Two years after being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Cole Guttman makes his debut in our Top 25 Under 25 series. He was selected 180th overall in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Being a small forward at 5’9” and 168 pounds, plus being drafted so late, he is a long shot to ever make it to the NHL.
Guttman ended up not being ranked by the readers, which isn’t a surprise. As an NCAA prospect, a late rounder, and a player that hasn’t lit up the score sheet yet, he’s not exactly a sexy pick. Of the ten staff voters, he wasn’t ranked by three of the staff. Matt and Achariya had the highest ranks on him at 18th, while loserpoints and I ranked him 19th on our lists. He also got a vote each at 23rd, 24th, and 25th. With a good freshman year, he started putting himself more on the staff’s radar, and we hope he’ll be more on the radar for fans after his sophomore season.
Guttman was drafted out of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. There, he’d scored 27 goals and 54 points in 53 games to get the attention of Lightning scouts. In 2017-18, he only got into 17 games and recorded six goals and 11 points. He had also been named the Captain of the Fighting Saints, but obviously didn’t get much of an opportunity to be a leader from the sidelines.
Last year, he made his way to the University of Denver and recorded 14 goals and 26 points in 41 games as a 19 year-old freshman. Guttman finished fifth on the team in points, fourth among forwards, and his 14 goals were third on the team. Among U20 NCAA players, he finished tied for 13th in points and tied for 8th among forwards in points. He also tied for 4th in goals.
Playing with Denver, Guttman is in a good program with a capable coaching staff that made it to the Frozen Four this year. The staff is led by former Lightning draftee David Carle, the younger brother of Matt Carle. The younger Carle never played professionally though as he had already been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, when he was drafted. The Lightning made the pick to fulfill his dream of being drafted though and David went right into coaching.
Denver’s coaching staff also includes Dallas Ferguson, long time head coach of University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The other assistant coach is Tavis MacMillan who had also been a coach at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and spent eight years as an amateur scout for the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets. The team manager is former NHL goaltender Ben Scrivens.
Guttman has a lot of speed, which isn’t a surprise from a small forward having offensive success. He is a small forward, so he’ll need to continue to show improvement in his offensive output in NCAA to work his way towards the professional ranks and hopefully to the NHL. Realistically, I would like to see him get up towards the point per game mark over the next season or two to feel better about his future. There are plenty of freshman forwards that fit into the same vein that never took that step forward and never made it to the NHL.
At this point, the more optimistic projection for him is as a third liner, perhaps moving over to the wing, that can provide some scoring depth with the potential of helping out on the second power play unit as a trigger man. With big steps forward in his offensive game, he could settle in more as a middle six forward in the 40 point range that can step in on the second line in a pinch. His floor is most likely as a top six AHL talent that eventually goes on to be a really good player in a European league.
Being an NCAA player, the Lightning will control his rights for three more years, or until the August after he leaves school. The Lightning have always given NCAA players the option of when they want to leave school, never pressuring them to leave before they want to. If he can take that next step and be an offensive dynamo, then we could see him leave early and make his way to the Syracuse Crunch for 2020-21. But I would expect him to be at Denver for at least two more years and maybe three before he turns pro.