The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that the team has signed forward Jack Finley to a three-year entry level contract. Finley was the Lightning’s first player selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, 57th overall in the second round. In 61 games last season for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL, Finley recorded 19 goals and 57 points with 32 PIM.
Standing at 6’5” and weighing 207 pounds, Finley already has an NHL frame. To give a NHL size comparison, Patrik Laine is listed at 6’5” and 206 pounds. Being only 18 years old and already having that much weight, there’s the possibility that he could get up to the 220 to 230 range in his prime as he adds more muscle. Brian Boyle, another very large center, is listed at 6’6” and 245 pounds. Finley also has an NHL pedigree in father Jeff Finley who played 708 games in the NHL on the blue line.
Finley has pretty good hands for a big man, but his skating still needs work. Luckily the Lightning have one of the best skating coaches in the NHL in Barb Underhill to help him smooth out his stride and more effectively use his strength on the ice. Finley is capable defensively and has contributed on the penalty kill for Spokane. His offense took a big step forward in 2019-20 as he got more ice time and moved up from the bottom six role he played in 2018-19. He could definitely stand to put the puck in the back of the net more.
He has yet to play a competitive game in 2020-21. He is currently on loan to the West Kelowna Warriors in the BCHL, but that is only due to the WHL having not started back up yet. He also will have some hurdles to clear in crossing the border to get to Spokane from his home in Canada.
Taking a player in the second round and signing him this quickly after the draft, especially when he’ll still have two more seasons in the WHL before he can turn professional, is a sign that the Lightning really believe in his NHL potential. If he can get his skating to come along far enough, as well as improve his shooting and offensive skills, he has the potential to play in the top six, but it’s still a long shot for that kind of outcome. If he’s to make it into the top six as a center, he would have to be a more complete two-way forward than he currently is. The more likely path for him to the top six would be as a more complementary winger with size and puck battling ability in a similar role as Alex Killorn or Ondrej Palat.
The most likely outcome for Finley is as a bottom six center on the third or fourth line. He has the defensive skills and the size that I believe that fourth line center is the floor for his potential. If he can bring enough offense to the ice at the NHL level, then playing a shutdown third line role, similar to what Anthony Cirelli did when he first made it up to the NHL, would not be out of the question.
For the 2020-21 season, whenever it gets going, I want to see Finley continue to round out his game, improve his skating, and put up some big offensive numbers. He was close to a point per game last season in the WHL which is a good sign, but you really want to see a player dominate in the CHL to show that they have enough offense to make an impact in the AHL and then bring enough offense to the NHL to play the game at the top level of hockey.