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The Tampa Bay Lightning should pursue NCAA defender Adam Fox

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He doesn’t want to sign with Carolina, maybe he would consider the Lightning?

United States v Finland - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

While they haven’t been mentioned in the reporting yet, the Tampa Bay Lightning should at least throw their hat into the ring in the pursuit of Adam Fox. A right handed defenseman, Fox has informed the Carolina Hurricanes that he will not sign with them. He was a third round pick, 66th overall in 2016 by the Calgary Flames and was traded to Carolina in the summer of 2018.

Fox has just completed his third season with Harvard University. Carolina has been put in a position where they need to pursue a trade of him. Otherwise, Fox can return to Harvard for his senior season and then become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team, on August 15th, 2020.

All of this is dependent on Fox wanting to play for the Lightning. The Hurricanes could allow him to talk with different teams and determine where he would want to go and then work out a trade with that team. If Fox doesn’t want to sign with the Lightning either, then this is all a moot point.

As a freshman at Harvard, Fox put up six goals and 40 points in 35 games. He followed that with a six goal 28 point performance in 29 games as a sophomore. He also played for Team USA at the U20 World Junior Championships in both of those seasons putting up nine points in 14 games overall on the way to winning a gold and bronze medal. He followed those first two years up with nine goals and 48 points in just 33 games this past season.

He’s a very talented, offensive defenseman on the right side of the blue line. Harvard lists him at 5’10” and 185 pounds. Plus-minus is a flawed stat, but when there’s not advanced stats to go on, it’s still good to see the plus-19 he had as a freshman and a plus-23 this year. As a sophomore, he was just a plus-3. He also doesn’t take very many penalties. Including international play, across all levels, he has only accumulated 48 penalty minutes in 207 games over the past four seasons.

So how do the Lightning fit in? Well, they are in need of a right handed defenseman that can step into the NHL next season on a cheap deal. Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi and Jan Rutta are set to be unrestricted free agents, leaving Erik Cernak and Cal Foote as the only viable right handed options under contract for next season. All three are a possibility to bring back next season, but would all cost more than Fox on an entry level contract.

It would make for a very young blue line for the Lightning, but if they could bring him into the fold, it would give the Lightning a blue line of Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Cernak, Fox, and Foote, plus A Guy to be the seventh defenseman. Foote would make for a good pairing with Sergachev as someone that could play a stouter defensive role next to the free roaming Sergachev. Cernak could stick next to McDonagh as he has formed a more than solid pairing with the veteran defenseman. That would leave Fox to play with and learn from Hedman on the top pairing.

From Fox’s perspective, if he’s looking to sign with a good team where he has an opportunity to play immediately, the Lightning might be the best option on the league. Plenty of teams need help on the right side of defense but in Tampa, he would immediately find himself on a team expected to make deep playoff runs. But given that the Rangers seem to be the front runners, he must be prioritizing something else.

One thing that could be a turn-off for Fox is that he likely wouldn’t get much, if any, power play time. Hedman is firmly entrenched at the point of the first unit. Sergachev has likewise been the top option for the second power play unit, but there’s nothing to say Fox couldn’t unseat him there if he proves himself to the coaching staff.

The Lightning, and it sounds like any other suitor, also would likely need to commit to burning the first year of his entry level contract now. This would mean that he would become a restricted free agent after two full seasons. If he performs as well as Sergachev has to start his career in the NHL, he could end up being another costly player on the blue line. A couple years, and the Seattle expansion draft, could be enough for the Lightning to move through some of their contract issues to make room.

I’d say at this point it is a very long shot that the Lightning could get him. On top of convincing him to sign, they also have to agree to a trade with Carolina. The Lightning currently have their 2019 second round pick committed to the New York Rangers, though that could become a first round pick if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup. I’d expect the Hurricanes are looking for at least a second round pick for Fox. The Lightning have a wealth of forward prospect depth that they could dip into and tempt the Hurricanes with, instead of taking a draft pick.