In the last Top 25 Under 25 piece, I highlighted prospect Cedric Paquette as a player ready to take the next step and fill the void left by developed AHL prospects making the jump to the NHL club. Tanner Richard, drafted from the Guelph Storm of the OHL in 2012, (3rd round, 71st overall), fits firmly in that category as well, and along with Paquette will be expected to play a big role as a first-year pivot in the North American pro game for the two-time defending AHL Eastern Conference champions.
Here's how the panel ranked Richard:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Clark Brooks||Clare Austin||Patti McDonald||Mike Gallimore|
All in all, a fairly even consensus with no one placing Richard abnormally high or low on their lists relative to the other rankers.
What may give him an edge over some of the players previously ranked is the 8-game ATO stint to close the regular season with the Syracuse Crunch this April, where he impressed, recording 3 assists. "Richard impressed, recording X assists" is a phrase you should probably go ahead and get used to, because apples are his bread and butter. (Please ignore the mixed food metaphors there. Moving on.)
This past season with Guelph in the OHL, Richard turned some heads for his staggering assist totals, finishing the year with 11 goals and 51 assists in 52 games (1.19 PPG), including one 4-assist game in an 8-0 thrashing of the Erie Otters and a 13-game assist streak in 2012 from September 28 to November 3. He has terrific hands and great vision on the ice, and truly is the embodiment of a "pass-first" player, which will suit some of Tampa Bay's more shooting-oriented wingers just fine as they work up the ranks together. Don't expect to see gaudy goal numbers for Richard -- though he does have a nice shot, he will almost always look to possess the puck and move it to a teammate for a better scoring chance.
The crew at Bolt Prospects highlighted Richard's playmaking ability as well in their Final/Supplemental Rankings for 2012-2013:
Some people call an assist an "apple." We might dub it a "Tanner" after Swiss born centerman Tanner Richard posted 51 helpers in 52 games with Guelph of the OHL. He followed that up with 3 helpers in 8 games on an ATO with Syracuse at the end of the AHL regular season. Richard has good speed, obvious vision and passing ability, and surprising willingness to mix it up physically.
Unlike some other forwards on this list like Cedric Paquette, Richard does have significant offensive upside and top-6 potential if he can continue to produce points while rounding out his game in the defensive zone. However, that is not to say that Richard is a one-dimensional player -- like Paquette, he has a rough element to his game and willingness to mix things up physically as well as drive the net and grind in the corners. That's part of why Tampa Bay Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray refers to Richard as a "two-way center" prospect, and one they project as capable of playing a strong three-zone game in the NHL as a middle-6 forward capable of excelling in all areas on the ice.
Richard, like some other Lightning players and prospects on our list, has had an adventurous summer living in Montreal with fellow prospects Nikita Kucherov (and, briefly, Dylan Blujus) as they trained in preparation for training camps in Tampa Bay and Syracuse their professional debuts in the Lightning organization (most likely with Syracuse).
While that story is mostly harmless and a fun read, it also speaks to a growing focus of the Lightning organization on team-building and camaraderie. The Crunch will again open their preseason on an extended road trip to Newfoundland to play the St. John's IceCaps, a move that has been cited by Assistant GM Julien Brisebois as an opportunity for young players to develop chemistry both on and off the ice. This will be the third straight season the top AHL affiliate for the Lightning has opened on the road in Newfoundland, dating back to 2010-2011, Jon Cooper's first year behind the bench for the Norfolk Admirals. Expect Richard to be part of the group making that trip this fall.