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Top 25 Under 25: Honorable Mentions and the rest of the eligible players

We purposely allowed all of our rankers to come up with their own metric. How’d we do?

Ben Thomas of the Syracuse Crunch
Scott Thomas Photography

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 1st, 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.

Feel free to make your own ranking over here!

We’ve almost made it to the end of Raw Charge’s 2017 Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Wooo! It’s been a lot of fun (but a lot of work) to put these profiles together. Our staff looks forward to being able to do this again next year. By doing this ranking year after year, we will be able to see how players grow and how our perceptions of them change.

One of the biggest challenges of doing the ranking is coming up with a metric to evaluate players. We purposely allowed all of our rankers to come up with their own metric. Some valued future potential more, some valued current ability more, and some were some mix of both. An example for the kind of decisions you have to make: take Mathieu Joseph, Dennis Yan, and Boris Katchouk and compare them to Cedric Paquette.

One the one hand, Joseph, Yan, and Katchouk all have good offensive potential, but their projections mostly top out as third liners. Joseph and Yan have a handful of professional games, but otherwise all three have not had an opportunity yet to show what they can do as professionals. While they are full of potential, there’s also the potential for failure for each of them. On the other hand, Paquette is already a solid fourth-liner that plays on the penalty kill and is defensively responsible. How do you compare potential against current ability?

That’s just a few of the questions we all had to ask ourselves as we did our ranking. It’s also why there were some rankings where our staff widely varied, but some where there was consistency. It actually reminded me very much of scouting for the NHL Entry Draft. You’ll have a player with question marks that varies up and down the boards, but another player that’s just solid all the way around and consistently ranked within a few spots.

Raw Charge’s 2017 Top 25 Under 25

Player (Age) Raw Charge Rank
Player (Age) Raw Charge Rank
? 1
Andrei Vasilevskiy (Age: 22) 2
Brayden Point (Age: 21) 3
Vladislav Namestnikov (24) 4
Mikhail Sergachev (Age: 19) 5
Slater Koekkoek (Age: 23) 6
Brett Howden (Age: 19) 7
Matthew Peca (Age: 24) 8
Anthony Cirelli (Age: 19) 9
Adam Erne (Age: 22) 10
Mitchell Stephens (Age: 20) 11
Jake Dotchin (Age: 23) 12
Taylor Raddysh (Age: 19) 13
Mathieu Joseph (Age: 20) 14
Dennis Yan (Age: 20) 15
Cedric Paquette (Age: 23) 16
Cal Foote (Age: 18) 17
Boris Katchouk (Age: 19) 18
Dominik Masin (Age: 21) 19
Daniel Walcott (Age: 23) 20
Connor Ingram (Age: 20) 21
Alexey Lipanov (Age: 17) 22
Matt Spencer (Age: 20) 23
Libor Hajek (Age: 19) 24
Erik Cernak (Age: 20) 25

Those Not Receiving Votes

Now on to the rest of the top players under 25. We had seven players that were eligible for the ranking but did not receive any votes.

  • Brian Hart
  • Cole Guttman
  • Johnathan MacLeod
  • Nick Perbix
  • Oleg Sosunov
  • Ryan Zuhlsdorf
  • Samuel Walker

F Brian Hart

Hart was a second-round pick by the Lightning in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Drafted out of high school ranks, Hart went to Harvard for three seasons before turning professional. Hart’s offense didn’t develop as well as his high school production suggested it might. and he only scored a half-point-per-game in the NCAA. He’s spent the past two seasons bouncing between the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL.

F Cole Guttman

Another NCAA-bound pick, Guttman was selected in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in the sixth round. With a lot of potential offensive skill shown in the USHL, he’ll remain in the USHL for one more season and then move into the NCAA hockey ranks with St. Cloud State. He’s a long shot to make the NHL and that’s reflected in his ranking combined with his age.

D Johnathan MacLeod

MacLeod feels a little bit like a forgotten prospect. He was once considered a pretty solid defenseman of the future with a chance to develop into a borderline top four. Selected in the second round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, MacLeod has spent the last three seasons with Boston University. He doesn’t have a lot of offense in his game, but he’s solid defensively and is an aggressive hitter. He came along in the second half of his junior year and he’ll need better production in his senior year to earn a professional contract.

D Nick Perbix

Like Guttman, Perbix is an NCAA-bound draft pick from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, selected in the sixth round. Perbix is a year overage and came out of High School hockey rather than the USHL. Perbix is also bound for St. Cloud State but he’ll head there this year. When you look at Perbix as a defenseman, it’s not hard to see that the Lightning are looking at him as a Coburn type. He has the hockey IQ and defensive awareness to succeed, but he has a lot of holes in his game that he has to shore up to have a chance at making it to the NHL.

D Oleg Sosunov

Sosunov was a bit of a surprise pick in the 6th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Drafted from Russia, Sosunov measures up at 6’8” and 225 pounds. At the age of 19, he’s already taller and heavier than Andrej Sustr. Sosunov has shown a lack of any offense in his game, putting up only three assists in 46 games at all levels last season. We should get a better look at him this season though as he’s making the move to the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.

D Ryan Zuhlsdorf

Another NCAA player (are we noticing a trend yet?), Zuhlsdorf came to the Lightning in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. An offensive defenseman, Zuhlsdorf put up impressive offense in the USHL, with 50 points in 102 games over two seasons. He moved to NCAA hockey last season with the University of Minnesota and had five points in 37 games. Playing on a deep blue line on the third pair and no power play time, Zuhlsdorf didn’t have much of an opportunity to shine offensively. I expect that to change this year as the Golden Gophers lost their top-scoring defenseman to the professional ranks.

F Samuel Walker

The Lightning’s final pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Walker is yet another NCAA bound player (definitely a trend here). Drafted out of high school, Walker is a diminutive center with good hockey IQ and offensive instincts. He scored 46 points in 25 games for Edina High. He had a short audition in the USHL at the end of his season playing four games with the Lincoln Stars. He’ll head back to the USHL with Lincoln this year and look to sharpen his skills before joining Zuhlsdorf at the University of Minnesota in 2018-19.

Conclusions

That’s all of the players that did not receive votes in our Top 25 Under 25. The common theme with all of them is “out of sight, out of mind.” With five of the seven being NCAA or NCAA-bound, they’re just not as visible. The same goes for Sosunov playing in Russian junior hockey. As we go on over the next couple years and we see more of what these players can do, I expect we’ll start to see them rise in the rankings. They may never rank high, but they have the potential to rank in the 20-25 range.

Honorable Mentions

For the Honorable Mentions, players receiving at least one vote, I’ll go through them from the lowest vote total until we get up to the player that ranked 26th on our list of the Top 25 players Under 25 years old in the Tampa Bay Lightning system.

#34 Alexander Volkov

Volkov’s only vote came from Allokago with a 25th place vote. Alex has a little bit of a bias towards the Syracuse Crunch being a long-time Crunch writer and season ticket member. She has high hopes for what Volkov can do this season in the AHL and we’ll all be eagerly watching as the Lightning’s 2017 second-round pick comes over from Russia to do that.

Volkov was a surprise pick this year and very few if any of the scouting services even had him ranked. He couldn’t break into the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg’s very deep roster and he’ll have a chance to contribute in the bottom six this season for the Crunch.

#33 Ryan Lohin

Lohin could have as easily ended unranked with the other NCAA prospects. He received a 24th-place vote from me due to his potential and his solid freshman season, with 29 points in 41 games for UMass-Lowell. A seventh-round pick in 2016, he was an overager after being passed over twice in the draft.

Lohin has good size as a center and it won’t be a surprise to see him step up to a point-per-game pace in his sophomore season. He could end up coming out for the professional ranks before his four years of NCAA eligibility are finished.

#32 Otto Somppi

Somppi received a single 22nd place vote from Achariya. He was a seventh-round pick of the Lightning in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He put up 46 points in 59 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. The Finnish import was unable to improve on his point totals as he only scored 41 points in 60 games this season on a lackluster Halifax team.

Somppi will need to pick up his offense this season as a 19 year old. If he wants to earn an entry level contract, he needs to get up to at least a point-per-game production level. He has grown a bit since being drafted and is now listed at 6’0” and 181 pounds. His game is mostly about offense and if he can show more, he could be a contributor at the AHL level but his NHL ceiling is likely limited.

#31 Cameron Darcy

Darcy is an interesting prospect. An overage pick in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Lightning sent him back to the QMJHL for an overage season instead of signing him to an Entry Level Contract. He had a very slow start when he returned and got traded from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Sherbrooke Phoenix. With Sherbrooke he seemed to come back to life and put up 20 goals and 45 points in 37 games — after only scoring a single goal, an empty netter, and 14 points in 19 games before the trade.

After Darcy’s overage season, he signed an entry level contract with the Lightning and joined the professional ranks. He stuck with the Syracuse Crunch in a bottom-six role for the 2015-16 season with 12 points in 56 games. Last season he split time between the Crunch and the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL. He is one of those minor league tweeners that scores very well in the ECHL, but can’t put it together in the AHL. He’s in the last year of his ELC and will need to show more to earn another contract.

#30 Ross Colton

Colton is another NCAA prospect that got a little bit of love. He received 23rd and 21st place votes. Similar to Lohin, Colton was an overage draft pick but was only passed over in the draft once. A 66-point-in-55-game USHL campaign caught the notice of the Lightning scouting staff and the team picked him up in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Making his debut in NCAA hockey, Colton put up 27 points in 33 games. He’s got a little more of a ceiling than Lohin and has already shown more offense at a younger age. He’ll return to the University of Vermont for his sophomore season. He’s playing well enough that he could come up after this season if he wants to. Steve Yzerman has shown patience with NCAA prospects and has not pressured them to leave school early and to make their own decision about when to turn professional. [Looking at you, here, Predators. - Acha]

#29 Kristian Oldham

With her love of goaltenders, Allokago gave Oldham an 18th-place vote. Oldham was drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL entry Draft. He returned to the USHL for another season where he had a decent .905 save percentage in 31 games. He began his NCAA career as a back-up with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In limited playing time, he had an .895 save percentage in 10 games.

Unfortunately, he may be stuck behind his teammate Evan Weninger for a while. Weninger is only a year ahead of Oldham. If he doesn’t leave school early, Oldham is going to have to play lights out whenever he gets a chance to unseat Weninger and get more playing time. Goalies desperately need playing time to develop and that’s not great news for Lightning fans.

When Oldham does turn professional, most likely he would serve as a fifth goalie for the organization in the ECHL. That’s assuming he doesn’t unseat Weninger and doesn’t get serious playing time until he’s a senior. He’s still got three years though to develop at the NCAA level.

#28 Jonne Tammela

Tammela received a single 16th-place vote to get him into the honorable mentions. After being drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Tammela remained in Finland to play in their top men’s professional league, Liiga. He had 13 points in 37 games which is a solid point total for an 18 year old in that league.

At the end of the 2015-16 season, Tammela signed an entry level contract and played in three games for the Syracuse Crunch. The Peterborough Petes of the OHL drafted him in the CHL Import Draft and the Lightning sent him there. He suffered a knee injury during camp and did not play until mid-season. He played two games with the Petes and re-aggravated the injury and did not return for the rest of the season.

While there is a chance Tammela could play in the AHL this season, if he’s playing professional hockey it’s more likely in the ECHL where he would get substantial ice time to develop his game. The other option is to send him back to the Petes for an overage season in the CHL. That would probably be the best for him after losing a whole year of development time.

#27 Christopher Paquette

The cousin of Tampa Bay Lightning center, and number 16 in our rankings, Cedric Paquette, Christopher Paquette received two 20th place votes. He actually has the same number of points in the rankings as our 26th place finisher, but lost the tiebreaker due to the other player having a higher place vote.

Paquette was drafted in the 5th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He was a gamble for the Lightning as he had served in a fourth line role for a very deep Niagara IceDogs team in the OHL. He had only managed 14 and 16 points in 54 and 57 games respectively prior to being drafted. With the Lightning scouting staff projecting what they saw into a bigger role, they felt the gamble was worth it.

This season with Niagara Paquette moved up in the lineup and contributed 12 goals and 29 points in 37 games. With Niagara not faring well in the standings, Paquette was traded near the deadline to the Peterborough Petes. With the Petes, he put up 7 goals and 19 points in 29 games. He finished with 0.72 points per game for the season. He’ll need to continue to show more offense in his game this season to make sure he earns a professional contract.

#26 Ben Thomas

Ben Thomas is an interesting prospect. He appears here thanks to a fifteenth-place rank by Allokago. This summer when Steve Yzerman made comments about the Lightning’s defense and their prospects at the position, Thomas’s name came up quite a bit, which was surprising. To me, it’s a signal that the organization is happy with his development and has high hopes for his continued growth.

Thomas was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft from the Calgary Hitman of the WHL. An offensive defenseman, he hovered around a half point per game through much of his WHL career. He returned to the Hitman after being drafted and put up 31 points in 60 games. The next season, he started off slowly in Calgary with only three points in 14 games.

Thomas was also getting pushed down the depth chart and was traded to the Vancouver Giants. The Giants were pretty bad that season, but Thomas got the opportunity to be a top defenseman there. After the trade, he put up 25 points in 60 games. With the added ice time and responsibility, the Lightning decided to sign him to an entry level contract even when prospect watchers had their doubts about if he would be signed.

He finished the 2015-16 season with the Syracuse Crunch putting up four points in eight games. He was with the Crunch for all of the 2016-17 season and put up three goals and 21 points over 71 games. He came to life though in the playoffs and put up five goals and 13 points in 22 games.

Thomas’ development through his first professional season is very promising. I still view him as being a Mark Barberio/Nikita Nesterov type of 6/7 defenseman. And that’s better than I viewed him even six months ago. At that time, I figured he would be good depth in the AHL providing a little bit of offense from the blue line with a minimal chance he could be an injury fill-in at the NHL level.

With Jamie McBain being the only other experienced right-handed defenseman expected to be on the Syracuse Crunch roster, Thomas will get plenty of opportunity in the top 4 and as a power play quarterback. This will be a prime opportunity for him to shine and show that he has what it takes to make it to the NHL. A 40-50 point performance could force the Lightning to consider a roster spot for him in 2018-19 and beyond.

Under 25 Honorable Mentions

Player (Age) Raw Charge Rank
Player (Age) Raw Charge Rank
Libor Hajek (Age: 19) 26
Erik Cernak (Age: 20) 27
Ben Thomas (Age: 21) 28
Christopher Paquette (19) 29
Jonne Tammela (Age: 19) 30
Kristian Oldham (Age: 20) 31
Ross Colton (Age: 20) 32
Cameron Darcy (Age: 23) 33
Otto Somppi (Age: 19) 34