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.
It’s no secret that Anthony Cirelli is my favorite hockey player. From the moment he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lighting, I have been yelling at the Raw Charge staff about how excited they need to be about Cirelli as a prospect. [He’s been very loud - Hardev] It likely didn’t take long for Acha, Geo and the crew to get sick of me insisting Cirelli is going to have a huge impact on the Bolts. I’ve been babbling about it for years. Really, that fact that I wasn’t the contributor that had Cirelli the highest on the T25U25 list is shocking to me and makes me feel like re-evaluating a few things.
For those wondering why I love Anthony Cirelli so much, this is why:
As an OHL rookie - after going undrafted - Cirelli stepped in and scored a championship-winning goal for the Oshawa Generals at the 2015 Memorial Cup. Not only did he score the overtime winner, but Cirelli scored the only regulation goal for the Gens in that Memorial Cup final. On a team loaded with star veterans, it was the 17-year-old Cirelli who stepped up in the biggest game of the season.
He was finally drafted that following summer, falling to the third round. Given how his draft season went, where he was drafted was not overly surprising. His production that year dictated that he would be drafted in the middle rounds, but one could tell almost right away that he was going to drastically outperform his draft position. Honestly, being a 3rd round pick is a fact that is going to be discussed at length when he’s ten years into his NHL career.
Two years after scoring the biggest goal of his hockey career, Cirelli - now playing for the Erie Otters - scored another overtime winner. This time the goal sent his team to the OHL Championship.
This has become Cirelli’s calling card: He is a player that steps up and plays his best in the biggest games.
Now, with his first professional season in the books, Cirelli is a player that Tampa Bay is going to rely on heavily this upcoming season and into the future.
In Cirelli, the Bolts have a player that will play in their middle-6 and kill penalties. What makes his so valuable is his ability to play up and down the lineup as needed. He can fill in on a top line or power play if someone is missing due to injury, but he can also slot down into a checking role if the situation dictates.
In what was an admittedly small sample size, Cirelli produced as an unquestionable top-6 forward last season:
He produced at a high-end level for a player with his usage. Not only that, in playing a little more than 11 minutes a game during his 18 regular season games in the NHL, Cirelli showed an instant ability to be a reliable defensive forward. He had the third best shot share of any Bolts forward - trailing only Alex Killorn and some guy named Nikita Kucherov. His shots against trailed only Adam Erne for best on the team during his time in the NHL. Cirelli is a player that is going to score, but on a team that has a ton of high-end offensive producers, this elite defensive play is what is going to be more important.
Add the production to the fact that he is was one of the team’s best defensive forwards - in limited use - and you’ve got a young kid that is going to be invaluable to the team in the immediate future.
What gives the Lightning the ability to re-sign Kucherov - and even consider a trade for another high-price player like Erik Karlsson - is the ability to fill the lineup with high-end youngsters on entry-level contracts. Being able to play someone like Cirelli on the third line gives the Lightning the depth necessary to pay big money to their best players while still having the depth to compete for a Stanley Cup.
“We knew he had great hockey sense. Knew he could skate in the league. We have a lot of confidence in him and he has a lot of confidence in himself. I don’t think he’s been rattled yet.” - Lightning Associate Coach Rick Bowness
From the time he got his first call-up to the NHL, Cirelli hasn’t looked back. He remained in the lineup for the final 18 games of the regular season, as well as dressing for all 17 of Tampa’s playoff games this past season.
Going forward, he’s going to be a mainstay in that lineup for a very long time.
“You just know Cirelli is going to score the Stanley Cup-winning goal.” - this was a tweet sent out by his former Oshawa Generals teammate Matt Mistele. It’s also something I’ve been saying for a few years now. Some hockey players just have “it.” Anthony Cirelli is one of those players.
He’s a smart kid and one hell of a hockey player. Add to that his overwhelming leadership and likeability, and Cirelli is going to be a guy that is hugely popular among both fans and teammates alike.
Anthony Cirelli has been my favorite player for a long time now, and it’s great to watch as Bolts fans fall in love with his play the way I did during his junior career.