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2020 Raw Charge Top 25 Under 25: #22 Cole Guttman

Everyone’s favorite bad superhero name prospect!

NHL: JUN 29 Lightning Development Camp Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I feel like I make this joke every year, but I have to make it again. Doesn’t Cole Guttman just seem like the best bad superhero name ever? Just imagine what kind of superhero Guttman would be? It definitely brings some funny images to mind. Unfortunately, Cole Guttman isn’t quite a super hero, but he is a prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I feel like I make this joke every year, but I have to make it again. Doesn’t Cole Guttman just seem like the best bad superhero name ever? Just imagine what kind of superhero Guttman would be? It definitely brings some funny images to mind. Unfortunately, Cole Guttman isn’t quite a super hero, but he is a prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I actually did not have Guttman ranked this year. Doing the Rankings for the Top 25 Under 25 always comes down to each individuals methods for ranking players. There’s definitely a balance between current ability and future potential that has to be weighed. For example, where do you rank someone like Mitchell Stephens who has made the NHL as a 4th liner and is unlikely to rise much higher than that against someone like Maxim Groshev who was just drafted, far from the NHL, but has a higher potential in the NHL at this point in time.

For me, what prevented Guttman from making the cut is that I don’t feel like his development in NCAA hockey has come along far enough. He made his NCAA debut as a 19-year-old in 2018-19 with the University of Denver after having missed most of the 2017-18 season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL because of an injury.

Guttman was noticed by the Lightning’s scouting staff in his draft year putting up 27 goals and 54 points in 53 games for Dubuque in 2016-17. The team saw enough to give him a shot, drafting him 180th overall in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Guttman is a small forward prospect though. As much as we like to think that the Lightning don’t care about size, and have made it work with smaller forwards, it’s not completely a non-factor. If a player is small, he needs to be great in other areas to make up for it, such as with speed and skating, hockey IQ, and defensive play.

Since debuting with the University of Denver in 2018-19, Guttman has put up 28 goals and 54 points in 76 games. Playing with Denver, he’s also playing for one of the best NCAA programs in the country and has been coached by former Lightning draft pick David Carle (not Matt Carle, David’s older brother). He led Denver in goals in 2019-20 and was tied for fourth on the team in points. In 2018-19, he was third on the team in goals with 14 and fifth in points with 26.

While offensive production isn’t the end all, be all of player projections, it’s still a big indicator of future success for forwards. A player that doesn’t have the offensive skills to be a top scorer two or three levels below the NHL is unlikely to suddenly become a top scorer in the AHL and have enough skill to make the jump to the NHL. Even more so if the player doesn’t offer something else like defensive play, faceoff percentage, or penalty killing. When a player’s main contribution is offensive, their offense needs to be noticeably better to make it to the NHL since they need to be able to produce at at least a third line level to stick around.

In Guttman’s case, offensively he’s been good, but not elite. He’s sitting under a point per game. From what I have seen in the past, a forward in the NCAA ranks needs to be at least a point per game player to make the jump into the NHL ranks. And even then it’s not a guarantee. Alex Killorn had a similar offensive output in NCAA hockey, but pushed beyond the point per game mark in his senior season. He also brought defense and penalty killing ability to the pro game as well as having good size.

Matthew Peca, another Lightning small forward NCAA draft pick, scored 0.91 points per game in NCAA, but only had one season, as a freshman, at the point per game mark and never broke past that. He turned out to be a decent offensive producer in the AHL and wasn’t strong defensively so he struggled to break in to the NHL. Even with the Montreal Canadiens giving Peca a chance to take their third center spot with a two-year free agent contract, Peca has only played 53 NHL games over the past two seasons, including nine for the Ottawa Senators after he was traded during the 2019-20 season.

Guttman can still spend two more seasons in NCAA hockey. For him to have an NHL future, he needs to show continued development of his offensive skills and push beyond that point per game mark. He also needs to continue to show improvement defensively and show that despite being a small player, he can bring more than just his offensive game to the ice. It’s possible that Guttman could jump from NCAA to AHL hockey following the 2020-21 season (assuming the NCAA plays this year). Or he could use up the last two years of his eligibility.

The potential is still there for him to make it to the NHL, but just like a lot of other players that get around that 21-23 year old mark, the shine starts to dull if they’re not making great strides towards the NHL. He has time to prove he’s capable and I hope he can take those steps forward to reach his potential as a third line, depth scorer in the NHL.