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.
#25 Erik Cernak
Erik Cernak came to the Tampa Bay Lightning this past season as a part of the Ben Bishop trade. Hailing from Slovakia, Cernak is the first Slovakian prospect the Lightning system has had since the graduation of Richard Panik. Cernak brings a right-handed defensemen into the system. He was a former second-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 2015. Standing at 6’3” and 203 pounds, he has plenty of size.
The Lightning had plenty of opportunity to get a look at Cernak over the past two seasons because he played for the Erie Otters, a powerhouse team in the OHL. He was a teammate of a Lightning 2016 second-rounder, Taylor Raddysh. 2015 third-rounder Anthony Cirelli also joined the Otters prior to Cernak being acquired. The Trio won the OHL Championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup Finals together.
Since joining the Otters, Cernak has put up 36 points in 91 games played. He added another 15 points in 35 games in the playoffs and two points in five games in the Memorial Cup Finals. Despite the Otters’ high powered offense, Cernak did not rack up points. He is a more physical, stay-at-home defensemen that fits the mold of where Steve Yzerman has been steering the team’s defensive corps.
To further show how much ability Cernak had, he has played in four different U20 World Junior Championships for Team Slovakia. Slovakia doesn’t have as deep a prospect group as a country, but it’s still something for a 16-year-old to make the roster. He played 20 games in the WJC, recording three assists and 12 PIMs with a minus-six plus-minus rating.
2014-15 was the only WJC Team Slovakia medaled with him on the roster as they received a Bronze Medal in a surprise upset of Team Sweden in the Bronze Medal game. It was also the first medal Team Slovakia had won since winning the Bronze in 1998-99.
At this point in his development, Cernak looks to be a third pair defenseman. He’ll continue his development in 2017-18 with the Syracuse Crunch as a member of a large rookie class. To reach his NHL potential, Cernak needs to continue to work on his skating and further refine his break out passes. In addition, he’ll need to continue to play his smart physical style while staying out of the penalty box which he has done well in the OHL.