September is well underway and so is Raw Charge in our annual Top 25 Under 25 organizational prospect/player rankings. This is where we rank the 25 best players that are under the age of 25 in the organization right now. We often rank them based on their quality now, but also have to account for the potential of younger prospects in the future. It’s a fun exercise, not perfect, but we never expected it to be.
Our first week saw an interesting array of prospects make the list, with younger prospects, older prospects, early picks, later picks. Here is the list so far. and after that some of my thoughts on each one.
Entering his fourth year in the NCAA, Perbix is a big defenseman that is already 23 and likely won’t see pro hockey until he’s almost 24 at the end of the upcoming NCAA season. The general trend for defensemen coming out of college is sooner the better, and if you’re coming in right at the end of four years of university, you better be bringing some major personal awards (Hobey Baker) with you. To be honest, I don’t know any defenseman in Perbix’s current position that ended up being a meaningful player in the NHL.
By 24, you are what you are as a player, and if Perbix is a defenseman without footspeed and limited offense, that’s going to be someone who struggles in the AHL, let alone the NHL. In that league, you need to be able to move the puck fast and keep up with skaters who are even faster. On top of that, you need to know how to move the puck, even if you consider yourself a stay-at-home defense. Look at Erik Cernak in the AHL, who absolutely commanded the puck when he was on the ice. And then look at the Syracuse Crunch for the first dozen games of this past season when the guys that couldn’t move the puck got cornered and isolated against.
I was surprised to see Perbix in the T25, I didn’t have him on my list. By 23, you need to have done a lot more in the NCAA and I don’t think he’s done enough.
Now Jack Thompson is in a much different position to Perbix and someone I did have on my list (at #25). At 19-years-old, Thompson is a third-round pick of the Lightning who was an important offensive part of the Sudbury Wolves two seasons ago in the OHL and got himself a contract in the HockeyEttan league, the third tier of Swedish hockey below the Allsvenskan. It wasn’t a great league to be in, but the fact that he got to play games is success enough.
As a mobile, offensive defenseman in the Lightning organization, Thompson is a bit of a unicorn to be sure. The Lightning tend to always pick the big, slow, safe defensemen and hope they can be carried transitionally by someone like Hedman or Sergachev. Thompson is one of those prospects that could be a real difference-maker if things pan out. He was already on the top pair at age 17 and is expected to be one of the better defensemen in the league at age-19. Offense is a skill you can’t really teach, but over the next two seasons, Thompson will have a chance to take on big defensive minutes in the OHL before translating that to the AHL.
Tyler Johnson, is that you? A young, feisty center who goes hard to the dirty areas, plays a smart offensive game, and has the speed and tenacity to keep up with the pro game. At nearly a point-per-game at the USNTDP U18, Duke is in a tier with the likes of Christian Fischer, JT Compher (Jesse’s brother), Ryan Kesler, and more. He’s not in the top echelon to have come out of the program, and the players in his tier are about 50% hit or miss, but that is a promising group of players to be likened to.
As someone who’s going to the NCAA as well, the earlier he decides to leave (either by finishing school or cutting it off short and going back after hockey) the better it’ll be for him. And I think based on his potential we will see him in the AHL fairly soon. Hopefully if he’s smart, he can get his degree before he turns 21 and joins the Crunch in the next three years.
Another young prospect that I have a lot of time for is Declan McDonnell. I think Lightning fans in general like to lean towards players who can help the Lightning sooner than later and young prospects who were drafted one or two years ago get left on the warming rack waiting to be noticed when they hit the AHL. Luckily for McDonnell, he hit the AHL very quickly and made a name for himself. A tenacious bottom six forward with speed, quick reflexes, and good vision, McDonnell looked right at home in the AHL at the tender age of 18. This season, he’s going back to the OHL where his main goal is to score some goals and try to push his ceiling up from bottom six energy guy to middle six difference-maker. You might be shocked to hear this, but I put him in my top-10, that’s how much I like his game and how easily projectable I can see it in the NHL.
Ryfors is newly-24 and will be joining the Syracuse Crunch next season for a good time, but hopefully not a long time. After a breakout season on Rögle of the SHL last season, a lot are expecting Ryfors to make a case for himself in the NHL next season. He was finally promoted to the top line on a good Rogle team and did a lot of the dirty work for his line and was nicely rewarded for his efforts. At 23, he was slightly older than a lot of aspiring NHLers also in similar roles last season, like Jonatan Berggren, Pontus Holmberg, and Filip Hallander. Holmberg is a Leafs prospect and likely in a similar boat to Ryfors; a middle-six guy who got a shot on the top line and did an excellent job as a complimentary player. We had him 20th in our PPP Top 25 Under 25.
I’m excited to see him next year. There are a lot of open spots on the Lightning right now, but also a lot of players vying for those jobs. He’ll likely need some time to get acclimated to the North American game, which will likely put him on the back foot heading into training camp compared to the likes of ABB, Katchouk, and Smith.
I’ve been very transparent in my disappointment in Finley as a draft pick by the Lightning. I didn’t like where he was taken and I wasn’t convinced of his game. In the AHL, Finley did a good job of being in the play and using his massive body when he could, but I think he struggled with the pace of play. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a season-ending injury just one game into his WHL season, and only got to play two games with the Crunch.
I’m not convinced of his offense beyond being a guy in front of the net, I worry about his puck play in transition, which leaves me with someone who might turn into a defensive center like David Steckel or Frederik Gauthier. I don’t think that’s the kind of player you take with a second round pick and your first pick in the draft. I said immediately at the time that I liked Gage Goncalves more because he had real potential. I think there were some players taken after Finley and Goncalves that I think the Lightning will regret not taking, namely Roni Hirvonen, Kasper Simontaival, and Jean-Luc Foudy. But I digress, I hope he works out, I just don’t have high hopes.
Stay in school kids, unless Steve Yzerman calls. pic.twitter.com/7F2tz0DuiS— JT Brown (@JTBrown23) September 8, 2021
No Tampa Bay Lightning news, but some interesting tidbits from Elliotte Friedman here.
So here are the @SeattleKraken on the ice during a 'captain's practice' today as Kraken Community Iceplex has opening event to VIPs in Northgate. Follow Kraken beat writers @GeoffBakerTIMES @Marisa_Ingemi for details and what's next https://t.co/YvpaNAhCvj @SeaTimesSports pic.twitter.com/6GebHglW6T— Ken Lambert (@SeaTimesFotoKen) September 9, 2021