No matter what happens this season, Sammy Walker is going to cap off a pretty good career for the University of Minnesota. He enters his fourth season for the Golden Gophers and his third as their captain. Over his 105 games with them so far he’s put up 85 points (34 goals, 51 assists). They aren’t the flashiest numbers but he’s been a solid leader for them almost his entire career. Oh, and he scored a pretty important goal for them last season:
WE'RE GOING TO THE 'SHIP!!!! pic.twitter.com/LY61Vtp8wQ— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 16, 2021
That’s an overtime winner that eliminated powerhouse Michigan from the Big10 tournament and sent Minnesota into the final. He added two assists in the championship game as the Gophers took down the Wisconsin Badgers 6-4. The NCAA tournament didn’t go so well they lost to Minnesota State-Mankato in the regionals, but it was still a pretty good season for the Lightning prospect.
Walker was drafted all the way back in the 7th round of the 2017 draft. Since then his name has popped up on this list a couple of times. In 2018 he just missed the cut and was an honorable mention. Then in 2019 and 2020 he was 17th overall among the younger players. A successful season (career high in goals and one off his career high in points) boosted him up to 14th this year.
The next logical step for him will be to join the Crunch after the Gophers season is over in the spring and start his professional career as an experienced college player. It’s a similar tract that Alex Killorn took back when he was drafted back in 2007. While there was probably a temptation for Walker to turn pro after last year, he wanted to dial it up for another season in Minnesota and try for a national championship.
Walker is fast. He already possess NHL-level quickness that should pose issues for defensemen trying to take him in one-on-one situations.
Sammy Walker speeds past everyone and sets up Cole Koepke pic.twitter.com/EpOG1k7zGD— USHL (@USHL) March 25, 2018
(The duo could be recreating this highlight in Syracuse as early as next spring)
So, unlike a bunch of other prospects on this list, “skating” isn’t something that needs to be worked on by Walker. Nor are their doubts about his leadership abilities as evidenced by his run as captain for the Gophers. The biggest drawback, and probably the reason he dropped to the 7th round of his draft, is his size. The 22-year-old is listed as 5’11, 180 lbs on the University of Minnesota website (Elite Prospects has him at 165 lbs).
Luckily for the Lightning, the majority of the NHL still seems to value size over substance in the draft, allowing them to take late round chances on players like Walker. If he is able to transition his play to the pro level, expect a rush of “wow, the Lightning found another diamond in the rough” spate of articles.
The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey (best high school player in the state) has the tools to be an effective scorer at the next level, as he can finish off the rush:
Sammy Walker speeds in and rips one home for his 11th goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/CSi7o6SLKM— Future Bolts (@LightningProsp1) February 13, 2021
He also has a deceptive wrist shot that seems to trouble goaltenders and, if it doesn’t beat them outright, produces a number of rebounds.
ANOTHER ONE FOR SAMMY WALKER pic.twitter.com/GDUyMGy9tI— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) January 22, 2021
The question that has to be answered this season and next is if he has another level to his game. He has been pretty consistent in his scoring totals over his career in Minnesota (10, 11, 13 goals and 26, 30, 19 points), but as a fourth-year player it would be nice to see his production jump, especially in what should be a competitive Big10 conference. With his speed and tenacity he should be a perfect fit for the Lightning organization and follow along with the other players fighting for middle-six roles like Mathieu Joseph, Ross Colton, and Tayloris Raddchouk.
A big season for the senior forward would skyrocket him in the rankings and boost the Tampa Bay Lightning’s prospect pool tremendously.