Welcome to the prospect that had the widest divergence in rankings between the readers and the writers. Even among the readers there was a lively spread as he received votes for every spot from 11 to 25. What I infer from the information we received in this ranking is that Lightning Nation is quite unsure about the future of young Mr. Koepke.
He’s had an interesting journey in the rankings here at Raw Charge over his brief tenure with the team. Two years ago he debuted in the 24th spot with loserpoints writing:
This season [2019-20], the Lightning will be looking to see steady growth from Koepke in his sophomore season. That means playing well enough to earn more ice time and taking a larger role on what should be a good team again this season. They’ll also be looking for more production in those extra minutes. Scoring 25-30 points would be a nice next step in his progression.
Despite hitting that number (he recorded 33 points on 16 goals and 17 assists) Koepke didn’t make the list last year as an influx of new talent pushed him out. Still, to see him place so well among the writers (and a decent sized portion of the readers) shows that he is starting to gain some traction over other prospects.
He did get a taste of the professional life after the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs were eliminated from the Frozen Four by UMass. Koepke then signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning and a professional tryout deal with the Syracuse Crunch. The 6’1” forward performed admirably in his limited debut, recording two goals during his nine-game stint in the AHL.
It is likely that the former sixth-round pick will spend all season with the Crunch this year and slowly work his way up to one of the top lines throughout the season. Kopeke, who recorded 75 points (38 goals, 37 assists) in 104 games during his three seasons with the Bulldogs, is a versatile, jack-of-all-trades forward who skates well and his a pretty good shot.
Unfortunately, his season has started out roughly as he tripped over the back of the net during a scrimmage in prospect camp and crashed heavily into the end boards. Koepke was held out of the rest of camp as a precaution so he didn’t get a chance to play in any of the exhibition games over the weekend. Hopefully, he’ll be ready for camp when it starts on Wednesday and we can gauge where he is at in his development a little better.
The Minnesota native is a fairly decent-sized forward that can skate well and has a heavy shot. While his defense can be improved (all youngsters can stand to improve their defense) he’s not a liability in his own zone. Most prospect prognosticators project him out to be a middle-sixer with a shot that plays at the NHL-level.
He’s likely to see some power play time with the Crunch, and should he make it to the Lightning in a couple of years, find himself bouncing on and off of the second unit. He can play in front of the net, but is better with a little space where he can pepper the goaltender with his effective shot or find open teammates lurking in dangerous areas.
Speed is an asset for him:
That type of speed plays well in the Lightning/Crunch system both on the counter-rushes they love off of turnovers and in pursuit of the puck on the forecheck. If he can play within the system in Syracuse, he could rapidly become a favorite of Ben Groulx and see his ice time increase throughout the season.
It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that he can make the Lightning with a strong enough training camp. The roles they are looking to fill play to the strong points of his game and he could find himself battling for a spot on the third or fourth line. Even if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, the fact that he isn’t waiver-eligible could lead to him being an injury or roster replacement throughout the season for the Bolts.
Koepke falls in with the seemingly endless supply of middle-to-bottom-six players that currently stock the Lightning’s prospect cupboards. Since their top-end talent is still relatively youthful, it’s not a bad thing. Yes, they will have a lot of similar aged players fighting for a dwindling number of spots in the line-up, but competition breeds success (and should make for a talented Syracuse squad). Unlike some of his peers, Koepke does seem to have a little more of an offensive game to his style and that could set him apart from those that he will be battling it out for ice time.