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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25, #4 Cal Foote: The next big thing

Out top ranked player that has yet to play in the NHL, Foote isn’t far from making the big show.

NHL: Preseason-Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Raw Charge 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.

In last year’s rankings, Cal Foote had just been drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round 14th overall and finished 17th in the 2017 Top 25 Under 25 rankings. Going into the draft, there was much debate around who the Lightning would select. It seemed obvious that they were in need of a defenseman and that there could be some very good picks available.

Within our staff, we were working on the SBNation Mock Draft and had a fierce internal debate about who to select. When the Lightning’s pick was coming up, there were a handful of defensemen available. A handful that we really liked had already been selected with Miro Heiskanen, Timothy Liljegren, Cale Makar, and Juuso Valimaki being off the board already. Foote, Erik Brannstrom, Urho Vaakanainen, and Pierre-Olivier Joseph were all still on our board, but we felt that they were ranked too low on most of the scouting services for where we were picking at 14th.

We really liked Foote and explored trying to trade down about 5-8 picks with other SBNation sites. We could not come to an agreement with anyone to let us do that and have a chance at picking Foote at a spot we felt more comfortable with. Feeling that Foote was a reach as he was ranked past 20th overall on most scouting services, we went in a different direction.

In the end, we went with Kailer Yamamoto as our pick. Funny enough, in real life, he ended up not going until 22nd to the Edmonton Oilers, while Liljegren and Valimaki were still available to the Lightning at the 14th overall pick.

When Steve Yzerman came up to announce the pick, I was pretty excited to get Cal Foote as he was the player I was advocating for if we went with a defenseman instead of Yamamoto in the mock draft. That pick also started a run on defensemen as he was followed by four European defenders; Erik Brannstrom (Vegas Golden Knights), Juuso Valimaki (Calgary Flames), Timothy Liljegren (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Urho Vaakanainen (Boston Bruins).

All five players had pretty good years after the draft and all five of them should be playing in the AHL next season. While we were biting our nails thinking that maybe Liljegren would be the pick there because of all the hype around him, I think ultimately Foote was a better pick for the Lightning and where the farm system is at after acquiring Mikhail Sergachev earlier in the summer.

Foote is the biggest defenseman in the group coming in at 6’4” and 212 pounds. He has the lowest upside on offense of any of those five defensemen, but he has the tools to be the best on the defensive side of the puck. He already has above average NHL size for a defenseman and has exhibited a strong two-way game in the WHL. In 11 less games in 2017-18, he matched his assists from the previous season with 51, but he added 13 more goals and points to his totals to finish with 19 and 70 respectively in 60 games played.

On the ice, Foote will use his size and positioning to cut off opposing forwards in the defensive zone. He isn’t an overly physical player, but will finish his checks smartly. As the son of NHL defenseman Adam Foote, who played in 1,154 career NHL games, Foote has been around the game his entire life and has a high hockey IQ. He is a very smart player that knows where to be, when to be, and what to do with the puck.

If there is any question in his game, it’s in his skating. He is an average skater for his size and not overly fast. Just a small improvement in that department can serve to push him over the top as a defensive prospect. Since he’ll turn 20 before January 1st, he is eligible to join the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL this season. With a logjam at defense in Tampa Bay, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing another rookie defenseman making a big impact as we saw with Mikhail Sergachev last season.

But Foote isn’t far off from making the NHL. This coming year in Syracuse will be a big opportunity for him to develop and show the organization that he’s ready for the next level. The Lightning have three defensemen that are pending unrestricted free agents next summer in Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, and Braydon Coburn. Even if one of them, like Stralman, is brought back on a new deal, there is going to be room for someone to take a spot on the right side in 2019-20 and I think Foote can be that guy.

Something that stuck out to me is that as soon as he came to the Crunch towards the end of last season after Kelowna was knocked out of the playoffs, he was immediately given ice time. He played in six games to finish out the regular season and played in all seven of the Crunch’s playoff games. While it isn’t rare for a junior player to get some games at the end of the season and maybe even a handful of playoff games, it is rare for a player to get significant playing time as Foote did.

To me, that signals just what the organization thinks of him. He’s good. And he’s only going to get better. The team has brought in two veteran defensemen in Cameron Gaunce and Hubert Labrie for the Crunch to replace the outgoing Jamie McBain, Matthew Bodie, and Reid McNeil. Meanwhile, Foote and Oleg Sosunov are joining the team. Of Gaunce and Labrie, Gaunce is the better AHLer while Labrie has mostly been a third pairing defenseman in his career.

Foote will certainly be in the top four defense for the Crunch with Erik Cernak being the other top four right hander. My guess would be that Gaunce and Dominik Masin will be the left side top-four defenders and I think the veteran Gaunce would make a good compliment to Foote.

It is exciting to see a prospect come into the organization and prove his worth. Foote is doing that and this coming season in Syracuse will be a good show for all of the fans in the AHL.