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2020-21 Lightning Player Grades: The Top Forwards

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How did the big forwards do for the Lightning?

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome to the 2020-21 Raw Charge Lightning Player Grades. Let’s take a look at the last forwards to be graded, the Top Six (Seven) forwards. With Nikita Kucherov missing the whole regular season, Tyler Johnson filled in for him for much of the season in the top two lines, which is why we get the Top Seven.

Stats from Evolving-Hockey.com. Player stats for 2020-21 on the player cards have been pro-rated by Evolving-Hockey to an 82 game season.

Alex Killorn

Regular Season Grade: B-

Playoffs Grade: A+

NHL Stats: 56 GP, 15 Goals, 18 Assists, 33 Points; Playoffs - 19 GP, 8 Goals, 9 Assists, 17 Points

Player Card:

Killorn had a pretty strong year. Point production expectations have gotten a little higher for him the last couple of seasons after being a very consistent 0.5 point per game player throughout the previous seasons of his career. His regular season production pro-rates out to 48 points over 82 games. While that wouldn’t be a career high for him, it’s still beyond his normal production. Killorn also continued to provide good results on both the offensive and defensive ends.

In the playoffs? Boy, did Killorn go off recording 17 points in 19 games played. Killorn does tend to be a streaky scorer. In the 2015 and 2016 playoffs, he went on such a streak recording 18 points in 26 games and 13 points in 17 games. The last three playoff appearances for him weren’t as spectacular. But then during these playoffs he put up eight goals and 17 points in 19 games. He also made a hero shot block in the Stanley Cup Final that broke his fibula and ended his run in the playoffs.

Overall, Killorn had a solid regular season and a very good playoff run.

Steven Stamkos

Regular Season Grade: C+

Playoffs Grade: B+

NHL Stats: 38 GP, 17 Goals, 17 Assists, 34 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 8 Goals, 10 Assists, 18 Points

Player Card:

Stamkos had a bit of an up and down season that was cut short by an injury. He continued to provide strong offensive impacts on the ice for the team though he was a bit down from his previous seasons. While his defensive numbers stick out as not being great, Stamkos has never been a defensive stalwart so they really aren’t that far off from expectations and are perhaps a tick better than previous performances in that area.

His offense came through early in the playoffs, though he did slow down a bit as the playoffs wore on as he only scored three goals and five points over the last 12 games in the final two rounds. This after he recorded five goals and 13 points in the first 11 games of the playoffs. Stamkos also saw his ice time dip by about two minutes from the regular season to the playoffs.

Anthony Cirelli

Regular Season Grade: D

Playoffs Grade: C

NHL Stats: 50 GP, 9 Goals, 13 Assists, 22 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 5 Goals, 7 Assists, 12 Points

Player Card:

Up until last season, Cirelli had built up a reputation as being a very strong defensive forward providing value to the team on both ends of the ice as well as the penalty kill. However, during the 2020 NHL Playoff Bubble, Cirelli looked off. He wasn’t bringing as much offense. He was pretty regularly getting out shot. I don’t know what was going on, but he wasn’t at his best. That continued into the 2020-21 NHL Season where he had a significantly down season. Compare the above player card to his 2019-20 player card.

Now, some of this can be put down to the injury that he was playing through. Perhaps that was the biggest reason. But at the same time, I can’t shake my opinion of how he played during the 2020 playoffs. I’m very hopeful that he’ll have a big bounceback year in 2021-22 because his 2020-21 season was rather disappointing.

I felt like he played better during the playoffs, but was still not up to his previous levels of defensive play. His offense did tick up a bit during the playoffs and was better than his 2020 playoffs, but I still expect more from him, especially as a 2nd line center that is supposed to be able to shutdown opposing top lines.

Tyler Johnson

Regular Season Grade: B-

Playoffs Grade: B-

NHL Stats: 55 GP, 8 Goals, 14 Assists, 22 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 4 Goals, 3 Assists, 7 Points

Player Card:

Tyler Johnson has been the favorite whipping boy of fans on Twitter for a while now. He wasn’t living up to his contract and it seemed like he couldn’t do anything right in their eyes. I think part of this comes to how much he was hyped up during the Triplets days. He was viewed as being a highly capable defensive forward as well as a dynamic offensive force. The reality, especially on the defensive side, was probably a bit overblown. But, he actually had one of his best ever defensive seasons in 2020-21. His offense did take a bit of a step back, but he filled in well.

I also have to give props to Johnson for being a consummate professional. The team tried to trade him last offseason. They waived him twice to try and move him for salary cap reasons. Nothing materialized. He was even scratched for the season opener because of cap reasons. But he kept playing and never let any frustration or anger show. He played solidly in the top six and then willingly went down to the fourth line for the playoffs when Nikita Kucherov returned.

Johnson also turned up the offense late in the playoffs when the top forwards had started to trail off a bit in their production especially in the Stanley Cup Final. He recorded two goals and four points in five games against the Montreal Canadiens.

Ondrej Palat

Regular Season Grade: A

Playoffs Grade: B-

NHL Stats: 55 GP, 15 Goals, 31 Assists, 46 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 5 Goals, 8 Assists, 13 Points

Player Card:

Ondrej Palat continues to put up strong performances on the top line, even with Nikita Kucherov not being on the other side of Brayden Point from him. He’s a very solid defensive forward and is still bringing very good offensive impacts to the table as well. His goal scoring was also strong and the highest G/60 rate since 2013-14 and his second best Points/60 rate since 2014-15.

Palat also showed up in the playoffs, but his point production lagged behind his linemates. The first line actually struggled a bit more than normal to score at even strength in the playoffs. While Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov were putting up big power play points, especially early in the playoffs, Palat wasn’t getting in on that action and so didn’t produce quite as many points, but still had a respectable haul.

Brayden Point

Regular Season Grade: B+

Playoffs Grade: A+

NHL Stats: 56 GP, 23 Goals, 25 Assists, 48 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 14 Goals, 9 Assists, 23 Points

Player Card:

Over the last couple seasons, I’ve sometimes had the thought about Brayden Point of how much is it him being elite and how much is it Kucherov elevating his play. While there is no question that Kucherov elevates Point in a lot of ways, this season proved that a lot of it is that Point is in the elite category. The biggest takeaway here is not his offensive contributions, but how good he was defensively. Over the past three seasons, he’s gone from pretty bad to pretty average to pretty elite. While his goal and point production was down, and that’s at least in part due to missing Kucherov, he made up for it in plenty of other ways and did a lot to drive play. Even with that lessened production, he still led the team in goals and points.

That play continued into the postseason as he and Kucherov instantly reconnected and began to pile up the points. Point also took a run at a record from the 1970s for the longest goal scoring streak, but fell just short. He finished the playoffs at a point per game, scored the second most points on the team, and held the team lead for goals.

Nikita Kucherov

Regular Season Grade: INC

Playoffs Grade: A+

NHL Stats: Regular Season - Did Not Play; Playoffs - 23 GP, 8 Goals, 24 Assists, 32 Points

Player Card: N/A

I’m honestly not really sure what I expected from Kucherov when he returned for the playoffs. What he did, certainly wasn’t it though. I expected that he would need to ramp things up and get back into game shape before he got things going. I figured the Lightning had enough fire power to get them through the first round even if Kucherov was struggling a bit. But he didn’t even need one game to readjust as he recorded three points in his first game and nine over the first four games.

Then Kucherov went out and played with a broken rib in the Stanley Cup Final and put up three goals and five points in five games. Watching him play in the playoffs was unbelievable. He was magical. I don’t have any more words to describe it.