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Top 25 Under 25, #20: Daniel Walcott looks to make the most of his final ELC year

Walcott has done everything the organization has asked of him, including basically changing his name tag from defenseman to forward.

Scott Thomas

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the RawCharge writing staff. Four writers, plus a special guest, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked, plus Honorable Mentions.

Daniel Walcott was drafted by the New York Rangers during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in the fifth round, 140th overall. The Canadian defenseman (?) from Quebec is 23 years old and will be playing for the Syracuse Crunch for the 2017-2018 AHL season.

Walcott was traded to Tampa Bay from the Rangers in exchange for a 7th round pick in June of 2015. Oddly enough, that pick was one Tampa Bay had previously acquired from New York in the Martin St. Louis-Ryan Callahan trade.

Walcott’s appearance on our Top 25 Under 25 marks a couple of firsts for the list this summer:

  • Walcott is the first player to make our countdown that wasn’t drafted originally by the Lightning.
  • Walcott is the first player to make our countdown that is over the age of 20.
  • Walcott is the first player that has been ranked previously in a prospect ranking on SB Nation, although it was by another blog: in 2015, six months before he was traded to the Lightning, Walcott was ranked by Blue Shirt Banter at 19 on their list. He was ranked at 27 by them in 2014. He was a near-miss on our countdown in 2015.

The trade for Walcott seemed like it came out of nowhere, but it is now clear that Steve Yzerman, like usual, had done his homework. Walcott has always been a versatile player with that healthy dose of grit that this organization seems to appreciate. He’s also always been a charismatic character guy, well-liked and looked up to wherever he has played.

In a November 2014 prospect update, Adam Herman of Blue Shirt Banter told the following story about Walcott:

Walcott gave up travel hockey to play for his high school in Canada; something which almost nobody with high-level aspirations does. NHL teams did not have him anywhere on their radar as he was draft eligible in 2012 or 2013. In fact, NCAA schools and the QMJHL passed on him as well. He played club hockey at a small school (Lindenwood University) for a year before making the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on a tryout. He performed well there, the Rangers drafted him, and here we are.

Now, Walcott is captain of the Armada in his overage year with the team. Outside of a wrist injury which sidelined him for a few weeks, it's been all positive for him and the team.

Originally, getting noticed was a struggle for Walcott. His size was an issue for many teams despite the football-like mentality that he brought to his game. Walcott is 5’11, and was rejected several times before he earned his scholarship to Lindenwood University, where he played for a year before joining Blainville-Boisbriand:

Not long after his stellar season with the Armada in 2014-15, where he was named to the QMJHL First All-Star Team, Walcott was traded to the Lightning. He is now going into his third season with the organization and is entering the final year of his entry-level contract.

When Walcott arrived, it was acknowledged by most that his NHL ceiling is probably low, which is one of the reasons he was unranked by two of our contributors. Walcott has yet to play any NHL minutes, although doing so is certainly not totally outside of the realm of possibility. Walcott works extremely hard, still has the high hockey IQ he was praised for coming into his professional career, and is a versatile player that has been invaluable to the Crunch.

Ironically, it might just be Walcott’s touted versatility that’s hampering his visibility within the Lightning organization. One of the reasons there’s question marks after the word “defenseman” several times throughout this piece is that Walcott hasn’t actually played that position in Syracuse in recent memory. What started out of necessity has possibly become a permanent change.

Walcott was shifted around to forward a few times during his first season with Syracuse under former Crunch head coach Rob Zettler when the Crunch needed an extra body up front. Walcott started 2016-17 in his natural position, but was shifted back to forward when Syracuse ran short on personnel again. New head coach Ben Groulx clearly liked what he saw in this change. He elected to make the switch permanent mid-way through this past season, ensuring that Walcott’s energy and enthusiasm stayed with the forwards.

While it’s definitely a plus that Walcott can excel in all situations - literally - it might also be holding him back. The Lightning is fairly full at forward, so Walcott has more depth to fight through in that position to get noticed. It also might be hard to judge exactly where he falls on the organization’s defensive depth projection considering all the time he’s spent up front. This probably also contributed to Tom and Geo’s hesitation to rank him.

It will be very interesting to see where Walcott lands on the Crunch roster come October. If kept on the blue line, Walcott has a chance to shine among a fairly young D corp. Ben Thomas, Dominik Masin, Matthew Spencer, and Erik Cernak are all in their first or second pro seasons, so Walcott will most certainly be looked to as a leader alongside newcomers Jamie McBain and Mat Bodie. He might also finally be able to see some NHL ice - although McBain brings with him 348 career NHL games, Walcott knows the organization and its systems like the back of his hand. That could give him an edge if the Lightning needs someone.

Of course, there’s always the chance Groulx plays around again and moves him. Or maybe Walcott will quit hockey and become a choreographer, since he also did such an amazing job with that this past season (talk about versatility!):