We’re less than a month away from the CHL playoffs. NCAA playoffs are just a week away. What that means is that we’re getting close to prospects joining the Syracuse Crunch on amateur tryouts. These ATOs will allow the Tampa Bay Lightning organization to get prospects in for practices and even a handful of games with the Crunch. However, they won’t be able to do that until the prospects’ current team’s seasons are over.
Many of the team’s prospects in the CHL are primed for long playoff runs and so won’t be seeing any time with the Crunch. Others are in the basement and if they even make the playoffs, are unlikely to make it past the first round. This is also the time of the year when we start to see entry level contracts signed.
So it begs the question: which Lightning prospects are still unsigned, and who should we be expecting to get signed here in the coming month or two? There aren’t very many prospects out there unsigned since the Lightning got a lot of deals done this time last year and over the summer for second-year CHLers. But there are a few that spent this season playing for contracts and some that just haven’t gotten done yet.
Not Likely to be Signing
NCAA/USHL: Ross Colton, Cole Guttman, Samuel Walker, Ryan Lohin, Kristian Oldham, Ryan Zuhlsdorf, Nick Perbix
CHL: Christopher Paquette
Of this group, the only ones that could potentially sign are Ross Colton and Ryan Lohin. Both are NCAAers in their sophomore years. They could come out now, but both have two more years of eligibility. They can use that time to continue to develop, further their educations, and if they choose to, have the opportunity to go somewhere other than the Lightning organization. Neither one’s performance has been such a standout that it would make you think they have much development left. So with that, it seems more likely they’ll go back for at least another season in NCAA.
Oldham and Zuhlsdorf both have plenty of development left to be done in the NCAA ranks. Guttman, Walker, and Perbix are looking to start their NCAA treks this coming season and so again are very unlikely to forego that to sign with the team.
Christopher Paquette on the other hand is a CHLer whose rights will expire just prior to the draft in June if the Lightning do not sign him. With his half-point-per-game performance this season in the OHL, it seems he’s in a position similar to Cristiano DiGiacinto a couple seasons ago in having not produced enough offense in the OHL to earn a contract. Paquette is also unlikely to get drafted again if he re-enters the draft this June and would be headed back to the OHL for an overage season before likely going on to USports if he declines to pursue an ECHL career.
Could be signed soon, but may not join the Crunch for a while
NCAA/USHL: Johnathan MacLeod
CHL: Cal Foote, Otto Somppi
MacLeod is an interesting case because there were some rumors going around that he had a contract offer from the Lightning. Instead, he opted to return to Boston University for his senior season. With the depth the Crunch have on the right side of their defense, he likely would have been slated for playing in the ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder. Even if he signs with the Lightning, he’s probably still slated to play in the ECHL for a year or two. If the Lightning decline to sign him, he’ll be a free agent on August 15th and able to sign with any NHL organization he chooses.
Foote was the Lightning’s first round draft pick last June and hasn’t signed an entry level contract. Yet. That should be happening soon, though. With a later birth date, Foote will be eligible to play in the AHL next season. The Kelowna Rockets currently sit first in their division and second in the Western Conference. They’ll have a tough road to the WHL championship game, but it’s possible Foote could be playing deep into the playoffs and not be able to join the Crunch. But if they get upset in the first couple rounds, then expect to see Foote getting some time in Syracuse to finish out the season.
Somppi is a former seventh-round pick. Heading into the season, it seemed like he was also destined to not earn a contract with the Lightning. He had a sub-par follow-up season to his draft year posting only 41 points in 60 games, six points less in one more game than he played in his draft year. This season though, he’s come alive for the Halifax Mooseheads and set new career highs in the QMJHL with 25 goals, 50 assists, and 75 points in 50 games played. Halifax is also first in it’s division and has the second most points in the QMJHL. Somppi is another player that could be going deep into the playoffs, but with his performance, I expect he’ll be signed now. He has some flexibility to play both center and left wing while playing a responsible two-way game.
Pack your bags for Syracuse, buddy.
The reality here is that the Lightning don’t have any un-signed prospects that are on non-playoff teams that are also slam-dunks to be signed. If he wasn’t already signed, Alexey Lipanov would fit into this category since he got traded from one of the best teams in the OHL to... the worst. After scoring 30 points in 35 games for the Barrie Colts, he was moved to the Sudbury Wolves and has scored four points in 13 games since the trade. Ewww.
But, I don’t see that as much of an indication of his play. He doesn’t have the same supporting cast around him. To put it into perspective, his 39 points combined would rank 1st on the team, just ahead of the guy that was traded to Barrie for him. And moving to such a bad team probably wasn’t great for his motivation either. It will be interesting to watch what the Lightning does with him next fall as he is eligible to play in the AHL, but could also be sent back to the OHL if Sudbury trades him to a better team where he can continue to develop.