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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25, #19 Dennis Yan

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Syracuse Crunch Dennis Yan (18) skating with the puck against the Belleville Senators in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, New York on Friday, October 13, 2017. Syracuse won 4-2.
Scott Thomas Photography

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.

At 21, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Dennis Yan certainly has a lot of hockey in front of him still left to play. Although a nagging back injury stymied his first season of professional hockey somewhat, he certainly is nowhere near washed up. However, his healthy-one-day, injured-the-next 2017-18 season may be one of the reasons why he proved to be so difficult for both our readers and our writers to place in this year’s countdown.

Overall, our readers ranked him at 17, but clearly there was a bit of a spread there among the Raw Charge faithful. Our writers had the same difficulty, with Yan being ranked as high as 15 by Seldo and as low as 22 by Matt. Clearly, there’s some interesting possibilities here with the young forward.

This is the third time in three countdowns that Yan has appeared on this list. He made his debut in 2015, clocking in at #23 in the month after he was drafted by the Lightning. At the time, contributor Kyle Alexander felt that Yan was the perfect example of the change in the Lightning’s draft strategy (a shift fans are certainly still seeing):

After years spent hoarding skill players at all positions during every round, the Lightning took an unexpected turn, opting to reload their system with players generally regarded to have lower ceilings but strong reputations as two-way players; future bottom-line forwards and bottom-pairing defenders to round out a skill-heavy line-up we saw reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-15.

The one pick from the 2015 draft that stood out as what had previously been a prototypical Steve Yzerman-Al Murray selection?

Winger Dennis Yan, from the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL.

Two years later, on the cusp of his first professional season, Yan jumped up eight spots to number #15. Yan’s projection as “a pure sniper who has the potential to be a star scoring line winger in the NHL” had some affect on how far he jumped from his first ranking to his second. However, contributor BoltsGuy04 also noted last summer that Yan’s game was lacking on the defensive side, and that such a deficiency could potentially hold the winger back:

He lacks a two-way game at present, and the transition to the pro ranks will surely teach him that, as will a stern challenge from Syracuse Head Coach, Ben Groulx.

Yan has the ability to be a diamond in the rough from the 2015 Draft. If he can focus his attention on the defensive side of the puck throughout his development, he should be able to round out his game. As we know all too well, if you can’t play defense, Jon Cooper won’t play you; see: Drouin, Jonathan.

Yan’s first year in the AHL was up and down. He fought with a nagging back injury all season, missing almost all of December, some of January, half of March, and all of April, including the playoffs. His production was as spotty as one might expect it to be given Yan’s rookie status and his injury struggles.

Yan scored two goals in his third game with the Crunch, potting his first professional goal(s) on October 13th, 2017.

Yan then wouldn’t score again until November 22nd, although it should be noted that the Crunch’s young roster struggled as a whole at the start of last season. His performance wasn’t exactly out of the norm when compared to the rest of the roster. Yan would miss much of the next few weeks due to injury, but then scored twice in his first game back with the Crunch on December 27th.

His season pretty much continued like that: he’d seem to find some rhythm, but then an injury or something else, like a call-up that changed his line mates, would disrupt his flow. He’d get his footing back, but then another thing would trip him up. Clearly, his struggles this past season, although more indicative of his young career than anything else, made it difficult to place him on this countdown this summer.

Although he wasn’t able to play in the Crunch’s postseason, he was able to perform at the Lightning’s Development Camp this past June. Matt was really impressed with Yan’s offensive skills, remarking that he performed above average when paired with a linemate he had chemistry with - in that case, Tampa Bay prospect Alexei Lipanov - but that his defensive liabilities were also on full display. Such a report has seemed on par for the course for the past few seasons with Yan, so it will certainly be interesting to see how he grows.

It’s hoped that Yan can achieve a more consistent season in Syracuse in 2018-19, both on the scoresheet and in the area of health. Some projections claim that a 50-point season in the AHL should be reachable for him, so there’s certainly no reason to be down on him at all. He just has more growing to do.