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Top 25 Under 25: #8 Adam Erne

Can the power forward break through to the Lightning after another season cut short by injury?

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders Dennis Schneidler-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.

Lightning forward Adam Erne might be the most interesting player on this countdown, mostly because Lightning fans and those that watch the team can’t seem to agree on him.

For this year’s Top 25 Under 25, readers averaged out higher on him than the writers. What fascinates me about this is that when Raw Charge asked for player grades from our readers and writers in June, Erne averaged a C+ across all contributors. That wouldn’t seem like it would equal out to a #6 placement on our reader’s list this summer, but it’s probable that Erne’s future projection tipped the scales higher in this metric than what readers used for grades for this past season.

The spread among writers was rather great, mostly because of my ranking him at 19. But in my defense, I wasn’t the only one who went low on Erne. Tom had him at 14, Hardev at 11, and Seldo at 10. Now, astute readers might notice a pattern among those names. None of us that ranked him lower than nine watch the Lightning as our main team. However, other writers that also don’t cover the Lightning as their primary - Justin and Tracey - had a rank for Erne that was more in line with everyone else.

So, what gives here?

Erne’s ceiling has pretty much always pegged him as a third liner in the NHL, a power forward who will use his body to create space on the ice. When he’s healthy and looking comfortable, he can absolutely serve in that capacity. In his breakdown of why Erne got the end of season grade that he did, Alan explained that Erne did exactly what was expected of him right up until the injury that took him out for the remainder of the season and the playoffs:

He didn’t play poorly. In his opportunities, he played well. He didn’t generate much offense but he was excellent defensively. Unfortunately for him, he suffered an injury just as he was becoming a regular in the lineup. Cirelli’s emergence crowds the picture a bit more and Erne will likely have to compete for a spot in Tampa during camp.

If anything, it might be Erne’s injury history that can explain some of the lower rankings. He’s struggled with different ailments throughout his professional career. Basically, Erne’s overall theme was summed up well by BoltsGuy last summer: His development has stalled a bit due to his recent rash of injuries, but he showed well in his stint.”

Erne himself seems to know that he can be kind of a streaky guy, something he spoke to during an interview with Syracuse.com this past season:

‘It’s confidence. I’m getting the bounces now as I wasn’t really in the beginning of the season. I don’t really think I changed that much. Even when I wasn’t putting up that many points I still thought I was playing well. Now it’s starting to pay off a bit.’

In that same article, Crunch assistant coach Ken Klee also addressed Erne’s pattern of consistently doing the right things (when he’s healthy):

‘He’s been doing good things all year. Just the puck wasn’t going into the net for him. Players go though ups and down where, as long as they continue to get chances, do the right things day-in and day-out, they are going to find a way to score. I think that’s the case with him. I don’t think that he struggled early in the year, other than just finding the back of the net. It’s a good credit to him to stick with it and not get too rattled.’

Erne was the last restricted free agent the Lightning signed this past summer. He scored himself a one-year, one-way contract, one that will guarantee his $800,000 salary remains the same whether he stays with the Lightning or gets sent down to Syracuse. He’ll need waivers this upcoming season, though, so the chances Tampa will risk a claim from another team are probably slim. At the time of Erne’s signing, Geo discussed where he sees the forward slotting in come October:

Erne has a really solid chance to make the NHL roster out of training camp, most likely in a fourth line role. While he has the skills to play further up the line-up, he’s likely to be blocked by the more established teammates in front of him.

Clearly, most people in the Raw Charge community see a lot of potential in Erne. Honestly, my almost ridiculously low ranking was probably due to favoritism over other players than any actual reflection of Erne’s talent or potential. It’s a very positive sign that he’s worked at the level many see him being capable of during his limited NHL time. Erne’s next goal has to be making the most out of the “show me” contract the Lightning signed off on this summer, something which will definitely require him to stay as healthy as possible.

Stats Notes (by loserpoints):

As mentioned above, Erne has had opportunities at the NHL level but hasn’t been able to take full advantage of those chances due to injuries. To get some additional context for his season last year, let’s first look at some AHL numbers and then move on to his NHL performance.

Below is a chart from Prospect Stats that shows how Erne performed in some key metrics while in the AHL. Being in the green area means performing like a top-line forward and being in the red means performing like a bottom liner.

Erne scored like a low end first liner in both goals and primary points in the AHL last season. The rest of his metrics including shots are hovering in the realm of a second liner. Those are fine numbers for an AHL player but they don’t provide a particularly strong signal for future NHL success. Typically, players who are going to score in the NHL will score at a much higher rate in the AHL.

But scoring isn’t the strength of Erne’s game and the Lightning won’t be looking for much of that from him in Tampa. Instead, they’ll want him to be a reliable option in the bottom six. He’s played 49 NHL games so far and showed that he is capable of that.

His player card via Hockey Viz shows his numbers in his career to date.

Here we see a player with strong defensive results in terms of shots but who has been extremely unfortunate in goals allowed while he’s on the ice. He hasn’t been given an opportunity to play up in the lineup, which is expected given his role. If he can continue to excel in shot suppression and the goals against regress to a more normal rate, the Lightning would likely be happy with that.

With Chris Kunitz not returning to the team this season, it appears the Lightning have an opening on the fourth line for Erne to take. He hasn’t done enough to be handed that spot immediately but he’ll be the leader for those minutes heading into camp.

Erne still has the potential to grow into a third line role in the NHL. But even if his ceiling tops out on the fourth line, he could still have a long successful NHL career ahead of him. He has the right combination of size, physicality, defensive ability, and scoring pop to fit well in the bottom six of the modern NHL. Seeing that career come to fruition starts this fall with earning a spot out of camp.

The Lightning will be hoping he does just that and solidifies their forward group for 208-2019.