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Tampa Bay Lightning 2019 Top 25 Under 25, #12: All eyes are on Carter Verhaeghe

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,,,No pressure, though.

Syracuse Crunch Carter Verhaeghe (21) with the puck against the Laval Rocket in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, New York on Wednesday, February 20, 2019. Syracuse won 4-2.
Scott Thomas Photography

There’s not much left to be said about Tampa Bay Lightning organizational forward Carter Verhaeghe. In fact, so much has been said about him lately that it’s hard to imagine the center isn’t feeling just a little bit of pressure about this upcoming season. Thanks to the late-summer trade of Adam Erne, the Lightning have a spot open for an up-and-comer, and all eyes are on Verhaeghe with the expectation that he’ll claim that spot.

Ranking Verhaeghe was a lot easier this season than last season. When the forward was traded to the Lightning organization during the summer of 2017, he was a big question mark, a mixed bag of ECHL and AHL time. The trade gave Verhaeghe his first full season in the AHL during 2017-18, something he made the most of, earning the trust of Syracuse Crunch head coach Ben Groulx, and the gaze of the organization. Ranked 20 last summer on our list, Verhaeghe was poised to make something special out of his first consistent pro season, to build on the chance he had been given.

I’d say he did all of those things, and more.

This year, both our readers and our writers were much more aware of Verhaeghe and his potential. Last season, the writers ranked Verhaeghe anywhere from 23rd to 10th, but this season the spread was much smaller, with a low rank of 16th and a high rank of 7th. If we eliminate that high rank of 7th (which I feel comfortable doing, since it was me), the spread gets even smaller with a high rank of 10th. Our readers averaged out at 13th. Clearly, Verhaeghe has established himself in the eyes of many, which isn’t really a surprise given the season he had.

Verhaeghe’s list of accomplishments from the 2018-19 AHL season are many, but the biggest impact to his future career might not have been the accolades he collected. The biggest thing Verhaeghe did last season was be consistent in a sea of inconsistencies. From puck drop in October until puck flop in April, when the Crunch was rudely ousted from the Calder Cup playoffs in the first round, Verhaeghe maintained a cool, calm, and collected attitude. That attitude played a part in a season that saw Verhaeghe rack up the minutes, the points, and the trust. Crunch head coach Groulx knew he had a stable veteran in Verhaeghe, and didn’t hesitate to put a lot on the center’s shoulders.

Verhaeghe responded beautifully to the chance he was given. By the end of the season, he had achieved the following:

The AHL

Verhaeghe didn’t reach these totals by accident. A smart player who kept his penalty minutes down and his shots up, he was given a lot of ice time and he made the most of it. He became known for both his pretty snipes and his hard work, something displayed in the following goals from a tilt against the Laval Rocket:

In the first goal, Verhaeghe demonstrates the great vision he had all season, apparently spying an open spot above the goalie’s left shoulder. The puck just scoots in, hitting the top corner of the net. In the second tally, which is shown at the 3:29 mark of the video, Verhaeghe turned on the jets to keep up perfectly with teammate Gabriel Dumont. He then used his physicality and tenacity to muscle his way in front of the net, putting himself in the perfect position to pop the puck in off of a rebound.

In a season that was by far his personal best, perhaps one could say the only thing missing was an NHL call up. The Lightning were fairly healthy at forward this past season, and the acquisition of Danick Martel at the start allowed for the Crunch to have a mostly stable forward group. Verhaeghe clearly benefited from all of this, although it would be understandable if he was slightly bitter over missing out on the chance to show the NHL what he could do.

Luckily for Verhaeghe, that chance could be coming sooner rather than later. The Lightning has a wide-open spot in the forward group after the Erne trade for 2019-20, and all indications point to Tampa filling it from within. Verhaeghe, who is waiver-eligible this season and who probably has a lot of eyes outside of Tampa on him, should be first in line to fill that spot.