It’s been a heck of an offseason. Most things have been different previous years, but we at Raw Charge have remained determined to keep one aspect of our summer the same: The Top 25 Under 25 prospect ranking for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Today marks Day 1 of our content series, starting with a post later this morning on who’s been taken off the list from last summer. We’ll then go into the honorable mentions and then the 25 player profiles for the rest of November and into December.
Last week, we asked you, the readers of our humble site, to give us your input on the list. We averaged your votes and gave you a ballot alongside the writers. The following six names are ones with whom we disagreed with you the most! Sorry! Here are six names that didn’t make the Top 25 Under 25 list that was on the final consolidated Reader Ranking.
Ben Thomas, LD
Ben Thomas didn’t get a single vote from any of the writers and ended up 17th in the reader ranking. At 24, the defenseman is in the final season of eligibility, and while being a staple on the Syracuse Crunch for four seasons, he’s not on the NHL radar and therefore not expected to provide direct value.
That said, I can conceive of a structure of valuation where Thomas gets some points. He can be a mentor to NHL prospects and help them grow into the league off the ice and by keeping the Syracuse Crunch a competitive team so those prospects can flourish.
I’m stretching here, to be honest. I can’t reasonably say that value provided is better than 25 players in the Lightning system that are either in the NHL or have the potential to get here. That said, I would love to hear alternate perspectives.
Radim Salda, LD
Salda was 18th last year and actually squeaked into my Top 25 Under 25 list at 24th. However, I was the only writer to rank him, which I found really odd. I’ll explain why.
Salda, when he was drafted, was a top defenseman in the QMJHL playing on a really bad Saint John Sea Dogs team (like, really bad). His plus/minus was terrible in that season, but when you compare his GF%, it was about even relative to his teammates. He was getting top minutes, having to play up against tougher competition without much help, and he mostly stayed afloat. That’s impressive to me. The next year, he was on Alexis Lafreiniere’s Rimouski Oceanic and was their second-leading scorer among defensemen playing behind the captain and overager.
Last season, he moved to the Czech Extraliga. Men’s hockey at 20, and put up top-10 numbers amongst defensemen in the league on a middle-of-the-pack team. He played about 13 minutes a night at even strength plus power play and penalty kill minutes. I say again, this is an impressive resume to me. Year over year, he’s increased his level of play and has matched it to be one of the better defensemen in his bubble.
Salda is on the path to the NHL, and at least is going to see time in the AHL very soon. He’s only 21 and in his second season against men. I can see him making the jump to the AHL at the end of his season this year and showing us what he has. He hasn’t gotten much ink, but pay attention, because he is a dark horse. With the way COVID-19 has affected hockey this season, the European pipeline is going to have more value than ever. They’ve been playing for months. And for years before that, they’ve been producing great players for leagues there or here in North America.
I like taking bets on prospects a year before they put themselves on the scene. I’ve has Pierre Engvall on Toronto and Dominik Masin on the Crunch in the past, Salda is my guy this year.
Mikhail Shalagin, W
This big winger from Russia killed it in the Russian Jr. league before trying his stuff in the ECHL last season. Like a lot of prospects, there are raw tools here that look great on paper and in highlight reels, but when you put his full game together, it’s quite stunted.
In the MHL, where he put up 75 points in 43 games two seasons ago, is a very run-and-gun league where shots come from the outside, defense is a myth and goalies range from legit prospects to really really bad. It’s a league where Russians are just allowed to play and not make the game too complicated. It works for a lot of rush players, but it’s terrible at translating to pro hockey without a lot of time in other — frankly more serious — leagues.
I don’t think Shalagin has grown past that and developed a framework of play around his tools. For that reason, and his abysmal ECHL season where he just wanted to shoot and not do anything else, I couldn’t rank him.
Otto Somppi, C
Five of us writers ranked Somppi at the back end of our ballots. I’ve personally liked Somppi and the energy he brings to the game since he made his AHL debut and still believe there’s some value that can be extracted here.
He’s learning to play center in the AHL on the bottom six and he’s succeeded in being a positive results player for them. I think the problem with Somppi — who was ranked 20th last year — is a combination of his age and the fact that he didn’t give us reasons to be excited last season. He’s going to be 23 when the AHL gets going, and unless he can be a top-six player, it’s hard to see him peeking beyond the AHL.
Right now, he’s been loaned to the Liiga (Finland) to play with the Lahden Pelicans, but he hasn’t gotten in a game yet. We’ll see where that trip takes him, being able to train with a team off the ice is still a positive. I just would’ve hoped, at his age, he would be a staple on a Liiga team, especially one that is middling in terms of the standings.
Jack Finley, C
Finley is technically the Bolts top pick from this past Draft, but he doesn’t really feel like one for some reason. He is a very big center who played in the WHL last year and was nearly a point per game, but his flaws make it concerning whether he’s more than a junior success story.
Scouts point out skating as a top issue for him, being able to keep up with pros in the AHL and NHL is very key, you can’t be slow in this league. The other aspect that I might find more worrying is his competitiveness and consistency. He’ll fight guys, but keeping him engaged and using his size usefully in puck battles was a headache.
Often, players in the CHL will get comfortable beating up on players smaller than them because they physically matured early and didn’t have to work to stay at the top of the lineup. Hitting the AHL or NHL is a major wake-up call. Taylor Raddysh is definitely one of those players who struggled when he wasn’t the coolest, most talented player on the team penned in on the first line. Meanwhile, athletes like Brayden Point never took their feet of the gas and worked hard all the way through the NHL.
Finley is someone who I almost feel needs to convince me to believe in his potential, because at the moment, he’s getting away with a lot.
Alexei Lipanov, C
Blink, and all of a sudden Lipanov is 21 and sliding below expectations since coming over from Russia in 2017. Like with Somppi, there are few reasons to be excited about Lipanov and that things will turn around for him to have an NHL career. He wasn’t on any writer ballots this summer.
He started his North American career in the OHL with the Barrie Colts after being drafted, but while he succeeded there, his production has dropped on every subsequent team he’s been on. He didn’t stick in the AHL after a tryout and spent the year on the Orlando Solar Bears, where he struggled both offensively and defensively. He’s on loan to the VHL (Russian AHL) right now and his scoring has yet to find him.
Sammy Walker is making a name for himself in the NCAA.
They also really like these guys.— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) November 9, 2020
And we can't blame them, we're big fans too. pic.twitter.com/EI5LDxXLl7
Former Lightning prospect Jaroslav Janus really making like his namesake and transitioning to a new beginning.
Former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie prospect Jaroslav Janus has signed with Hungarian-based club Fehervar AV19 in the Austrian ICEHL.— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) November 9, 2020
Since heading back to Europe in 2012, he has spent time in the KHL and Czech league. pic.twitter.com/pzycRsksI7
This article from The Athletic goes through how the Lightning and NHL are working on Stanley Cup Days for all the players and staff. Obviously during the pandemic moving the Cup around the world is...difficult. [The Athletic]
“With COVID-19 and border restrictions, this will be an extremely challenging endeavor. And it will look much different than in year’s past. But there are Lightning Cup days scheduled through the rest of November and early December in Tampa, according to team executive VP of communications Bill Wickett. Wickett said the league doesn’t want more than 10 people at these events, so there could be several cases of players doing it at their homes.”