In my very first blog post for The Hockey Podcast Network, I am choosing not to write about the Tampa Bay Lightning's current playoff run. Rather, I would love to introduce some names to be on the lookout for in the coming years within Tampa's system.
When you are in the midst of prime championship contending years, you will find that your teams prospect cupboard is often a bit barren. As we have seen with out Lightning, many first round picks have been moved in the process to win the Cup in 2020 and in the process to defend that championship currently in 2021. A price has to be paid when you are in a "win-now", and that price is usually prime draft capital.
Nevertheless, here are some names worth keeping an eye on as a Lightning fan. *Note - this list will not include any prospect that became an NHL regular this year such as Cal Foote or Ross Colton.
1. Samuel Walker, Forward - University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Sammy Walker is a name that many Lightning and NCAA fans might already know. A 7th round pick in 2017 out of Edina High School in Minnesota, Walker captained one of his home state colleges, the University of Minnesota, this past season where he scored 13 goals and 16 assists through 31 games and finishing second on the team in scoring. He is a dynamic scoring forward who has always had a knack for putting up points, never finishing below 26 points in his three collegiate seasons. Walker's good skating skills combined with smooth hands help him overcome his smaller stature, being sub-six foot and roughly 170 pounds. I expect Sammy to return to Minnesota for his senior season before turning pro full time.
2. Taylor Raddysh, Forward - Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Raddysh is an older prospect with three seasons of pro hockey already under his belt. When Taylor was drafted in the 2nd round in 2016, it was expected that he would soon become a full time NHL power forward with a scoring touch. This, however, has not been the case. Raddysh has taken his time developing after an underwhelming final junior hockey season and disappointing second pro hockey season. 2021 seems to be the year, however, where Raddysh has been able to put the pieces together. Though he is 23 and has yet to play an NHL game, Raddysh is a member of the Black Aces for Tampa this year after finishing with 12 goals and 17 assists in 27 games with Syracuse. It seems that he has been able to put together the offensive side of his game and will look to translate that into a full time NHL role next season.
3. Antoine Morand, Forward - Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Antoine Morand holds one big difference from the rest of the names on this list: Tampa Bay did not draft him. Rather, he was acquired in the Volkov trade earlier this year. For anybody unfamiliar with Morand, use this as your introduction. Antoine Morand is a former 2017 2nd round pick out of the QMJHL by the Anaheim Ducks. After being drafted, Morand failed to improve his production in the Q, following up a 74 point draft year with 76 and 70 point seasons. These numbers still do indicate a good player, but the lack of growth was concerning. Regardless, Anaheim signs him and gives him the opportunity to develop in San Diego, but seemingly to no avail. It took a change of scenery and arriving in Syracuse to help spark some on Morand's offense. After only scoring 6 points in 21 games for San Diego, Morand arrived in Syracuse and produced 5 goals and 7 assists in 19 games. Antoine Morand's is regarded as a two-way forward who has been gifted with great offensive tools. For whatever reason, he has struggled using those tools correctly and must continue to develop his skillset in order to become that legitimate middle-six center he was expected to be.
4. Jack Thompson, Defenseman - Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
The Ontario Hockey League was unable to play games this year, so 2020 3rd round pick Jack Thompson instead had to take a detour in Sweden before inking his first NHL deal and joining Syracuse to end the season. A former guest of the Bolts Broadcast, Thompson is an instinctive two-way defenseman with solid size and an offensive upside to his game. Last season as a 17 year old in the OHL, Thompson scored 13 goals and 19 assists from the backend through 63 games. He followed that up this season by being a point-per-game in all of the leagues he played in - 18 through 18 in Sweden (with 9 goals) and his first North American pro hockey assist in his lone game with Syracuse this year. Thompson is somebody who will return to Sudbury next season and likely will need some development time in the AHL before he can make the jump to the NHL.
5. Eamon Powell, Defenseman - Boston College (NCAA)
Eamon Powell was one of my mid-to-late round targets in the 2020 NHL draft, and Tampa was lucky enough to snatch him up in the 4th round. Though he is a slightly smaller defenseman at 5'11" and 170 pounds, Powell approaches the game a way that every coach loves. He is incredibly confident with the puck and possesses great skating skills, but he also plays hard and never is one to shy away from the physical side of the game. Powell impressed as a true freshman at BC this year, scoring 2 goals and 12 assists through 24 games. As he continues to refine his game in the college ranks, Powell has a legitimate chance to fight for a spot on Team USA for the 2022 U20 World Junior Championships. Eamon Powell likely will be an NHL defenseman one day with true top four defenseman potential. Add him to the list of draft day values for Tampa over the years.
6. Hugo Alnefelt, Goalie - HV71 (SHL)
The final name on this list is at a position where Tampa seems to be pretty solidified at the top. With Vasilevskiy being the best goalie in the world, 2019 3rd round pick Hugo Alnefelt is in no rush to become an NHL goalie. Alnefelt has been one of the best young goalies in Sweden for a few years. Playing 10 games over the last two World Junior Championships as well as 40 games over the last two Swedish Hockey League seasons, Hugo has showcased high-end athletic ability combined with technicality and size that you love to see in goalie prospects. As a 19 year old playing on one of the worst teams in the Swedish league, Hugo produced a 5-16 record with a 3.16 goals against average and .904 save percentage. It is common to see at these levels of hockey a stat line like this in elite talents. Goalies whose true talent lives in the 3.00 or worse GAA often have a sub .900 SV%. When the save percentage directly contradicts the goals against, there is high optimism in the talent. Hugo will likely split duties in Syracuse next season after signing his ELC in May. Hopefully playing on a better team with more talent in front of him will help better develop the tools he already possesses.