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Checking in on the Tampa Bay Lightning CHL Prospects

It’s playoffs time!

NHL: SEP 30 Preseason - Predators at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The WHL and OHL seasons have come to an end and the QMJHL season will wrap up in another week or so. Now it’s time for the playoffs to start in all three CHL leagues on their way to the Memorial Cup tournament. The Tampa Bay Lightning have eight prospects across the CHL leagues so it is a good time to check in on them and see how their seasons are going and how they’re looking for the playoffs.

QMJHL

We’ll start in the QMJHL where the Lightning have two prospects playing this season. The final season numbers aren’t quite set yet as the QMJHL season doesn’t end until May 1st, but it’s close enough that we can still see where the prospects stand.

C/LW Cameron MacDonald - Saint John Sea Dogs

MacDonald was a 5th round pick by the Lightning in the 2021 5th round draft, 160th overall. A left-shot forward, he has spent time at center and left wing and measures up at 6’2” and 190 pounds. In his shortened rookie season in the QMJHL, MacDonald recorded 10 goals and 17 points in 30 games. This year hasn’t seen much of a step forward for the prospect as he’s recorded 15 goals and 33 points in 62 games.

He is one of the younger prospects in his draft class though and won’t turn 19 until May 4th. You would like to see more offense though to see a clearer path forward to an NHL future. He’ll have another year in the QMJHL to up his offensive output to show that he has enough oomph in his game to make it over the line in becoming an NHLer.

Saint John currently sits 3rd in the QMJHL. They’ll be in a decent position to vie for a QMJHL championship as one of the higher seeds in the playoff bracket. No matter what happens in the playoffs though, MacDonald will get to play in the Memorial Cup tournament because Saint John is this year’s host and get an automatic spot in the four-team field.

LW Bennett MacArthur - Acadie-Bathurst Titan

MacArthur was signed earlier this season as an undrafted free agent. MacArthur is a late bloomer as he hadn’t even made it to the QMHHL level in his draft year of 2018-19. When he made it to the Q for part of the 2019-20 season recording eight goals and 12 points in 33 games. During the shortened 2020-21, he recorded 28 goals and 40 points in 33 games plus another six goals and 11 points in nine games in the playoffs.

MacArthur has continued to raise his game this season recording 40 goals and 74 points in 50 games. Acadie-Bathurst will likely have a tough path in the QMJHL playoffs as they currently sit 6th in the league.

For the Lightning, the signing of MacArthur to an entry-level contract is a lottery ticket. MacArthur is a late bloomer and when he gets to the professional ranks, he’ll have to show that his growth in junior production has been more from the development of his skill, and less from just being more experienced and bigger than his younger competition as an overager in the QMJHL. He’ll be playing professional hockey next season, either in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch or in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears.

OHL

F Declan McDonnell - Barrie Colts

McDonnell was a 7th round pick by the Lightning in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. At 5’10” and 190 pounds, he’s got decent size for a forward. In his draft year, McDonnell put up 21 goals and 42 points in 63 games for the Kitchener Rangers. Since the OHL did not play last season, McDonnell spent the season with the Crunch in Syracuse. He played 16 games in a bottom line role, recording two assists. He was obviously not ready for the professional game, but that’s no surprise considering he was 18/19 years old and a 7th round pick.

This season he was able to go back to the OHL and started the season with 10 goals and 23 points in 27 games for Kitchener. He was traded to the Barrie Colts and picked up his scoring, recording 18 goals and 39 points in 36 games. He came up just short of a point per game for the season, but I think he’s shown enough that it’s likely he will be offered an Entry Level Contract before his rights expire prior to the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

The Barrie Colts are 5th in the Eastern Conference and are taking on the Mississauga Steelheads in the first round of the OHL playoffs.

D Jack Thompson - Soo Greyhounds

Thompson was also selected by the Lightning in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft going 93rd overall in the third round. He’s already signed to an entry level contract and will go into professional hockey next year. At 6’1” and 185 pounds, he’s got decent size on the blue line, but could stand to add another 10-15 pounds of muscle to prep himself for the NHL. As a right-handed shot, he’s also immensely valuable in the Lightning’s prospect pipeline.

Thompson spent most of last season playing for Surahammars IF in the Swedish third division, recording nine goals and 18 points in 18 games. He also played in one game for the Syracuse Crunch recording one assist. Thompson started this season as the Captain of the Sudbury Wolves recording eight goals and 23 points in 29 games.

Sudbury decided to move Thompson prior to the trade deadline and he was dealt to the Soo Greyhounds. With the Greyhounds, he has posted 13 goals and 34 points in 36 games. The Greyhounds are the 4th seed in the Western Conference and play Guelph in the first round.

D Roman Schmidt - Kitchener Rangers

The Rangers decided to trade McDonnell, but hung on to Schmidt for the time being. At 6’6” and 209 pounds, the right-shot defenseman has NHL size and the kind of size that the Lightning love to have on their blue line. Drafted in the 3rd round, 96th overall of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, this was Schmidt’s first season in the OHL. He spent the past two seasons in the U.S. National Team Development Program and was expected to go to NCAA hockey. Instead, he chose to go to the OHL with the Rangers.

In 68 games this season, he’s recorded 11 goals and 33 points. Schmidt was not a big scorer in the USNTDP either, so it’s not a surprise that he finished the season around the half point per game mark. The Rangers also don’t have a lot of high end talent and Schmidt finished second among the team’s defensemen in points and second in goals. Kitchener made it into the playoffs as the 7th seed in the Western Conference and take on the London Knights in the first round.

It’s unlikely that Kitchener will get past London, so we could see Schmidt in Syracuse for a little bit if the Crunch make the playoffs and keep their run of good play going into the first round. Like Thompson, Schmidt has already signed an entry level contract. Since he was drafted out of the USNTDP, he will technically be eligible to play in the AHL next year even though he’ll only be 19. I would expect that he’d go back to the OHL for another season though.

WHL

C Jack Finley - Winnipeg Ice

Finley is a big forward at 6’6” and 223 pounds. You’d think from those measurements he’d be a defenseman, and he’d still be big for a defenseman, which just makes him extra big for a forward. He was a second round pick for the Lightning in 2020 after recording 19 goals and 57 points in 61 games for the Spokane Chiefs. Finley played two games for the Syracuse Crunch before the WHL season got underway, but then was injured in his first WHL game and missed the rest of the season, missing most of a year of development time.

He began this season back with Spokane and recorded eight goals and 16 points in 21 games before being traded to the Winnipeg Ice. With the Ice, Finley recorded 19 goals and 34 points in 39 games. I know that some prospect watchers had expected more production from him this year, but I think it’s also important to look at the context. When he moved to Winnipeg, he became the third center behind two very talented young centers in Matthew Savoie and Conor Geekie. Both Savoie and Geekie are highly thought of draft prospects and are expected to go within the first 10-15 picks of the first round with one perhaps ending up a top five pick. So despite the limited ice time, Finley still did a good job in producing offense down the line up.

Finley has already signed an entry-level contract and should enter the professional ranks with the Syracuse Crunch next season. But for the rest of this season, he’s got a very good chance of outlasting the rest of the organization this summer (with the exception of Cameron MacDonald) as the Winnipeg Ice are the 1st seed in the WHL playoffs and finished with the most points in the WHL. They are one of the favorites to challenge for the WHL Championship and a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament.

LW Jaydon Dureau - Portland Winterhawks

Dureau was selected by the Lightning in the 5th round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, his second year of draft eligibility. He started out the season with the season with the Syracuse Crunch and recorded a goal in three games. The team decided it was better for his development to send him back to the WHL for an overage season and he recorded 24 goals and 66 points in 49 games. He hasn’t signed an entry-level contract yet and it’s an open question of if the team will before his rights expire and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Portland enters the WHL playoffs as the 3rd seed in the Western Conference which could give them a decent chance to at least make it to the Conference Finals.

RW Nico Huuhtanen - Everett Silvertips

Huuhtanen is an interesting prospect. The Lightning took him in the 7th round, 224th overall, the very last pick of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. The Finnish right winger is 6’2” and 209 pounds which gives him good size for a forward. He posted 20 goals and 34 points in 37 games in the Finnish U20 league last year and added two goals and 5 points for Team Finland in the U18 World Junior Championship.

Everett drafted Huuhtanen 2nd overall in the CHL Import Draft and he made his way across the pond and across the continent to play for the Silvertips. In 65 games, Huuhtanen has recorded 37 goals and 77 points. He’s very much a goal scorer and may have the best shot in the Lightning system at this point in time. The problem, and why he didn’t get drafted until the very, very end of the 7th round, is that there’s a lot of other issues in his game, especially his skating. Huuhtanen has some deficiencies that he’ll have to work out and patch over in his game to eventually make it to the NHL, but if he can, and that’s a big ‘ole if, there’s a chance that he could translate that goal scoring into the NHL.

Everett is the 1st seed in the Western Conference and there’s a chance that he could end up facing Jack Finley and the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL Finals for the Championship. There’s only two other drafted players on the Everett roster in defensemen Olen Zellweger (2021 2nd by Anaheim) and Ronan Seeley (2020 7th round). Despite the lack of drafted talent, Everett has a lot of older players and a lot of depth which bodes well for them going deep into the playoffs.