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Checking up on Lightning’s CHL Prospects

Prospects on the move.

NHL: OCT 01 Preseason - Hurricanes at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re around the mid-point of the season, which makes it a good time to check in on some of the Tampa Bay Lightning prospects. Today, we’ll be focusing on the handful of CHL based prospects. The OHL and QMJHL trade deadline has come and gone with a few Lightning prospects having changed teams. The WHL deadline is coming up at the end of this week, so we’ll see if any other Lightning prospects make a move.

QMJHL

Cameron MacDonald

The Lightning only have one prospect currently in the QMJHL and that’s forward Cameron MacDonald. MacDonald was selected by the Lightning in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, 160th overall in the 5th round. He’s listed at 6’2” and 190 pounds and plays center and left wing. MacDonald is an interesting player as he is Canadian and originally from Nova Scotia, but played in the United States for two seasons. He spent the 2019-20 season in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede recording six goals and 20 points in 44 games. Normally a player going to the USHL is an indication that they plan to go to NCAA hockey.

MacDonald however decided to go to the QMJHL following his one USHL season for his draft year and put up 10 goals and 17 points in 30 games in the shortened 2020-21 season and added another four goals and five points in six playoff games. MacDonald’s production has fallen off this season with just five goals and 13 points in 30 games. Saint John is sitting 11th in the league table and pretty comfortably in the playoffs. Plus, Saint John is the host for the Memorial Cup this year, so MacDonald will get the opportunity to play in that tournament.

The production from MacDonald so far has not looked great for a CHL prospect. He’ll have another year in the QMJHL to improve his game and earn an entry-level contract. One positive to look at is that he’s on the younger end of his draft class with a May birthday and missed out on half a season of development time last year. I’m hoping that over the next season and a half he can make up for some lost time in his development and show he can be a productive junior player to take that next step to the pro ranks.

OHL

Jack Thompson

Thompson is one of the better defensive prospects currently in the Lightning system. A right-hander, he was drafted 93rd overall in the third round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He’s already been signed to an entry-level contract by the Lightning and is expected to play for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL next season.

Last season, the OHL was never able to get going which led to Thompson seeking an opportunity elsewhere to play hockey. He ended up going to Sweden and playing for Surahammars IF of HockeyEttan, the third level of professional hockey in Sweden. He posted nine goals and 18 points in 18 games for Surahammars IF. He also played one game for the Syracuse Crunch recording one assist.

Thompson was able to return to the OHL this season with the Sudbury Wolves, wearing the Captain’s C. In 29 games, he has recorded eight goals and 23 points. He was also set to go to the U20 World Junior Championships for Team Canada, but was unable to attend training camp due to a Covid-19 outbreak in Sudbury. The tournament was subsequently canceled after starting and then running into it’s own Covid-19 issues.

With Sudbury sitting at the bottom of the OHL standings by points percentage at 8-18-3-0, it only made sense for the Wolves to trade him. He was sent to the Soo Greyhounds in the West Division, who are firmly in a playoff spot. They are currently 4th in the OHL by points, but 9th by points percentage owing to a number of teams behind them having games in hand.

Declan McDonnell

McDonnell was selected by the Lightning as a lottery ticket pick, taken 217th overall, in the 7th round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the last pick of the draft. In the NFL, they would call him Mr. Irrelevant.

Like Thompson, McDonnell had to play professional hockey to get any time in and played in 16 games for the Syracuse Crunch recording two assists. At 18 years-old, and especially as a very late draft pick, he was not ready for the AHL, but the Lightning had few options with so many OHLers taking up Import spots on European clubs. In his return to the OHL this season, he has posted 10 goals and 23 points in 27 games for the Kitchener Rangers.

He was also on the move this past week going to the Barrie Colts. The Rangers aren’t nearly as far down as the Wolves, but it’s a move up the standings for McDonnell to go to the Colts. By points percentage, he moves from 13th to 5th in the OHL.

McDonnell hasn’t earned an entry-level contract with the Lightning yet, but will have a solid opportunity to do so with a strong performance down the stretch and into the playoffs with the Barrie Colts. He also got a nice nod from Team USA being invited to their WJC training camp, though he was a long shot to make the roster.

Roman Schmidt

McDonnell’s former teammate, defenseman Roman Schmidt, is staying put with the Kitchener Rangers. He was the Lightnings 3rd pick, 96th overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and has already been signed to an entry level contract. At 6’6” and 209 pounds, the right-handed defenseman has the kind of size the Lightning like on the blue line. Drafted out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Schmidt opted to move to the OHL instead of going to NCAA hockey.

In 29 games, Schmidt has put up seven goals and 15 points. If the Rangers don’t make it out of the first round of the OHL playoffs, we could get a little sneak peak at Schmidt in the professional game towards the end of the Syracuse Crunch season.

WHL

Jaydon Dureau

When the season began, the signs were pointing towards Dureau playing in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. He played in two games for Syracuse last season, before the WHL season got going. He started this season with the Crunch and put up a goal in three games. After his brief try-out for the Crunch, the organization decided to send him back to the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks for an overage season.

Portland is 4th in the Western Conference and 7th overall in the WHL putting them in a good position on the league table. Dureau has posted eight goals and 24 points in 18 games. Despite playing in just over half of the 32 games Portland has contested this season, Dureau is 6th on the team in scoring, 7 points back of the team leaders.

Dureau hasn’t been signed to an entry-level contract yet. It’s never a really good sign when a team sends a player that’s eligible for the AHL back to the CHL for an overage season. However, the past two seasons have been weird, so who knows. The Lightning also drafted Dureau after he had been passed over in his first year of draft eligibility in 2019. Dureau is a late bloomer, and the Lightning could just be looking for him to take a bigger step forward in the WHL this year and dominate offensively.

Niko Huuhtanen

A big Finnish winger, Huuhtanen was a flyer for the Lightning in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, going 224th overall in the 7th round to join McDonnell as another Mr. Irrelevant in the Lightning organization. Last season, Huuhtanen put up 20 goals and 34 points in 37 games for Tappara U20 in Finland. He also contributed two goals and five points in seven games at the U18 World Junior Championship for Finland.

Huuhtanen went 2nd overall in the CHL Import Draft to the Everett Silvertips and made his North American debut this season. He started off the season slowly, but has since improved his totals to 17 goals and 36 points in 32 games, including putting up ten goals and 22 points in his last 10 games.

In landing with Everett, Huuhtanen has found himself on one of the best teams in the WHL as Everett sits atop of the Western Conference and is one point behind Edmonton for third overall in the WHL with three games in hand. There’s a very good chance that Everett could make it to the WHL Championship game.

Huuhtanen has a great shot and plays a more physical game. The biggest problem is his skating. The Lightning obviously are hoping that some work with Barb Underhill can get him to a place with his skating where he’ll at least be passable as a professional. He’s still a long shot to make it to the NHL, but the potential is there if he can work out some of his negatives.

Jack Finley

One of the best prospects in the Lightning organization, Finley missed all but three games last season due to injury. He was a second round pick by the Lightning in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and played two games in the AHL for the Syracuse Crunch. He returned to the Spokane Chiefs and played one game before being injured and missing the rest of the season.

In his return to action for Spokane this season, Finley has put up eight goals and 16 points. Spokane is 9th in the 10-team Western Conference and not looking like a playoff team. While the WHL trade deadline has yet to come, Spokane didn’t waste time in trading Finley to the Winnipeg Ice at the beginning of December. By moving to Winnipeg, Finley is now on the best team in the WHL sitting comfortable at the top of the league table with a 27-5-2 record.

Since joining Winnipeg, Finley has four goals and eight points in seven games. Finley also doesn’t have to be the top center for Winnipeg as they boast 2022 draft eligible Matthew Savoie who is expected to be a top five pick in the draft. They also have Conor Geekie as another young center that will be a first round draft pick this summer. There is plenty of talent on this team and it will give Finley a good chance of making a playoff run towards a WHL Championship and Memorial Cup tournament appearance.

It’s obvious that the front office thinks pretty highly of Finley. It didn’t take long for the team to sign him to an entry-level contract after he was drafted. Now getting to play on a championship contender, Finley has the opportunity to show how good he is playing alongside some of the best talent in the WHL. This is his last year in the WHL and he’s expected to play in Syracuse next season.