As the NHL slowly gets back up to speed with a new season on the horizon in 2021, we here at Raw Charge completed our annual Top 25 Under 25 prospect ranking as we do every summer for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s not quite as warm out this time, but nevertheless, we got a new crop of prospects at the Draft, made some moves after free agency, and so we have a new roster to talk about.
Last year after the 25 articles were up, I provided a postmortem for our ranking, comparing it to the year before, and seeing where the writers and readers disagreed. I’m here to do that again and there are some really interesting things I want to talk about it. If you want to read last year’s version, I’ve linked it below, but for now let’s get into it!
We have a handy group called “Top 25 Under 25” where we’ve placed all of our articles. It’s a good place to go in case you missed any and are curious. Go click it! We put in a lot of work and would really appreciate it!
2020 Top 25 Under 25 Ranking Breakdown
|Name||Position||Age||Final Rank||Writer Rank||Reader Rank||2019 Rank|
|Name||Position||Age||Final Rank||Writer Rank||Reader Rank||2019 Rank|
2020 Top 25 Under 25 Writers Votes
I picked out three players from our list that made the biggest jump year over year from 2019. All three made a step to the next level and made a name from themselves from the mess that is usually a prospect pool. I didn’t go into any of the big droppers here because they show up later in the article.
Stephens has been in the mushy middle for the last few years since being drafted in the second round in 2015, but this year he shot all the way up to #6 upon making his NHL debut and showing himself to be a really exciting and difficult bottom six forward to play against.
From afar, it’s really hard to tell what kind of NHLer a player is going to be when they’re in the AHL, often because their role is at the top of the lineup because they’re generally the best players on the team. That was the case for Stephens, who was a productive top-six player for the Syracuse Crunch, but not enough to warrant consideration for him to do similar things in the NHL. But as it turns out, he’s a really heckin’ good forechecker and defensive annoyance when he’s on the ice.
I’ll admit I didn’t pick up on Colton this year and was an outlier on him in our voting — even though we are nearly twins when it comes to our birthdays! I had him 16th whereas everyone else ranked him above or below the 10th spot on their rankings. But wait, let me go back, who is Ross Colton?
Geo did a really great write-up on who Colton is on the ice as a player; proving his worth on the defensive end and by carrying a toolbox that can give him opportunities where other players fall short. He came from college, spent two years on the Crunch including last year where he really stepped up into a leading role. Now, many at this site see him with a legitimate shot at the NHL roster this season.
And with Taxi Squads a thing for this season, there is the potential that he can win himself a job through training camp and practice. His playing style lines up perfectly with that path to the NHL.
So for us and Ross Colton, we saw a bunny hop last year and are now anticipating big things ahead. (Big on the scale of NHL games, to be fair).
The 19-year-old Swedish goalie who stops pucks caught our eye as he began a 2020-21 season in September while the rest of us were twiddling our thumbs in our houses. With nothing else to do, we watched his second SHL season and are getting ready to watch him at the World Juniors.
Alnefelt is a big goalie with exceptional positioning and reflexes. He’s described as calm and collected, both of which are characteristics I love. No, I’m not hating Andrei Vasilevskiy, he has always acted like a spider, but has learned over the years to be more patient. Alnefelt is the first goalie prospect we have been able to get excited about since Connor Ingram, and before that Vasy.
Maybe in a few years he’ll come over, the Crunch could definitely use a protege in net instead of the merry-go-round of goalies they have now (nine different goalies in the past two years).
In this section, I’ll look at the differences we, the writers, had with you, the readers. Other than the bottom five of our lists being completely dissimilar, there are a couple prospects whom the writers ranked relatively high and the readers had at the bottom. I’ll talk about the two and then talk about why that’s the case.
The Lightning’s third round pick this year is another one of those low-upside prospects whom the team hopes can stay on the third line as they move up leagues. Groshev isn’t a very good offensive contributor, but he’s pretty good on the defensive side, transitions the puck well, and can be annoying in a productive way.
The Lightning see a third liner in him, which is where he is now in the KHL. That high NHL likelihood is what got him for us, because even though physically he’s very far away from North America, it could be a short trip from the AHL to the NHL once he arrives.
Egor Korshkov is an example of this path who’s a few years ahead of Groshev. He played in the KHL for a while, made the jump to the AHL last year and made his NHL debut within the year. Granted, Korshkov is more of a scorer, but it’s more about the ability to make that transition.
Cajkovic got himself in the news over here this month when he was kicked off Slovakia’s World Junior roster for injuring his teammate in camp. The young winger was set to be a first line player in the tournament and had the opportunity to really show what he had as a 19-year-old at the U20 tournament, but he made a dumb decision and it’s certainly set him back in our eyes at the moment.
Cajkovic has a deep arsenal of NHL tools at his disposal. What he’ll need to do moving forward is collect them into a toolbox that he can use reliably and get past the mental mistakes that have apparently put him in hot water more than once.
We ranked these players back in November and Cajkovic was around the teens for the writers, a place full of maybes who are still working away but haven’t made any big splashes yet, while the readers ended up listing him 24th in likely the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ category.
General Youth vs. Experience
We just won the Cup and want to win another one, not many fans are thinking about 18/19 year old prospects and considering them to be more valuable than someone who is a lot closer to the NHL. And being completely honest, the Bolts draft this fall was pretty lacklustre, even considering the picks they had.
So we get it that prospects that we don’t know much about fall to the wayside in these rankings. The reason why a lot of us writers ranked them so high is because it’s partially our job to make the case for these prospects and provide that insight for readers. We pushed for a lot of young prospects in their first year so they could get their names on the board and in our heads for years to come.
This is where things got interesting. There are three highly volatile players here who were ranked in vastly different places among the writers. They oddly fall in the similar category of “lots of offensive firepower, but lacking the ability to put it together consistently.” Let’s get into it.
First up is Taylor Raddysh, who I’m pretty comfortable being done with at this point. I’ve ranked him low in back-to-back prospect rankings after being quite high on him coming out of junior. He hasn’t grown up and he hasn’t learned how to play pro hockey in the AHL. At 23 in February, Raddysh is what he is going to be. His point totals have stagnated and too much of his production comes from the power play and not enough is coming at 5v5. There’s been no progression, his power play minutes go up but his shot rate and total points stay the same.
Despite being a top-six AHL forward with top power play time, he’s farther from the NHL than someone like Eamon Powell. Compare him to last year’s Mitchell Stephens and it’s clear how stat lines can be similar for two players, but the result on the ice and how those two players get those stats can be very different. Stephens got to the NHL by working hard and being focused, Raddysh hasn’t shown either of those qualities in the AHL, let alone the NHL.
I think it’s time we leave his draft stock behind and come to terms with where he is now and that this is likely his peak.
ABB is a great story. Swept up as a QMJHL free agent to become a leading scorer in the AHL, that’s a big accomplishment and no one can take that away from him. But looking at ABB now as a potential NHLer, like Raddysh, I don’t think there’s much farther to go with him. ABB plays an offensive game with great finesse and vision, but a lot of what he does is on the power play, and for the Tampa Bay Lightning, those minutes are not going to happen.
Stylistically, I think the Lightning have a very specific type of player they want in their bottom six — like Stephens, Colton, as well as the ones they drafted this year in Groshev and Jack Finley — and ABB doesn’t fit that bill. I think it’s likely they bring him onto the Taxi Squad and see if they can get away with one player being flashy with a couple babysitters around him, but with the team generally playing 11F/7D, usually it’s the big guns who do that on the bottom lines.
Usually the top-six of an AHL team and the bottom-six of an NHL team are very different, because the two two spots require different skills. If you have it, you can be good at both levels, but if you don’t, it’s hard to crack into the next level.
I could be completely wrong on ABB and he is another Mitchell Stephens, I definitely hope that’s the case. Even though I ranked him low, I’ll still be rooting for him. A Taxi Squad spot will give him a chance to prove me and everyone else wrong.
The 23-year-old second round pick from 2017 (an overager) made his NHL debut last year. Volkov played nine games for the Lightning at a couple points in the season, getting a chance at the top of the lineup and then at the bottom.
Alex, Justin, and Lauren all ranked him a bit farther down than the rest of us who had him at the end of our top-10s I think partially because there are some young up-and-comers who might leapfrog their way above last year’s depth guys. Mathieu Joseph was the other one could reasonably be passed over by some younger options. That said, that afro is keeping him firmly in my top-10 and I won’t hear any arguments against it.