As we get ready for the 2017-18 hockey season, the Canadian Hockey Leagues (CHL) have already started up their training camps. Prospects will be reporting soon for the prospect camp and tournament and then the many Tampa Bay Lightning training camps. As training camp goes on, young prospects will be cut to be sent back to their CHL teams while the professionals continue on to prepare for their NHL and AHL seasons.
Not all of the Lightning’s prospects will be in attendance for prospect camp or the big training camp. Players at the college level or planning to play at college will not attend as it would compromise their eligibility. Those players are playing either NCAA hockey of USHL. The USHL is the United States’ top junior hockey league.
The CHL leagues consist of a conglomeration of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Western Hockey League (WHL). The Lightning will have players spread across Canada and the Northern United States developing their talents in preparation for the next level.
So here’s your guide to where the Lightning non-professional prospects should be headed this fall and a little synopsis.
- Otto Somppi
The Lightning had a few more prospects in the QMJHL with Dennis Yan, Boko Imama, and Mathieu Joseph. With Boko traded and the other two graduating to the AHL, Somppi is the lone QMJHLer remaining. The Finnish forward was drafted 206th overall by the Lightning in the seventh-round of the 2016 NHL Entry draft. He has shown flashes of offensive prowess, but failed to be consistent with it last season with his point total dropping from 46 points in 59 games to just 41 points in 60 games.
More of a playmaker than a scorer, Somppi hasn’t been signed to an entry level contract. He’ll need to really ramp things up with the Mooseheads and earn his way into a contract. Otherwise, he could be headed back to his homeland of Finland next season.
- Alexey Lipanov
The Lightning’s third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Lipanov joins fellow Russians Kirill Nizhnikov and Andrei Svechnikov with the Colts. The Colts are able to essentially have three import players because Nizhnikov and his family moved to Ontario to establish residency. This allowed Nizhnikov to be treated as a North American in the OHL and not subject to the Import Draft and rules.
The Colts have been rebuilding and these three young Russians give them a solid core to build their top six forwards around. The three could even end up forming a line together. The Colts don’t have the depth to be a power house in the OHL, but they are set-up to make some noise. And once you get into the playoffs, you never know what can happen next.
- Taylor Raddysh
Raddysh had a HUGE season for the Erie Otters putting up 42 goals and 109 points. He teamed up for much of the season with Alex DeBrincat who scored 65 goals and 127 points. They were reinforced later in the season when Dylan Strome was sent down by the Arizona Coyotes. Despite only playing in 35 games, Strome put up 22 goals and 75 points.
This year, DeBrincat, Strome, and Taylor’s older brother, defenseman Darren, are gone. Four of Erie’s top seven scorers overall are graduating out of the league. The big question for the Otters right now is who will step up and be the top line center for Raddysh. For Lightning fans, the question is can Raddysh repeat and build on his dominating offensive performance or was he the beneficiary of playing with DeBrincat? Time to find out.
- Christopher Paquette
- Jonne Tammela
Paquette was a fifth-round selection by the Lightning in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. A bottom liner on a stacked Niagara IceDogs team, the Lightning were projecting and taking a gamble that Paquette had more offense to show in his game if he got more ice time.
With the IceDogs graduating a lot of players, Paquette was slated to step up into the top of the line-up... a rather depleted line-up. Paquette put up 12 goals and 29 points in 37 games before being traded to the Petes. He added another seven goals and 19 points in 29 games. His offense hasn’t come as far as hoped, but a bright side is that he doesn’t take many penalties. This will be an important year for him to show what he can do and earn a contract.
Tammela is put here because his status is still up in the air. He is eligible to play in the AHL, or the ECHL, but he lost basically all of last season to a knee injury suffered in camp and then re-aggravated in two games when he came back. Tammela had decided to stay in Finland for a season after being drafted in the fourth-round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Last season, he came to North America for valuable development time in the OHL. He lost all of that time with his injuries.
With so many young professionals joining the Syracuse Crunch, there likely isn’t room for him to play in the AHL. That lack of playing opportunity, plus the lost development, makes a return to the OHL as an overager an appealing option for Tammela to catch up on lost time.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
- Boris Katchouk
A second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Katchouk is a big-bodied Russian-Canadian forward. He caught the eyes of scouts with his 24 goal, 51 point campaign in his first full season with the Greyhounds. He followed it up with a 35 goal, 64 point performance this past season in 66 games.
Katchouk has a nice frame and good hands. He needs to work on his skating and defense, but those parts of his game can be rounded out. The Greyhounds are losing a couple of their top scorers in Bobby MacIntyre and Zach Senyshyn. However, they return 2017 first-round pick center Morgan Frost (27th) and 2017 second-round pick defenseman Connor Timmins (33rd) to the team. The Greyhounds also have some promising young talent. Katchouk should be a leader for this team and is in a great position to top his offensive numbers from 2016-17.
- Mikhail Sergachev
I’ll keep this one short. It is my hopes and dreams that Sergachev is going to make the Tampa Bay Lightning and be an effective defenseman for the team. However, I have to put this here as the Spitfires would be his destination if for some reason he does not make the team.
- Callan Foote
The Lightning’s 2017 first-round pick will return to the Western Hockey League. Foote has a big, solid frame and NHL bloodlines. His father Adam played over 1150 games in the NHL as a defenseman and owns two Stanley Cup rings, an Olympic Gold Medal, and an OHL Championship.
Foote has the size and physicality that his father had, but he also is expected to bring more offense to his game. Not much of a goal scorer, he’s been effective at breaking out of the zone and distributing the puck from the point, picking up 51 assists and 57 points last season. The Rockets are returning a fairly solid core of players that includes veterans of the WHL and some young faces that have an opportunity to grow and become bigger parts of the team this season.
Moose Jaw Warriors
- Brett Howden
- Oleg Sosunov
The Lightning have twice dipped into the well of the Moose Jaw Warriors recently with draft picks used on centers Brayden Point in 2014 and Brett Howden in 2016. Howden returns to the Warriors for his second season as Captain after succeeding Point in that role. He scored 38 goals and 81 points in 58 games for the Warriors and will be looking to top the 100 point mark this season. That may be difficult though as he should be playing less games this season. Why? He’ll likely be a part of Team Canada for the U20 World Junior Championship.
Sosunov will be joining the Warriors this season. The 6’7” Russian defenseman has almost no offense to speak of. But he’s got size and the move to the WHL will give him an opportunity to show what he can do for the Lightning organization. He’s already been signed to an entry level contract, which seems to have been in an attempt to help him secure his visa to come to North America. So the Lightning have at least four years of Sosunov to see how he develops and if he can turn into an NHL defenseman.
- Libor Hajek
Hajek returns to the Blades for another season in the WHL, likely his last before he turns professional full-time in 2018-19. The Lightning essentially traded Anthony DeAngelo for Hajek as they acquired a second round pick from the Arizona Coyotes for DeAngelo and immediate used it to select Hajek.
A left-hander, Hajek is projected as a potential top-four two-way defenseman that lacks high-end offensive potential. He’s gotten 26 points each of the past two seasons in the WHL. Granted, the Blades have not been a very good team failing to reach the playoffs in both seasons Hajek has been with the team. His defensive skills are there, but it would be nice to see a little more offense shine in his game before he makes the full-time move to professional hockey.
- Johnathan MacLeod
MacLeod is entering his senior season with Boston University. Originally a second-round draft pick of the Lightning in 2014, MacLeod is a big-bodied defensive oriented blueliner. There were some rumors that the Lightning were interested in signing him after last season, but MacLeod decided to return for his senior year. General Manager Steve Yzerman has shown that he is flexible with NCAA draft picks and doesn’t overly pressure them to leave school early allowing the player and their families to make that decision.
MacLeod was voted BU’s most improved player last season which was a good sign after a down sophomore season. The big questions with MacLeod have been if his mental game would catch up to his physical talents. At 6’2” and 201 pounds, the right hander has NHL size. There isn’t much in the way of offense in his game and he plays more of a Braydon Coburn style stay-at-home defense.
University of Minnesota
- Ryan Zuhlsdorf
An offensive-defenseman, Zuhlsdorf had limited opportunities to shine offensively for Minnesota as a freshman last season. A fifth-round pick of the Lightning in 2015, Zuhlsdorf put up 50 points in 102 USHL games. In 37 NCAA games in his freshman season, he had two goals and five points. He also put up a plus-12 plus/minus rating.
Zuhlsdorf was Minnesota’s second leading defenseman for points. However, the second place defenseman only contributed 14 points, all assists. Their top defenseman, Jake Bischoff had five goals and 32 points in 37 games as their top power play blueliner. Bischoff has graduated though and moved on to the professional ranks. This leaves Zuhlsdorf as the defenseman with the best offensive pedigree remaining on Minnesota and hopefully will lead to him having a breakout year getting ample power play time.
University of Nebraska-Omaha
- Kristian Oldham
Oldham is a long-term goaltender project for the Lightning. Selected in the sixth-round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Oldham returned to the USHL for a second season before moving to NCAA hockey. As a freshman, he appeared in only 10 games with an .895 SV%.
Unfortunately for Oldham, last year’s starter is only a year ahead of him and can play for two more seasons with Nebraska-Omaha. Oldham will need to outplay Eric Weninger in camp and whenever he gets an opportunity to start to beat him out. Weninger had a drop-off from his .923 SV% in his freshman season to just a .907 SV% last year. Beating Weninger out and getting solid starting time would be great for Oldham’s development.
Goaltenders need games to develop and it’s unfortunate that he could be stuck as a back-up until his senior season. If he decided to leave school early, the Lightning would likely have to start him in the ECHL before he works his way up to the AHL.
St. Cloud State University
- Nicklaus Perbix
Already 19 years old, Perbix was a late birth date that was passed over in his first draft eligible year. He returned to high school for his senior season and put up 40 points in 25 games for Elk River High as the Captain of the team. This season he’ll start college and play with St. Cloud State.
Standing at 6’4” and weighing in at 194 pounds, Perbix has the frame to fill out and be a physical presence on the blue line. While his point production in high school was great, it is generally against inferior competition. Playing with St. Cloud will give us a better indicator of what he’s capable of. With scouting reports praising his high hockey IQ, it seems that the Lightning were perhaps projecting him out as a potential Braydon Coburn copy. He’s got a lot of room to grow and develop to reach that potential, but that’s what late round gambles are for.
- Ryan Lohin
An overage pick by the Lightning in 2016, the seventh-rounder had a solid start to his NCAA career with UMass-Lowell. As a freshman, he contributed 12 goals and 29 points in 41 games. His team won the Hockey East Championship and qualified for the post-season tournament.
This season, Lohin will look to build upon his freshman success. A point per game production would be great to see. Already 21 years old, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lohin turn professional next season if he has a great sophomore campaign.
University of Vermont
- Ross Colton
Another later round gamble by Steve Yzerman, Colton was taken in the fourth-round of the 2016 NHL Entry draft. As captain of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, Colton caught the eye of scouts by posting 35 goals and 66 points in 55 games in the otherwise defensive oriented USHL.
He followed it with a 12 goal, 27 point season in 33 games for Vermont. Much like Lohin, he’ll be looking to build even further on his freshman successes and could turn professional sooner than later if his offensive game continues to flourish.
Dubuque Fighting Saints
- Cole Guttman
One of two 2017 NHL Draft picks for the Lightning that will be going to the USHL this season, Guttman is a small, dynamic force. Standing in at 5’10” but only weighing in at 168 pounds, he is a small player. The Lightning have certainly had some luck developing such players and are looking for the same from Guttman. Despite the middle aged super hero sounding name, Guttman has speed and finesse. In 53 games in the USHL, Guttman scored 27 goals and 54 points. He’ll spend another season in the USHL with Dubuque before joining Nicklaus Perbix at St. Cloud State in 2018-19.
Sioux City Musketeers
- Samuel Walker
In much the same vein as Guttman, Walker is a small, speedy forward that oozes offense. However, he’s even smaller than Guttman listed at 5’9” and only 150 pounds. In four games with the Lincoln Stars in the USHL to finish last season, Walker was pushed around and struggled with the physicality of the league. He wasn’t able to adjust in that short stint and was held pointless and had a minus-3 plus/minus rating.
Lincoln traded Walker to Sioux City for a goaltender and he’ll have an opportunity to ply his trade with the Musketeers. None of Sioux City’s top five scoring forwards from last season are returning to the team. They were obviously looking for some scoring punch in the trade and they hope they’ve gotten that in Walker. He’ll play for the Musketeers this season and then join Ryan Zuhlsdorf in 2018-19 at the University of Minnesota.