Before we get started on the Top 25 Under 25 players in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, we take a look at five players that just missed the cut after we averaged out the readers and the writers rankings. Of the five players, only one has professional hockey experience. All five fall into the long-range prospect category. They are all mid-round picks (except for the new guy on the list) and have been developing either in Europe or in college for the last few seasons.
They are the type of player that is drafted and then kind of pushed out of memory for the next few seasons while they develop. Once they finish their college or junior hockey career they kind of make it back onto the radar a bit if they turn pro.
It is possible, based on how much (or if) they play this season that they could make it onto next year’s list.
22 years old
Drafted in the seventh round in 2016
2019-20 Stats: AHL - Syracuse Crunch - 45 games, 5 goals, 13 assists, 24 PIMS
Hardev mentioned Somppi yesterday as a player where the readers and the writers disagreed. He just missed making the final list for the second straight year after debuting at #23 in 2018. Here’s what Hardev had to say about the young Finn:
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.
Somppi’s development has been a little slow, but there was progress last season. He spent the entire year in Syracuse, made it into a career-high 45 AHL games and posted career bests in goals (5), assists (13), and points (18). The one thing that stands out in his game is ability to pass the puck. It wouldn’t be out of line to say he might be the best passer on the Crunch roster.
If he returns from Europe when the AHL boots back up it is conceivable that he slots in as the second or third line center this season and sees an increased role on the power play. There are going to be openings on the Crunch offense and if he improves his all around game, he could earn quite a bit of playing time.
The long term prognosis probably isn’t great in a Lightning system that is crowded with forwards with similar skill sets. His defensive game hasn’t evolved to the point where he could succeed in the NHL as a bottom-six forward and he’s yet to distinguish himself from the pack.
20 years old
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 draft
2019-20 Stats: NCHC - University of Denver - 27 games, 16-6-4 record, 2.15 GAA, .920 SV%
Chrona will most likely be engaged in a battle with Hugo Alnefelt and Amir Miftakhov over the next few seasons for the title of “ best future Lightning goaltender” (as well as a battle for the most times I have to look up how to spell a goaltender’s name). At this point he’s most likely a little behind the other two, but if he can follow up with another strong season with the Pioneers he might shake up the order a bit.
He’s a big goaltender (6’4”, 209 lbs) who relies on a positional game to succeed. Like most goaltenders drafted in later rounds, he is a bit of a project and probably won’t be turning pro for another season or two. His development was accelerated a bit with a boost in playing time last season when starter Devin Cooley was injured early in the season and Chrona responded with a really good season.
The Lightning are experiencing a bit of a gap in their goalie pipeline at the professional level. Of course, it helps to have a young Andrei Vasilevskiy manning the crease in Tampa under a long term contract. After him, though, it’s a patched together set of veteran journeymen. The kids mentioned above are all at least a year away from even thinking about turning pro. Even after that they do that, it’s probably at least two more seasons in Syracuse before they see the light of day with the Bolts. So there is still plenty of time for Chrona to move up the list.
22 years old
Drafted in the fourth round in 2018
2019-20 Stats: ECAC - Cornell University - 29 games, 7 goals, 9 assists, 33 PIMS
This is lining up to be a big season for Green, and it could vault him up the rankings. Earlier this year he decided to forgo his senior year at Cornell as he signed an entry-level contract with the Lightning. Hopefully, the ECAC Best Defenseman in 2019-20 will earn regular playing time with the Syracuse Crunch and bring some much needed depth on the blueline to the Lightning system.
He plays on the right-side of the ice and has a little bit of size to him (6’2”, 187 lbs). Outside of that he is a bit of an unknown commodity. He only has 78 games of college experience in his three years (concussion issues shortened his sophomore season) and in a non-Covid, parallel universe he probably returns to Cornell for his senior season. So there will be a little bit of an on-the-job learning curve for him in the pros.
If he is successful in Syracuse, he will most likely be among the Top 25 list next season. Heck, even if he struggles a bit he might crack the list because we all value a right-side defenseman.
18 years old
Drafted in the second round in 2020
2019-20 Stats: WHL - Spokane Chiefs - 61 games, 19 goals, 38 assists, 32 PIMS
Another player that was on Hardev’s list from yesterday, there could be a bit of recency bias in regards to Finley. As the most recent high draft pick in the system it’s probably not a great sign that he didn’t crack the Top 25 on the writers’ side of the equation. It could also be our perceived bias against a player that doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of players the Lightning have drafted during the Al Murray era. Hardev writes:
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.
Finley is a big guy who doesn’t seem to share the same hockey instincts we are used to seeing from Lightning draft picks. The good news is that there is still time for him to improve his game. At this point, though, it’s hard to envision him having a more successful career than other folks we’ll see along the way in this project. The best case scenario is that he has a strong season when the WHL fires back up and we see improvement in his skating and decision making.
22 years old
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 draft
2019-20 Stats: NCHC - St. Cloud State - 34 games, 4 goals, 11 assists, 25 PIMS
Perbix was another collegiate player that we thought might turn pro due to the uncertainty of the college schedule. He ended up staying with St. Cloud State for his third season and their season is scheduled to get under way in December.
That’s the right move for the young blueliner who projects out to be a stay-at-home, sixth or seventh defender once he turns pro. While he moves the puck pretty well and has solid breakout passing he could use some work on his skating.
Based on his history Perbix is a bit of a grinder. He’s never been a high end prospect, often starting on “B” squad teams before working his way up to the top teams. At St. Cloud State he was thrust into a top-pairing last season due to the graduation of the top blueliners. The good news is that whenever he’s moved up, he’s been able to hold his own and advance.
Another season in college and perhaps some late season games on an ATO with the Crunch should give us a better idea of where his future lies in the organization.
Those are five players that are on the cusp of making the Top 25. On Thursday we’ll see who they might knock off as our number 25 player under the age of 25 is revealed.