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10 Things We Want to See Next Season #8: Another young player secures a roster spot

Will the Lightning see another young player solidify a roster spot for the third consecutive year?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ten Things We Want to See is a series of articles we’re running on Raw Charge that look at ten things that we, the staff, would like to see happen during the 2018-19 season. It represents our hopes, our fears, and our wildest dreams for this coming season. We hope to be able to look back next summer and check off that each one happened.

Throughout Jon Cooper’s tenure as coach, the Lightning have seen young players repeatedly force themselves into the starting lineup. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Cory Conacher (his first go around), Brayden Point, and Mikhail Sergachev are all examples of this. With training camp just around the corner, here are a few young players that I’m hoping force their way onto the Lightning’s starting lineup.

Most Likely Culprits

Anthony Cirelli

Cirelli’s first full year at the professional level was solid. In 51 games with the Syracuse Crunch, he put up 14 goals and 37 points. Not world beating, but a solid start for a 21-year old. Cirelli was called up on March 1st and never looked back as he secured the third -ine center position. In 18 regular season games with the Lightning, Cirelli put up 5 goals and 11 points, and in 17 playoff games, he added 2 goals and 3 points.

At this point, it’s probably safe to pencil in Cirelli at the third center position, but knowing how Cooper operates has me expecting him to push Cirelli during training camp to ensure the young forward doesn’t get complacent.

Tampa Bay does have a crowd at the center position with Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point locking down the top two center positions with Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, and Cedric Paquette all being options for the last two center slots. So, if Cirelli does not perform to the level Cooper expects, the coach can turn to other players to fill that position.

Regardless, Cirelli’s speed, skill, and tenacity were all on display during his stint with the Lightning last season. There’s little reason to doubt the young forward entering this season, and he seems to be the easiest candidate to be the next young player to lock down a roster spot for the Lightning.

(Give me more Cirelli, please)

Adam Erne

For the last two seasons, it has felt like Erne is teetering on the cusp of being a full-time NHLer. In the 2016-2017 season, he played in 26 games and scored 3 goals while averaging 11:48 of ice time. Erne started the 2017-2018 season in Syracuse and after struggling early on, he settled into his role and produced 12 goals and 26 points in 41 games. He was called up by the Lightning on February 8th and scored in his debut game of the season.

Unfortunately, Erne suffered a groin injury in March after 23 games with the Lightning and was sidelined for the rest of the season (including playoffs). Erne is viewed as a Ryan Callahan type player and could be another young forward who secures a roster spot this upcoming season.

Erne signed a one-year one-way deal worth $800,000 over the summer. This appears to be a “prove it” deal for the 23-year old winger entering the season, and with a fourth line position being available, Erne could be another young player securing a roster spot this season.

Slater Koekkoek

Another season comes and goes, and uncertainty surrounds the 24-year old Slater Koekkoek. Koekkoek played in 35 games last season, posting 4 goals and 8 points. I detailed earlier in the offseason how Koekkoek is a bit of an enigma currently, but after rsigning another one-way one-year deal with the Lightning, it appears that Koekkoek is still in the Lightning’s plans moving forward.

It’s difficult to see how Koekkoek will gain more playing time with Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Mikhail Sergachev, Dan Girardi, and Braydon Coburn being in front of him on the depth chart while battling Jake Dotchin for the seventh defender spot. It’s possible that Tampa Bay is aiming to limit the amount of games Coburn and Girardi play this season (in an effort to keep them fresh for the postseason). However, Koekkoek is still talented enough to supplant either one of those defenders. It’s just a matter of Koekkoek taking advantage of his opportunities when they come. Hopefully, he sees more than 11 minutes a night this season.

(This is still one of the best goals from last season)

On the Brink

Callan Foote

The 14th pick from the 2017 draft has been a popular choice for breaking onto the Lightning roster entering this season. I’m not as optimistic as others on this occurring, but it is by no means impossible. Foote joined the Syracuse Crunch after his WHL season ended in Kelowna. He played 6 games for the Crunch and scored his first professional goal in his debut. Foote also played in 7 playoff games for the Crunch and produced 1 goal and two points over that span.

Foote seems locked to start the season in Syracuse for the 2018-2019 season, but he could surprise and force the Lightning coaching staff to play him sooner rather than later. Regardless, don’t be surprised if the Lightning call up Foote at some point during the season to see how he handles himself. With an expected exodus of several defenders after the 2018-2019 season, Foote will be expected to step into the lineup and play effectively. Tampa Bay has to see how Foote handles NHL competition to gauge if he will be ready. One more season in Syracuse with a small NHL call-up can only help Foote moving forward.

Dark Horse

Alexander Volkov

The biggest dark horse for securing a roster spot for this upcoming season is Alexander Volkov. A relative unknown when he was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft, Volkov came over from Russia to play for the Syracuse Crunch for the 2017-2018 season. It took Volkov a little bit to get started but once he acclimated himself to the North American style, he fit right in. Volkov scored 23 goals (which led the Crunch) and 45 points last season while showcasing a surprising amount of skill.

It’s doubtful Volkov makes the Lightning roster this coming season, but Brayden Point was also a longshot to make the roster in 2016-2017. Considering the logjam at forward on Tampa Bay’s roster, and with the only real spot available being on the fourth line, it would be in the Lightning’s (and Volkov’s) best interests to keep the Russian forward in Syracuse where he can get the ice-time he needs to succeed.

Honorable Mentions

Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, and Mathieu Joseph

Raddysh and Katchouk finished their OHL careers last season and both were very impressive players at that level. Raddysh was the more productive of the two, but Katchouk was still a point-per-game player. Both should start their professional careers in Syracuse this upcoming season, but crazy things can happen when camp comes around. I expect at least one of these players to get a call-up this season for a short period of time.

Mathieu Joseph was Syracuse’s leading scorer last season and kind of flew under the radar. Not a lot of people are talking about him currently, but he’s a player who could possibly earn a call-up down the road. If Joseph can improve on last season’s 53 points and become a leader for the Crunch, then he could provide another layer of depth for the Lightning moving forward.