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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25, #21 Oleg Sosunov: The new giraffe

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He’s big, he’s strong, he’s basically a giraffe on skates.

NHL: Preseason-Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the RawCharge community. Ten writers and 106 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 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.

Oleg Sosunov clocks in at 21st on this year’s Top 25 Under 25. In last year’s edition, he was unranked and one of the seven eligible players in the Lightning organization that received no votes from the writers. There wasn’t a lot to go on with Sosunov playing in Russian Juniors and he wasn’t really on the radar. But last summer, he signed an entry level contract with the Lightning and was drafted in the CHL Import Draft by the Moose Jaw Warriors. It’s safe to say that the Lightning probably had something to do with that happening after drafting Brayden Point and Brett Howden from Moose Jaw.

His move to the WHL allowed for more visibility of him as a prospect. The writers and the fans had a similar ranking for him and he ended up being one spot different between the two coming in at 21st for the writers and 20th for the fans. On the writers’ ballots, he was unranked on only one ballot. On the other nine ballots that ranked him, he ranged from 19th to 24th and averaged a 21st overall ranking.

Here’s what I had to say about him in last year’s Honorable Mentions post.

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.

With Sustr now moving on to the Anaheim Ducks as an unrestricted free agent, Sosunov has become the Lightning’s resident giraffe. The Moose Jaw web site still lists him at 6’8”, but puts his weight at 235 pounds. He’s got a bit more bulk than Sustr had and does play a more physical game on the blue line.

There’s still a long way to go for Sosunov in developing and he’ll be taking the next step in that evolution with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL this coming season. As a left handed defenseman, he does have a hard road to the NHL with Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh entrenched on the left side for the long term. If Mikhail Sergachev isn’t traded as rumored in the Erik Karlsson rumblings, it’s likely Sergachev sticks to the right side to give him true top-four minutes as he continues to grow. That leaves a spot in the future on the left side for a player like Sosunov to take.

He was given much more of an opportunity offensively with Moose Jaw than he ever showed in Russian Juniors. He was given some power play time and was one of Moose Jaw’s top four defensemen all season. His offensive numbers still weren’t overwhelming with seven goals and 26 points in 71 games, but it was a step up from scoring 21 points in 88 MHL-B games and no points in 35 MHL games.

Even with his improvement, don’t expect that same kind of production in the AHL right away. It’s possible that the experience in the WHL gave him more confidence in his offensive abilities, and he could translate that into the AHL. But I wouldn’t expect him to be a big point producer in the NHL. The expectation for Sosunov is that he’ll be a shutdown defenseman for the Crunch. The most likely outcome for Sosunov if he makes the NHL is that of a physical, third-pair shutdown defender that will probably play on the penalty kill.

I also expect that this time next year when it’s time to vote for the Top 25 Under 25 once again, he’ll either jump up the rankings because he had a big year in the AHL or will remain in about the same place. He’s not a very flashy prospect, and he is still a long shot to make the NHL after being an under-the-radar 6th round pick. It will be interesting to watch his continued development in the AHL over the next few seasons before being ready to make the jump to the NHL.