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Grading the 2016-17 Lightning: Forwards

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Report card time for the Lightning’s 2016-17 forward corps!

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

With the season now officially in the books, it’s a good time to look through the roster and grade each player on their season. In grading a player, it won’t be strictly a “he scored a lot, so it’s an A++!” or “He didn’t score much... F-.” Instead, I’ll be looking at each player on their own merits compared to their role and their expected production.

Agree or disagree with a grade? Talk about it in the comments section.

Forwards

Michael Bournival

Grade: C

Stats: 2G-1A-3P, 19 GP

Bournival was a good free agent pick up after the Montreal Canadiens non-tendered him. Bournival dealt with a number of concussions over the previous two seasons. When he made it to Tampa this season, he found success playing on the French line with Cedric Paquette and Gabriel Dumont. They didn’t rack up offensive stats, but they played a solid fourth line game. He played about as well as I expected he would, thus the average C grade.

Brian Boyle

Grade: A

Stats: 13G-9A-22P, 54 GP

Boyle ended up getting traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the deadline due to the Lightning’s struggles. But before he left, he was doing a fine job for the Lightning. He had a stretch where he was playing on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin.

That line got really hot for a while and that contributed to Boyle’s success. The fact he was able to keep up with those two and finish on opportunities was an asset while dealing with so many injuries in January. I’d also have to say that Boyle was probably one of the best $6 million investments this team has ever made in free agency.

J.T. Brown

Grade: D-

Stats: 3G-3A-6P, 64 GP

Brown had a really disappointing year. He dealt with some injuries, but he was also a healthy scratch at times over the season. 2015-16 was a breakout year for him where it looked like he could be more than just a fourth line grinder. He put up 22 points including eight goals in 78 games.

This year, he took a step back in his offensive game. He didn’t get many opportunities and he often seemed to have a hard time being accurate with his shots. That’ll be something for him to work on over the summer. There are also legitimate questions of if he’ll be back with the team next season as Yzerman could look to trade him with some other fourth line options being available to the team for a lower price.

Ryan Callahan

Grade: Incomplete

Stats: 2G-2A-4P, 18 GP

Callahan had surgery on his hip during the offseason. I think he rushed it back and did not give it quite enough time to heal. That led to him being in and out of the lineup over several months before finally opting for another surgery to fix the problem. It was a good time to do it. With his surgery happening earlier rather than in the offseason, he’ll have plenty of time for it to get healthy and then for him to have a full offseason training regimen to get ready for next season.

Jonathan Drouin

Grade: B+

Stats: 21G-32A-53P, 73 GP

We’re still waiting for that really big breakout season from Drouin. He didn’t have the best linemates this season, though, and that hurt his production. The big positive in his game was seeing him become more of a goal scorer and putting up 21 goals, beating his previous high of nine goals that he combined for in the regular season and playoffs last year. There’s still more in his game, and with a better line combo, he’s ready to take off.

Gabriel Dumont

Grade: C+

Stats: 2G-2A-4P, 39 GP

Dumont played very well, getting his first extended time in the NHL and playing almost half the season. I think he played well enough to get another contract from the Lightning and a shot at earning a full-time spot on the fourth line out of training camp next season. However, I’d like to see him pick up his point production. You’d like to see fourth liners chipping in for 5-10 goals a year and 15-20 points. His full season extrapolation from last season would have been half of that expectation.

Adam Erne

Grade: C-

Stats: 3G-0A-3P, 26 GP

Erne got his first taste of the NHL this year. He showed he’s still a work in progress, but a future top-six power forward. He’s still young and it’s taken him some time to adjust to the NHL game. He has the size and the strength to win board battles and can be an asset on a line with a playmaker and a sniper in much the same way as Alex Killorn has shown, except with more hits and less falling down. Erne is a player that will have an opportunity to earn a spot out of training camp next season and I’d like to see more from him in 2017-18.

Valtteri Filppula

Grade: A-

Stats: 7G-24A-31P, 59 GP

Filppula was one of the few Lightning players that really seemed to benefit from playing at the World Cup of Hockey. He came out with a vengeance and was putting up some offense for the team. Even though his contract had become a burden, and he was expendable due to the presence of Johnson, Point, and Namestnikov at center, he was still having a bounce back season. Before coming to the Lightning, he had been a half-point-per-game player for the Detroit Red Wings. He had a season of 66 points, which is still his career high.

His first season with the Lightning was a great success with 25 goals and 58 points. His 2014-15 season was a letdown after his great debut, but 48 points wasn’t out of line for his expected production. 2015-16 though saw a big dip as he dropped to just eight goals and 31 points. Prior to being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, he was on pace for around 47 points with the Lightning. It was a well-timed bounce back for him that gave Yzerman the opportunity to move his contract to help with future salary cap issues.

Yanni Gourde

Grade: A-

Stats: 6G-2A-8P, 20 GP

Gourde was a player that, coming into the year, was lower on my list in terms of players that would get a recall from the Crunch. The fact that he scored six goals, with many of them being at crucial times in games, is very impressive. A lot of fans have been ooing and aahing over him as the next Jonathan Marchessault. I would have liked to see him contribute more consistently as a playmaker. While he is a bit of a sniper, he’s always put up more assists than goals in juniors and the minors.

Gourde is an unrestricted free agent this summer and we’ll have to see if Yzerman is willing to guarantee him some money or if he’ll find a better opportunity next season.

Tyler Johnson

Grade: B+

Stats: 19G-26A-45P, 66 GP

The injury that finished Johnson’s season was a disappointment. I don’t see his season as a disappointment though. He was on pace for a mid-50s point total and over 20 goals. I think at this point, we have to view the 2014-15 season as a bit of an aberration for Johnson. He was playing with an elite talent on his right wing that really boosted both his goal and assist totals. And a lot of that damage was done at even strength. Johnson has struggled away from Kucherov since then. Even with an expectation of 20-25 goals and 50-60 points, he still performed respectably, and it will get Johnson paid this summer.

Alex Killorn

Grade: A

Stats: 19G-17A-36P, 81 GP

Killorn ended up being the Lightning’s leader in games played at 81, because no one played every game of the season. A lot of people tend to get on his case and it happened a lot later in this season. Killorn got off to a hot start and I think a lot of people were looking at that as a sign of him breaking out into a season of 25 goals and 50-60 points.

Even with Killorn streaking early in the year, I didn’t think that was going to happen. Maybe he’d hit 20 goals, and he ended up coming one short of the plateau, but 50-60 points didn’t seem like it was going to happen. This season was very up and down for Killorn and he had a couple of lengthy pointless streaks. But that’s how he’s always been since he entered the league. He is a streaky player that has hot and cold streaks. His previous seasons, the streaks just weren’t as hot or as cold as he experienced this year.

In his four full seasons in the NHL, he has posted 17, 15, 14, and 19 goals and 41, 38, 40, and 36 points. He’s remarkably consistent in his production and his salary is commensurate to that production, even if I think the length of the deal is a couple of years too long.

Nikita Kucherov

Grade: A+ (there are not enough pluses)

Stats: 40G-45A-85P, 74 GP

I was expecting a big year from Kucherov and that’s exactly what we got from him. But even I didn’t expect him to score quite so many goals — maybe 30-35 and enough assists to get him into that 70-80 point range. If he hadn’t missed those eight games this season and continued his scoring pace, he would have ended up with 44 goals, 50 assists, and 94 points. That would have tied him with Sidney Crosby for the Rocket Richard and second in points to the Art Ross winner, Connor McDavid. Of course, if Crosby hadn’t missed seven games himself, he would have kept ahead of Kucherov in both goals and points.

Kucherov proved himself an elite winger this season. He did it all even when he had a rotating cast of line mates and at times in the latter part of the season carried the team’s offense. Kucherov is easily the Lightning’s MVP for the season, and if they had gotten into the playoffs, he surely would have garnered some serious Hart Trophy votes for league MVP. Even missing the playoffs, he’ll still get at least some votes from writers that noticed.

With his spectacular season, Kucherov became the 5th Lightning player to score 40 goals in a season for the 9th time overall. He was also the 9th Lightning forward, and 10th/11th of all players to tally 45 assists in a season for the 21st/22nd time overall. The split positions are because Victor Hedman also achieved that feat this season. As for points, he became the eighth Lightning player to break the 80-point plateau, and his 85 points are the 12th best by a Lightning player in franchise history. He’s also the first to hit 80 points since Steven Stamkos did it in 2011-12.

Vladislav Namestnikov

Grade: C+

Stats: 10G-18A-28P, 74 GP

Namestnikov took a step back this season when there was an expectation for him to take a big step forward from his 35-point performance in 2015-16. This was his second full season in the NHL, after playing half a season in 2014-15. Credit to Namestnikov though because he played up and down the lineup throughout the year and switched between Center and Left Wing. That’s not easy for a young player to do.

Depending on what the Lightning do this offseason, Namestnikov could find himself playing in Vegas, being the Lightning’s third line center, or more permanently moving to left wing next fall. At 24 years old, he’s entering his prime and the expectations for what Namestnikov can do next season will be higher than what he did this year.

Ondrej Palat

Grade: B

Stats: 17G-35A-52P, 75 GP

Much like Johnson, I think we can look back at the Year of the Triplets as an aberration in Palat’s career. Without playing on a line with capable finishers, his point total is going to suffer. And what the Triplets did in 2014-15 was nothing short of magical. If you were to put him on a line next season with Stamkos, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get back into the 60+ point range with 40+ assists. Palat is still one of the best two-way wingers in the league. He just needs consistent, talented line mates to make the most of his offensive abilities.

Cedric Paquette

Grade: C

Stats: 4G-6A-10P, 58 GP

With the way that Paquette plays, injuries are always going to be a factor that limits the number of games he plays. This season was no different for him. When he was in the line up, he did well enough in his role on the fourth line. He hasn’t been able to get back to his rookie season magic where he potted 12 goals to go along with seven assists in just 64 games.

Brayden Point

Grade: A+

Stats: 18G-22A-40P, 68 GP

In a packed rookie class, there wasn’t much chance of Point ever getting into the conversation for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He finished 8th in scoring and 9th in goals among rookies. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have an outstanding rookie campaign.

The expectation for him coming in to the season was that he’d be the Syracuse Crunch’s top center and work on rounding out his game. He wasn’t expected to make it to the NHL until next season, though with how this season went with injuries, it’s very likely he would have made it to the show this year anyways.

Point’s work ethic and his hockey IQ gave head coach Jon Cooper the confidence in allowing him to play. He didn’t have many defensive miscues and once he got comfortable with NHL speed, he started potting goals in bunches. Through the end of December, Point had three goals and 12 assists for 15 points in 36 games.

After Point returned from injury on January 31st, he had 15 goals and 10 assists in 32 games. For those that are bad at math, 83.3% of his goals and 62.5% of his points came in the final 32 games of the year. If he scored at that pace over an 82 game season (which is no guarantee that he would over a larger sample), he would have 38 goals and 25 assists for 63 points. It’s unlikely he would have continued that goal scoring pace and would have more assists, but 60+ points next season is certainly a doable goal for Brayden Point.

Steven Stamkos

Grade: Incomplete

Stats: 9G-11A-20P, 17 GP

Stamkos was having the best start to his season since the 2013-14 season. Incidentally, he also played in 17 games to start the season before he broke his leg. In that 2013-14 start, he had 14 goals and nine assists for 23 points. Despite only having a goal and an assist in six games with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, it did seem like the WCoH jump started Stamkos. And we’re left to wonder what-if for the 2016-17 season.

With how well the power play played, with how well Kucherov played, could the Lightning have had their first season since 2010-11 with two players over 80 points? And their first season since 2006-07 with two players over 40 goals? We’ll never know. Just as we’ll never know how far the Lightning could have gone this season with a healthy roster.

Joel Vermin

Grade: F

Stats: 0G-3A-3P, 18 GP

Vermin was a prospect that was expected this season to be a top call-up option for the Lightning. With his contract up at the end of the season, and the possibility of returning to Switzerland next season, he needed to step up big when he got an NHL opportunity. To have him come up and play 18 games through the season and only register three assists was a big disappointment. He was a player that I thought could have a chance to seize the opportunity and earn himself an NHL spot for next season. Instead, it looks more likely that the rumors of him returning to Switzerland are going to come true.

The Fill-Ins - Cory Conacher, Erik Condra, Byron Froese, Greg McKegg, Matthew Peca, Tanner Richard

Grade: D

Stats: 2G-5A-7P, 56GP

Conacher’s signing last summer was met with a lot of jubilation. The prodigal son was returning home. Well, it didn’t pan out quite so well for him. He spent most of the season in Syracuse where he was their offensive leader up front throughout the season. He was the most effective of this group of fill-ins with a goal and three assists. But with the news of NHL players not going to the Olympics next season, you have to think he’s looking at a return to Europe.

The fall-off of Condra since he signed a three-year contract prior to the 2015-16 season is disappointing. Condra used to be more of a third liner player for the Ottawa Senators before his offense slid and he became more of a fourth liner. He’s played admirably for the Crunch and became their Captain late in the season after it was clear Luke Witkowski would not be returned from Tampa.

Froese was acquired as a part of the Brian Boyle deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He appeared in four games for the Lightning and was a non-factor which was mostly expected. Injuries also kept him from contributing much to the Crunch during their stretch run.

McKegg was filler and nothing else but. The Florida Panthers put him on waivers just before the trade deadline and Steve Yzerman claimed him knowing that he’d need some bodies with the trades he was trying to swing. McKegg played the most of this group with 15 games and was a complete non-factor with one assist.

Richard was also a disappointment. He was a guy that had been viewed as a potential Boyle replacement on the fourth line. He’s a good faceoff man and has been an assist machine at the lower levels. His play wasn’t consistent and he had a discipline issue in Syracuse this season. That kept him from being a call-up for the Lightning. Like Vermin, he’s another player that could Bolt for Europe this summer.

Peca was a little bit brighter spot for this group of fill-ins. He has the most potential out of the group and showed bits of it in his 10 games with the team. He had a goal and an assist in Tampa. As a NCAA prospect, he’s a bit older and turns 24 later this month. He is getting to that point of needing to break in to the NHL and he’s getting closer.

Next up: grading the defense!