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.
Jake Dotchin’s ranking certainly featured some dissent between the writers and the readers. While he came in at 11th with the readers, he ranked 16th overall with the writers of RawCharge, and comes in at #16 on the final rankings. He appeared on 9 of the 10 writers ballots with a range from 8th to 24th.
The opinions are all over the place on Dotchin, and for good reason. I can also see why fans thought more highly of him than most of the writers. I personally had him 12th on my ballot.
Honestly, there could be somewhat of a debate in how to rank players for this series. Do you rank them by their current abilities or by their future potential? I tend to go with a mixture of both. A player like Cirelli who, in my opinion, has limited upside - I don’t think he’ll ever be a top six player - still ended up 5th on my ballot because he has made the NHL so quickly. At 20, he’s already made the Lightning’s roster as a higher-end third line center.
So for Dotchin, using my own parameters put him right in the middle of my rankings. He’s not a top-four defensemen right now in my opinion, and I don’t think he’ll ever be a solid top-four defenseman, either. But, he’s at the NHL level and he played decently enough at times. The problem is that the coaching staff lost their confidence in his ability to play.
There was a lot of hype for him after his 2016-17 season when he played in 38 games and put up 11 assists. During that season, he mostly played next to Victor Hedman, and also was given ice time on the second power play unit after the roster was decimated by injuries and trades. That excited a lot of people and encouraged the thought that maybe he was just a late bloomer. I was more doubtful of his progression and had him ranked 19th in last year’s Top 25 Under 25 voting. I was very skeptical that a player that had only broken through the 25 point plateau once in any season since moving up from midget hockey was suddenly now a 25-30 point NHLer like many others seemed to think.
I feel that the 2017-18 season confirmed my thoughts, as he only managed three goals and 11 points in his 48 games. Additionally, he lost the confidence of the coaching staff late in the year and found his way into the press box. He averaged 16:59 in time on ice, which is fairly typical of a third pair defenseman. He only played in three games following the trade deadline, and only played in nine of the team’s last 32 games after having played in 39 of the team’s first 50 games. He did not play in any playoff games for the team, either.
I should also note that he was scratched from the December game in Las Vegas for “flu-like symptoms.” While there have been no solid reports, there have been whispers around him that he may have some issues behind the scenes that could have impacted his play and his standing with the coaching staff.
When the team needed a right-handed defenseman to step into the lineup, the coaching staff turned to veteran Andrej Sustr. While Sustr was not stellar, he was more disciplined than Dotchin on the ice. However, with Sustr gone, Rick Bowness moving on, and Todd Richards taking over for the defensive staff, this could be an opportunity for Dotchin to reassert himself. A lot of it will depend on what kind of game Richards wants the defensemen to play for the Lightning. But it’s also going to depend on what other moves the Lightning may make before training camp.
There are currently eight NHL defensemen under contract for the Lightning. If Sergachev’s playoff move to the right side remains permanent, it will be even harder for Dotchin to get into the line up with Stralman, Girardi, and Sergachev taking up the right side. If the purported Erik Karlsson trade gets done, it will be near impossible for him to play without an injury opening a spot.
He’s in a hard battle to find ice time with this team. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he is traded or waived at some point within the next year. Either way, this will be the last time he appears on the RawCharge Top 25 Under 25 ranking, as he’ll age out following the 2018-19 season.