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2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning Player Grades: Mathieu Joseph was a pleasant surprise

He broke into the NHL this year, but he still has room to grow.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.

Ah, Mathieu Joseph. What a pleasant surprise you were this season.

From pretty early on in the summer, when the rookies started to gather in Tampa Bay for training camp ahead of the rest of the team, the signs were there that Joseph was in contention for a roster spot. He was joined in that conversation by Mitchell Stephens and Erik Cernak. Only Joseph made the team out of training camp, but Cernak made his debut and stuck for the long haul not long after. Stephens was definitely on the cusp, but didn’t quite make it on to the team and injuries derailed much of his season.

As a fourth round pick and a second year professional, there really weren’t many expectations for Joseph’s first NHL season. Joseph put up 15 goals and 53 points in 70 games as a rookie with the Syracuse Crunch in 2017-18. He added three more goals and seven points in seven playoff games. His speed and tenacity helped him earn his NHL roster spot, along with putting on a little extra weight as he’s transforming himself from a teenager’s body into a man’s body.

I ended up grading him a C+, which was probably a little harsher than I really intended to give him. There are a few areas of his that I’d like to see some improvement on in 2019-20. A number of our other writers agreed, but our Syracuse Crunch expert Alex was especially excited about his progression into the NHL and gave him an A+. Which, in some respects, maybe he earned. I don’t think we really considered him a serious contender to be impactful at the end of last season, yet he made the jump anyway. Overall, the Writers graded him out as a B, with the Readers giving him a B-. This came out to an overall grade of B-.

As the following card shows, he was average to a little above average for his role on the ice for the Lightning. Wins Above Replacement and the expected goal impacts come from Evolving Hockey. The xG impacts include all situations.

Joseph played much of the year on the third line next to Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli. He was a good complement to that line, providing high end speed and forechecking. When he wasn’t with them, he was on the fourth line or he was scratched. He finished the season with 13 goals and 26 points over 70 games. He went scoreless in four playoff games.

Joseph began the year playing on the penalty kill, but was soon replaced there. While his speed offered the possibility of short handed opportunities, he turned out to be a bit of a liability defensively. There’s still some potential there for him to improve that part of his game and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back on the penalty kill at some other point in his career, because his speed is such an asset there.

Joseph ended up middle of the pack among the Lightning’s forwards in almost every advanced stats category at even strength. I do believe he was the weakest link of the third line with Cirelli and Killorn, but he certainly contributed to their success throughout the season. Scoring 13 goals was nice to see, but I still have some small concerns here.

Through his juniors career, Joseph exhibited a good scoring touch putting in 21, 33, and 36 goals in the QMJHL. His assists totals were always right in the vicinity of his goal scoring totals. His rookie season in the AHL diverged from this trend, though, as he only scored 15 goals, but had 38 assists. Maybe I was expecting a bit too much from those trends and had expected to see more assists from him in the NHL, but he only came up with 13.

The biggest concern I saw here was his hands and his shot. Because of his speed and motor, he provided himself with a lot of Grade A chances and beautiful rush attempts, rush attempts that a better shooter would have buried far more often than he did. While he finished with a respectable 13.7% shooting, I would have liked to see him hit the mark more often on those chances. The other side of the coin is that he balanced it by getting gritty goals from around the net, and ended up outperforming his Individual Expected Goals per 60.

I’ve mentioned his speed a number of times already, but it really is a big and important part of his game. He used his speed effectively on the forecheck and used his speed to hit harder than one might have expected from him. He only committed 13 minor penalties, with 11 coming at even strength. Even with his speed, he only managed to draw 9 minor penalties. In all situations though, it was evened up at 13 taken and 13 drawn.

Overall, Joseph came in to the NHL and fit in well in the Lightning’s bottom six. He has room to grow, but the third line is his most likely ceiling in the NHL. I remember seeing a comment on Twitter earlier this season that went something like this:

Think about that bottom six forward that you constantly go ‘Oh, he just missed on that one!’ That’s the difference between him being a bottom six and a top six forward.

As soon as I saw that, I instantly thought of Joseph. Pretty often, I see people praising him on Twitter with fans thinking he can, and should, be in the top six over players that have consistently performed and proven that they belong in the top six. Joseph isn’t there. Even when he got his chances to play on the top two lines, he wasn’t suddenly scoring a lot more. We’ll need to see some big improvements in his offense, hands, and shooting for him to move out of the bottom six.

In the meantime, his speed, forechecking, and defensive play has served him well in fitting in with the Lightning in the NHL. I’ll be expecting to see some improvements from him next year as he becomes a better third line winger alongside Anthony Cirelli.