Top 25 Under 25: Conclusion

To prevent dragging this series out any further, we wrap up this year's edition of the Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25 with updates on spots #3, #2, and #1, as well as an overall conclusion.

This season for the Tampa Bay Lightning has highlighted an organizational philosophy come to life on the ice.

General Manager Steve Yzerman's buzzword since taking over the franchise has been "depth", and the Lightning organization has been overhauled in the likeness of the Detroit Red Wings.

In the salary cap era, teams like the Red Wings -- who are successful from year-to-year -- do so by leveraging depth in their organizations, by drafting smart and by deploying young players in their NHL lineups on entry-level contracts that allow the team to spend money elsewhere.

In that sense, there has been no time in the NHL where under-25 players are more critical to a franchise's success or failure than today.

So Tampa Bay's success this year -- from a lottery team to an Eastern Conference contender -- is a testament to the work and contributions put in by its youngest players. Here are the top three, as voted on by our panel -- Raw Charge staffers John Fontana, Clark Brooks, and myself; once and future Raw Charge staffer Clare Austin; former writer Patti McDonald; and Bolt Prospects writer and Bolt Statistics founder and Managing Editor, Mike Gallimore.

#3 Alex Killorn

Young forward Alex Killorn might be the best example of how important linemates and chemistry are to on-ice production, and our perception of players.

When we compiled these rankings, Killorn was a rookie fresh off a half-season looking quite good next to Lightning superstar forwards Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Here's how the panel ranked him:

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Clark Brooks Clare Austin Patti McDonald Mike Gallimore
3 3 3 3 4 5

After more than half a season lost for Stamkos and with St. Louis traded to the New York Rangers, Killorn's status as a permanent top-6 forward is somewhat in question. While he does have some offensive pop to his game (59 points in 114 NHL games at the time of writing) that scoring rate isn't quite what you expect from a top-6 player. His straight-ahead game and good work in the defensive zone and in the corners probably make him better suited for a middle-6 role anyways, which his where he's been since the Olympics.

As a third line winger, though, you can't ask much more from Killorn. His 40 points in 78 games in 2013-14 is a terrific pace in a role as a secondary scorer (0.51 PPG) and he's one of ten "plus" possession players amongst Lightning regulars at 51.9 % Corsi For and +1.4% Corsi Rel. In other words, more often than not when he's on the ice, he's moving the puck out of harm's way and towards the opposing net, and he's doing it with fairly average minutes in terms of offensive zone starts and quality of competition. He's usually matched against the opponent's second or third line, and excelling -- which is all you can really ask for a second year player.

#2 Victor Hedman

To call Victor Hedman a transcendent player this season would not be an overstatement.

While many other publications are just starting to take notice due to his suddenly garish overall point totals, astute followers or watchers of the Tampa Bay Lightning have known for some time that Hedman has slowly become one of the game's elite defenseman.

Here's how the panel ranked him:

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Clark Brooks Clare Austin Patti McDonald Mike Gallimore
2 2 2 2 2 2

Universally ranked 2nd by all six of our panelists, it's quite clear that Hedman is a critical member of the young Lightning core that's back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

With Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson generating Calder buzz and Ben Bishop in the Vezina conversation, it's easy to overlook the incredible season that Hedman has put together. But he might actually be the best major award candidate on the Lightning this season.

We can pretend the Norris is about defense, but to be blunt, it's become quite obvious over the past few seasons that offensive numbers factor heavily into who wins the Norris Trophy each year. Victor Hedman is currently 8th among defensemen in total points scored with 50 (12 goals, 38 assists) in 71 games, and unlike the rest of the Norris hopefuls, has done most of his offensive damage at 5v5 or shorthanded, where he has the most points of any blue liner in the league with 6 (0 goals, 6 assists while shorthanded).

He's scoring 1.53 points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time this season, which is 1st among all defensemen in the NHL that have skated at least 1,000 minutes. Quite simply, he's the most productive defenseman, offensively speaking, at even strength, where the majority of most NHL games (and playoff games ...) are played. Duncan Keith's 5v5 numbers at a glance look similar, until you realize Keith has feasted on secondary assists (he has 20; Hedman has 8) and that Keith's overall point totals have been strongly influenced by a quality Chicago Blackhawks power play ranked 7th in the NHL.

To further illustrate that point, here's a quick chart showing a handful of the more offensively inclined likely Norris nominees, the percentage of their points scored on the power play this season, and their total power play minutes logged:

Player Total Points % of Points Scored on PP Total PP Minutes
Duncan Keith 60 35.0% 248:04
Erik Karlsson 71 39.4% 313:58
Shea Weber 52 48.0% 235:49
P.K. Subban 53 43.4% 374:46
Victor Hedman 50 24.0% 182:01

Hedman has the fewest total points, but he's also not been nearly as reliant on the power play to reach a still-gaudy point total.

His biggest flaw this season, and the only real thing holding him back from being the Norris front-runner (besides lack of national media coverage of the Lightning, which is another story entirely) is that Jon Cooper wasn't using him on the power play at all for the first third of the season. That said, his outstanding 5v5 scoring has nearly pulled him into this race, and it deserves to be acknowledged. While power play production is still important and not to be ignored, ultimately, it's a shame that Hedman will likely be ignored in favor of players who merely benefited from anywhere from 50-175 extra minutes on the man advantage over the course of the season.

#1 Steven Stamkos

When this series began, there was little doubt who would hold the number one spot. This is about as close to a no-brainer as it gets when it comes to hockey blogging.

Steven Stamkos isn't just the best under-25 player in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization -- he's unequivocally the best under-25 hockey player in the world. The panel agreed:

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Clark Brooks Clare Austin Patti McDonald Mike Gallimore
1 1 1 1 1 1

A broken leg sustained on November 11 against the Boston Bruins derailed what otherwise might have been another award-winning campaign for the young centerman, and in the first 14 games since he returned from that injury, he had 9 goals (including three game-winners) and 4 assists for 13 points skating just around 20 minutes per night on the top unit for Jon Cooper's newly reformed top-6 forward group.

Meanwhile, his "better half" for four seasons in Tampa Bay has since moved on to the Big Apple and struggled mightily, not scoring a goal for his new club until his 15th game and only recording three assists over that span. Meanwhile, Stamkos just keeps chugging along, immediately assuaging any sliver of doubt anyone had that he was a product of Martin St. Louis' playmaking and not an elite player in his own right.

Stamkos is still rounding into form this season, but his career numbers are staggering: 232 goals and 191 assists in his first 406 games in the league, with a career shooting percentage at an astronomical 17.6% on over 1,300 total shots on goal. That career shooting percentage puts him at 45th all time, nestled nicely behind some guy named Wayne Gretzky, and Stamkos plays in a much different NHL than any of the names ahead him save Alex Tanguay, the only active NHLer higher. Tanguay comes in at 21st with a career shooting percentage at an absurd 18.74%, though there's certainly an argument to be made there that as a pass-first forward Tanguay only shoots when he's going to score.

Shooting percentage tells part of the story, but your eyes should tell you the rest: Steven Stamkos is the NHL's premiere goal-scorer today. His left circle one timer on the power play isn't just feared, it's common knowledge, to the point where every NHL broadcaster in the league mentions it at least once per Lightning power play.

Over the course of his tenure with the Bolts, however, Lightning fans have had the distinct pleasure of watching Stamkos refine his game, add new skills and grow more mentally and physically tough. We've seem him bleed. We've seen him perform herculean feats of strength, and of skill. He wants to be more than a goal scorer. He wants to be the perfect hockey player, and that desire for perfection -- moreso than any given or developed talent -- is what makes him the new face of the franchise, and the captain.

The kicker?

He's eligible for this list again this summer.

Conclusion

While none of these three players is on the team as a direct result of Steve Yzerman, it's no wonder that the General Manager of the Lightning was re-signed to a new four-year extension recently. The Lightning have built tremendous organizational depth at all positions under Yzerman's careful eye, and not even during an improbable Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals in Year 1 has Yzerman truly veered off the course of careful, measured development of prospects and young NHLers.

It's a golden age for under-25 players in the Lightning organization. And if the system is built the way it's supposed to be -- the way Yzerman wants it -- even as players age out of this series new ones will be ready to step up and take their place.

So far, so good.

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