning rookie camp and the start of annual prospect tournaments and training camp. What better opportunity to take the time to examine how the Lightning's 2014 draft class figures into our rankings? With that in mind, here's our 2013-2014 Supplemental Prospect Rankings, the final round of rankings before the 2014-2015 season.
The 2014 NHL Entry Draft offered a tremendous opportunity for the Tampa Bay Lightning to replenish a prospect system that has been depleted by the mass graduation of well over a half a dozen prospects that moved up from the AHL to NHL level last season. Some of the finest prospects in the land still held down the top spots in the rankings, but there was a considerable vacuum behind the top half dozen or so spots. With three picks in the coveted top-60 of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the team held three golden tickets to begin to restock and reload. The Lightning used those picks to select three defensemen, addressing the most obvious deficiency in their prospect pipeline. Will the needs-based approach to drafting pay off, or will the shift in philosophy this year backfire on the club? Time will tell.
Before we start with the rankings, it's time to once again review the rules of the rankings. Players under 24 years of age on opening night of the 2013-2014 NHL season were eligible for the rankings. Older prospects are considered overage prospects for the purposes of the website (sorry, J.P. Cote). Any skater prospect with 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games is considered graduated on the website. Any goaltender with 30 or more decisions in a single NHL season or 41 career NHL decisions is also considered graduated. Lastly, NCAA prospects are exempt from the 24 year-old cutoff for the duration of their college careers.
Got it? There will be a quiz later. With that out of the way, let's begin...
Before saying farewell to the 2013-2014 season in our Final Rankings, lets step back and reflect on what an unprecedented season it was. Eight prospects who appeared on our 2013-2014 Preliminary Rankings list graduated from prospect status during the season (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio, J.T. Brown, Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, and Andrej Sustr), while another two overage prospects also graduated (Ben Bishop and Alex Killorn). Palat and Johnson were named finalists for the Calder Trophy while Bishop was tapped as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
Put simply, it'll be decades before the Lightning ever have a prospect class like this go through the system again, if ever. Remember that as you read through these 2013-2014 Final Rankings, which reflect a talent pool that has been drained of the majority of its best players. True, there are still two of the best NHL prospects in the land on the list, but the drop-off after the first half dozen or so prospects in the rankings is dramatic now, which was reflected in AHL Syracuse's showing in the standings this season. It's a top-heavy group in desperate need of an infusion of new blood starting in June when Steve Yzerman and the Lightning's scouting staff holds three picks in the top-60 of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. So, if they don't trade any of those picks for immediate help at the NHL level, do not despair, because the need for cupboard re-stocking is real and it's immediate.
Before jumping into the rankings, of course, there's the ever-present need to clarify the site rules pertaining to prospect status. Prospects who were under the age of 24 on opening night of the Lightning's season are eligible for the list. Skaters who have appeared in 41 NHL games in a single season or 82 career NHL games are considered graduated from prospect status. Goaltenders who have accrued 30 NHL decisions in a single season or 41 career NHL decisions are considered graduated from prospect status. NCAA-based players are eligible to stay as prospects even if they are 24 years of age or older.
Yes, this means Brett Connolly is considered graduated from prospect status. No, we're not going to bend the rules on a case-by-case basis. Yes, to paraphrase the old Churchill quote, we think it is the worst set of prospect ranking eligibility rules except all the others that have been tried.
With that out of the way, let's proceed…
Is the party starting to wind down? With the Lightning transitioning to a more youthful team and injuries forcing more call-ups than originally anticipated, our Bolt Prospects Midterm Rankings will take on a decidedly different feel. With the likes of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Radko Gudas becoming full-time NHLers, the list seems a little thinner this time around. Still, this year's Midterm list is still top-heavy with some of the finest NHL prospects you'll find anywhere in the land. With several other prospects very close to graduating from prospect status on the site, though, and the next wave of prospects struggling a bit in Syracuse, now is an excellent time for readers to reflect on what an amazing past couple of years the Lightning pipeline has had. From Norfolk's record-breaking winning streak and Calder Cup championship to the Syracuse Crunch's Eastern Conference crown and Tyler Johnson's emergence as a Calder Trophy candidate in the NHL, these were good days the likes of which don't come around often. Appreciate them.
Today we are releasing Bolt Prospects’ 2013-2014 Preliminary Rankings. Our rankings of the top 30 prospects in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization again reflect the bounty of what we consider to be the golden age of Lightning prospects. That depth is finally breaking through at the NHL level in the form of the seven rookies that made the Lightning's 2013-2014 opening night roster – six of which are included in our rankings. More impressively, none of those six prospects made the top three of our list, meaning the best is still to come. That's why it's no stretch to suggest the Lightning have the best prospect depth in the NHL today.
The golden age of the Lightning farm system continues. Despite the Syracuse Crunch's loss in the AHL's Calder Cup Finals, the Lightning organization can still boast arguably the finest prospect depth in the NHL. That depth is further bolstered by a 2013 NHL Entry Draft that saw the Lightning add a potential franchise player and also a player who was ranked by several scouting services in their top 15 prospects in the draft class. As of right now, it truly appears the Lightning may be set for a generation at the forward and goaltending positions. And, while there's still much work to be done on defense, it's no exaggeration to say the future has never been brighter. Indeed, Hockey Prospectus has even gone so far as to name the Lightning the top prospect system in the league, which is a true feather in the cap of an organization that was universally panned by the hockey media for player development just a half decade ago.
Bolt Prospects' 2013-2014 Final/Supplemental Rankings follow our websites rules for eligibility for prospects. Players 24 years or older on opening night of the Lightning's season (or what was supposed to be opening night prior to its cancellation due to the NHL lockout, in the case of this season) are considered overage prospects and are not eligible for the rankings. For that reason, a prospect like Riku Helenius isn't in the list. Additionally, skating prospects that have appeared in 41 NHL games in a single season or 82 career NHL games are no longer eligible for the list, which is why Brett Connolly is considered graduated and no longer in the rankings. For goaltenders, the bar is a little lower with 30 NHL decisions in a single season necessary for graduation and 41 NHL decisions in a career being the threshold to become a Bolt Prospects Alumni. Finally, all NCAA-based players remain eligible for the rankings regardless of age for the full duration of their college careers. There will be a quiz later.
Until then, please enjoy Bolt Prospects' 2013-2014 Final/Supplemental Rankings...