As of Monday, June 8th, the NHL has enacted Phase 2 of their Return to Play protocol, meaning the league is allowing players to return to their team cities and begin training at their designated practice facilities. Basically, hockey’s on it’s way back!
In the memo, the NHL instituted a roster limit of 28 skaters and unlimited goalies in order to keep teams from bringing their entire AHL team with them. Here is a look at who on the Tampa Bay Lightning is eligible for the playoffs this summer, and who among that group could make the cut.
Only players with NHL contracts for 2019-20 who are on the Lightning’s 50-player roster limit are allowed to play in the playoffs. No players on contracts who start next year and no prospects who are not on the 50-player roster (this is one of the things Montreal was complaining about with their top prospect, Alexander Romanov, if you noticed the media flare-up).
This is simple, the Bolts will probably bring with them Andrei Vasilevskiy, Curtis McElhinney, and AHL goalies Mike Condon, Scott Wedgewood, and Spencer Martin. It would be silly of them to go into the playoffs shorthanded in any way that is not necessary. They have five goalies on NHL contracts, they’re going to bring five goalies provided they’re healthy and able to play NHL minutes.
There is a small chance some of these players opt out of this isolated playoffs out of concerns for the health and safety of themselves or their families. Players should feel completely free to do so without judgement if they so choose. It’s not like they’re getting paid for the playoffs.
Here’s who is essentially locked in as they were on the active/injured roster at the time of the shutdown on March 12th.
Forwards: Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Blake Coleman, Cedric Paquette, Barclay Goodrow, Pat Maroon, Mitchell Stephens, Anthony Cirelli
Defense: Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Braydon Coburn, Jan Rutta, Zach Bogosian, Mikhail Sergachev, Luke Schenn, Erik Cernak
Assuming Jan Rutta is healthy after these 12 weeks off, this skater roster consists of 22 players. 13 forwards, and nine (9) defensemen.
Here’s who is not on the roster and eligible to fill in the remaining six spots and play for the Lightning.
Forwards: Alex Volkov, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Jimmy Huntington, Gabriel Fortier, Ryan Lohin, Ross Colton, Otto Somppi, Alex Barre-Boulet, Alexey Lipanov, Dennis Yan, Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith, Cory Conacher
Defense: Cal Foote, Devante Stephens, Oleg Sosunov, Cameron Gaunce, Ben Thomas, Daniel Walcott, Dominik Masin, Patrick Sieloff, Luke Witkowski, Dmitri Semykin
There are 14 forwards and 10 defensemen on this list. Of these players, the following six have some* NHL experience:
- Alex Volkov
- Mathieu Joseph
- Gemel Smith
- Cory Conacher
- Cameron Gaunce
- Luke Witkowski
*I do not count Sieloff because he played two games for the Ottawa Senators.
Considering how important NHL experience is going to be heading into these playoffs cold, having these six players fill the last of the 28 spots feels like a no-brainer. You have four forwards, all who can skate on the fourth line or higher, and two defensemen who can skate and play a competent game. However, there’s two players I think who have earned a shot despite their lack of NHL experience.
ABB had an All-Star season for the Crunch this year, leading the team in scoring and earning a spot on the Second All-Star Team for 2019-20. He followed up a breakout rookie year with an even better sophomore season, increasing his points rate and doing a lot more damage at 5v5 than on the power play like he did the year before.
Here’s what Justin had to say about ABB when it was announced he made the Second Team All-Star.
“In two seasons for the Crunch Barre-Boulet has put up 124 points (61 goals, 63 assists) in just 134 games. He’s been particularly lethal on the power play with 26 of those goals coming with the man advantage. A shifty skater, Barre-Boulet combines his excellent hockey vision with a surprisingly hard slap shot to keep offenses guessing.” - JustinG. [Raw Charge]
As a winger, ABB will be a lethal offensive player with an improved and competent defensive game. If the Lightning are looking to fill a hole higher in the lineup, there’s no one you’re going to get more bang for your buck than ABB. Why not shoot for a home run addition? You’re going for the Stanley Cup anyway.
A fourth round pick from 2016, Colton left the University of Vermont early and has put in two solid seasons for the Syracuse Crunch at center. He finished first in the team in assists (31) and second in points (42). His only downfall this season was an awful 7.7% shooting percentage despite being third in the team in shots. For comparison, he shot 12.7% last season and the forward average for the Crunch this year was about 13%.
When giving out his end-of-season awards, Justin gave Colton the Unsung Player of the Year award, tied with Ben Thomas. Here’s what he had to say about Colton.
“When Mitchell Stephens was called up by the Lightning, Colton stepped up into the number two center role and prospered. He appears to be another player in the mold of Anthony Cirelli and Stephens - a solid 200ft player with excellent hockey IQ and just enough offense to be dangerous.” - JustinG. [Raw Charge]
Colton fills in the “Jack of All Trades” roll on a team, and for a center, that’s an extremely valuable piece to carry. He’s solid at every position, knows where he needs to be to execute the system at 5v5, and with his size and maturity he can hold his own in tough battles.
The Lightning have a decent amount of depth at the centre position, but of the four forwards listed above, none of them are actually centers. Having Colton there as insurance to play a capable fourth line shift could be very useful.
I don’t know very much about Foote’s progress as a prospect in the AHL, but whether he’s proved his abilities or not, there are reasons why he should see some NHL time now or next season. When Seattle joins the league next summer, Foote will be exposed in the Expansion Draft because this season was his second pro year.
The Lightning need to know sooner than later what they have in him and whether he’s worth protecting either directly or in a trade. If he can show up to training camp and possibly get in a round robin game, it’s all good information for the Lightning. Next season (whenever it starts) is probably where Foote plays most of his games, but if the Lightning are as uncertain as we are during this summer when a lot of preemptive decisions are getting made, they’ll need data.
Geo talks about this in more detail in his article linked below.
In terms of stepping Foote on the ice, he was ranked fourth in our Top 25 Under 25 prospect rankings last summer. In the article about him, Justin talked about how Foote is developing closer to a Stralman-type than a player like Sergachev. Capable as a modern defenseman, but not the kind that will weave around the ice on his edges. A player like that takes longer to develop, which is a challenge because there’s a deadline on him now.
“There isn’t anything super flashy about his game, he just does everything really, really well. If anything stood out during his rookie season, it was his poise. There was a play early in the season where he had the puck behind his own net. Two opponents were converging on him. Instead of banging the puck off the glass blindly, he made a subtle little pass off the dashers, stepped around one of the forecheckers, collected the puck, and skated away from the pressure.” - JustinG. [Raw Charge]
PART 1: Who would you bring to the playoffs with you?
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PART 2: Who would you bring to the playoffs with you?
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