Coming in at the twelfth spot on the RawCharge Top 25 Under 25 is Tampa Bay Lightning forward prospect Ross Colton. Colton is a player that I’ve been fairly high on over the past year or so. He hasn’t been super splashy in the AHL offensively, but he plays a great all- around game. Even though, at 24, he is an older prospect, he has the traits that suggest he can make the transition to the NHL and be a useful player.
Colton was a bit all over the place in the rankings this year. He was ranked 25th last season and ended up 8th among the writers and 14th among the readers this year. The range of votes from the writers ran from 5th to 16th. I personally had him 12th on my list. I put him there because of the balance between upside and how close I feel he is to the NHL at this point in time.
Colton was selected by the Lightning in the 4th round, 118th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He was passed over in his first two times through the draft and the Lightning took a chance on him after a strong USHL season. In his first draft season, he played high school hockey and scored 25 goals and 43 points in 24 games. He followed that up with two seasons playing in the USHL. He put up 18 goals and 33 points in 58 games in his first season. He ratcheted that production up while also becoming the Captain of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders posting 35 goals and 66 points in 55 games.
After the Lightning drafted Colton, he moved on to the University of Vermont to play NCAA hockey. As a freshman, he recorded 12 goals and 27 points in 33 games. He followed that up with a 16 goals, 23 point sophomore campaign in 36 games. Colton then decided to make the jump to the pro game and signed a two year entry level contract with the Lightning prior to the 2018-19 season. As a rookie with the Syracuse Crunch, he recorded 14 goals and 31 points in 66 games. He followed that up with 11 goals and 42 points in 62 games.
Colton has good size for the NHL at 6’0” and 209 pounds. He’s a left shot center, but is more likely to play the wing in the NHL. Having that flexibility on the wing with faceoff abilities would allow the coaching staff to play match ups on the faceoff if he was paired with a right shot center like Mitchell Stephens on the fourth line.
Like I said in the introduction, Colton isn’t splashy offensively having only scored at a 0.57 points per game pace in the AHL. He has shown enough offensively, along with his defensive acumen, to make me think he can provide value on the fourth line.
The New Jersey native’s playing time in Syracuse increased greatly from his first to his second year. He spent most of his rookie season centering the third or fourth lines and seeing limited time on the power play. Due to his defensive abilities he did see some time on the penalty kill even as a first year player.
In his sophomore he saw his responsibilities increase along with his playing time. With more time on the power play he responded with five power goals and a team-leading ten assists with the man advantage. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could see some time on a second power play unit in the NHL.
While his overall goal production dipped a bit in 2019-20 (from 14 to 11) part of that was due to a decline in his shooting percentage. It went from 12.7% in his rookie year to 7.7% in his second year. Hopefully that was an aberration and with increased playing time in 2021, his goal numbers should rise as well.
At 24 years old, Colton is running out of time to make it to the NHL. Colton will be waiver exempt for the rest of this season though and has more time to develop if he doesn’t make the team out of camp or as a call up this season. At this point, I do have a hard time seeing a spot for him in the NHL even after the salary cap clearing moves that we expect to happen are made. Mitchell Stephens should have his spot secure. Mathieu Joseph and Alexander Volkov are both at risk to be claimed if they were waived.
But I look for Colton to be one of the top candidates for a call up this season, along with Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, Alex Barre-Boulet, and veteran Gemel Smith. One place that Colton stands out over the first three is his defense. Smith is probably on par and maybe slightly better defensively than Colton, but didn’t have the greatest showing at the beginning of 2019-20 for the Lightning. So if the need is for a fourth line winger or center, then I’d expect Colton to get the call over the first three. If someone with some offensive punch was needed, then it’s likely one of those three would get the call first.
While he waits for that call-up he should find himself as a top-six forward and first-line power play forward for the Crunch.