2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning player grades: Adam Erne is here to stay. Probably.

Big Ern finally stuck in Tampa this year.

The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is fewer than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.

After a couple seasons of waiting, Adam Erne made the Lightning out of camp last fall and stuck with the team all year. He appeared to be solidifying his spot in the spring of 2018 before suffering an injury and having to re-earn his place in training camp.

In the early part of the season, he was frequently a healthy scratch as Mathieu Joseph surpassed him on the depth chart and Ryan Callahan continued to play on the fourth line. But every time Erne drew into the game either due to injury or the coaches giving a player a night off, he made an impact. By the end of December, he was making too strong a case for regular minutes to be ignored.

In the spring, the team made the decision to move Callahan permanently to the 13th forward spot to create space for both Joseph and Erne in the lineup every night. In some ways, that wasn’t fair to Callahan. He hadn’t played poorly. But the team was unwilling to move a player like JT Miller, Anthony Cirelli, or Tyler Johnson to the fourth line to replace Cedric Paquette so that meant Callahan went to the press box as the lowest wing on the depth chart.

From that point, Erne played nearly every game, spending most of his time on the fourth line with Paquette and Joseph but occasionally moving up in the lineup. To my eye, he looked his best when he got time on the third line as it allowed him to showcase his skill a little more, but that wasn’t his role for most of the season.

The following card shows the grades he received from the Raw Charge community as well as how he performed in some high level stats. Wins Above Replacement and the expected goal impacts come from Evolving Hockey. The xG impacts include all situations.

The readers and writers agreed on a grade of C+, which seems about right for Erne’s season. As you can see from his xG impacts, he didn’t maintain his hot start once he got regular minutes. By the end of the season, he had fallen back to the pack a little bit in his performance. He still graded out well in WAR but his no-brainer case for playing every night in December because a little more questionable as the team entered the playoffs.

After his first full season in the NHL, the team should be confident in the type of player Erne is. Whatever notions people had that he might become an old school top-six power forward have probably been dispelled. He’s more of a bottom six player with some scoring punch.

He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer and Geo projected him to re-sign for two years at one million dollars per year. That sounds about right for a fourth line forward.

The challenge for Erne and the Lightning is that the organization is exceptionally deep at forward. If players like Alex Volkov, Alex Barré-Boulet, Taylor Raddysh, and Boris Katchouk show well in camp, the team could find itself with a glut of 17 or 18 forwards who are ready to play NHL minutes. That obviously isn’t sustainable.

While Erne did enough to show that he’s an NHL player this season, I’m not certain he did enough to show he’s an NHL player on a team with this kind of depth. Sending him back to Syracuse isn’t an option because he’d be claimed on waivers so this fall will be a test of his future with the organization.

If he finds himself falling down the depth chart in camp, don’t be surprised if the team starts exploring trade options for him. The same could happen during the season if players who begin the year in Syracuse start forcing the front office to consider making room for them in Tampa.

As a fan, I hope he sticks around. He’s a fun player to root for. The Lightning don’t have many players with his size and skill set, which makes him a unique option for changing up the lines. And frankly, Big Ern is a great nickname and it gives me an excuse to use Kingpin gifs, which is wonderful.

The Lightning’s depth is a great thing to have but at some point, it will probably mean that not everyone in the current forward pipeline can stay in the organization. Whether that happens by trading from the middle six to make room for the players pushing up or by moving on from a player like Erne remains to be seen.

Adam Erne is an NHL player. He showed that this season. In the early part of the year, it looked like he might be a very good one. But as the season progressed, he couldn’t maintain that level. Where he places himself in the depth chart during camp this fall will determine his role next season.