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Top 25 Under 25: #10 Cedric Paquette

While his offensive upside is limited, forward Cedric Paquette showed tremendous gains in the defensive side of his game, used as part of an effective shutdown trio in the Stanley Cup Final by head coach Jon Cooper.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Cedric Paquette -- affectionately dubbed "Dump Truck" by our friends over at Bolt Prospects -- might never be a big NHL scorer.

That was pretty much a given when he was drafted in the 4th round, 101st overall, at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

At 6'1, 198 pounds -- and with a still-evolving defensive game -- Paquette carved out a role for himself in the bottom-6 with the Lightning this season, earning the #10 spot on our countdown along the way.

Here's how the panel ranked Cedric Paquette:

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Mike Gallimore GeoFitz4 Brett Frieman
13 5 14 13 9

Previous Ranks: #20 (2013), #18 (2014)

Paquette finished his first almost-full season in the NHL (64 games played) with 12 goals and 7 assists for 19 points; modest totals, but respectable for an NHL rookie playing in a defensive role. He added just three more points, all goals, in 24 playoff contests -- but it was in the playoffs that Paquette really made a name for himself as a valuable member of the lineup.

The first three rounds went less than swimmingly for Paquette, who wasn't getting particularly tough assignments but was struggling with them anyways. His line was regularly dominated in puck possession and he had just one point -- a single goal -- through the first three rounds against the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers. He wasn't offering much in the way of offense or defense, which made Jon Cooper's decision to put him on the top line for the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final a real head-scratcher.

So of course, Paquette proceeded to make Cooper look like a genius:

[Paquette's] numbers, in 5 games vs. Chicago? Up to 55.56 Corsi For% (Victor Hedman territory), and an absurd 67.50% Chances For%. Paquette and his linemates [have] became something resembling a quality shutdown line overnight, making good plays and putting pressure on the Hawks top lines down low. A little offense has even returned to Paquette's game; he has 9 individual scoring chances and a pair of goals in 5 games vs. Chicago.

Meanwhile, the competition he's been tasked with stopping has been largely quiet; Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have 1 goal and 3 assists between them in the 5 games so far.

Some of that is due to more minutes played in front of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, but there's no denying observable improvement in Paquette's game from last year to this year, and from the start of the regular season to the Stanley Cup Final. He's always been a bit of a pest, but adding more confidence in his ability to pressure opposing forwards on the forecheck and better defensive awareness, instincts, and decision-making paid huge dividends for him in that match-up with the Jonathan Toews line.

Moving forward, the Lightning will hope for continued stalwart defensive play from Paquette. If he can play in the bottom-6 as a two-way, shutdown center, it frees up Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos for the offensive minutes and assignments and helps the team out tremendously overall. It also takes some of the pressure off Brian Boyle, who did yeoman's work last season in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill.

Adding a bit more offense would be a nice bonus, but solid two-way play in a limited bottom-6/penalty killing role and another 20 points in 82 games would still be counted a "win" for the Lightning.