In my most recent article, I talked about who the Tampa Bay Lightning have turned into at recent NHL drafts. Early picks are often for big players with low ceilings, while their later picks end up being better almost immediately. This wasn’t always the case; this current core was built on second, third, and seventh round picks that bet hard on talent, and came away big several times. Recently, the Lightning have been less willing to take bets and the well at forward has stagnated. We can see this summer more than ever the need for young, cheap talent coming up and replenishing an older, more expensive core. And if those young players aren’t part of the lineup, the exciting ones tend to have a lot more trade value.
The Lightning need to go back to their roots. They need to remember that when they draft little guys who put the damn puck in the net, they tend to get really really good players. Brayden Point. Nikita Kucherov. Martin St. Louis. I rest my case! But seriously, there’s nothing wrong with being under 6’ tall in the NHL. We’ve seen examples every year that these guys can get bigger and stronger, they can play hard, and they can do things other players can’t.
With Jagger Firkus, I don’t want the Lightning to pass on the incredible talent he is, and what he can become. Bigger might sometimes be safer, but it’s often not as impactful. With Firkus, what I really like is that he’s already a dynamic dual threat scorer who is doing so much on the ice despite being undersized for his age.
Prospect reports I liked:
So Much Offense (shooting, passing, deception, skill)
I just want to say off the bat that Firkus’ shot is really nice. It sometimes reminds me of Phil Kessel with how whippy his releases are, and he uses his excellent hands and clever elusiveness to find good spots on the ice to shoot from. When he has speed, Firkus is not afraid to drive the net and he is excellent in tight on breakaways. Firkus doesn’t have much weight behind his stick at the moment, but he’s still able to get incredible speed on the puck. That comes from strong shot mechanics.
He’s a very deceptive passer, using his head to misdirect players and using his great shot as a threat to open lanes elsewhere. He’s not selfish with the puck and it forces opponents to stay on their toes. Here’s an insightful paragraph from Joel Henderson on Firkus.
“Even though he appears 6th on this ranking, he has easily the most skill of anyone listed yet and I say that with the utmost respect to the five players above him. When Jagger passes, he uses look offs, slip passes, extends to his reach, can saucer over sticks, pass crisply through traffic, spot stick laterally and is one of the most accurate passers in the WHL which makes the ability of his teammates to shoot one-timers or catch and release shots more easily. That is just his passing. The adjustments he can make to poor passes to still get shots off is incredible. He has amazing shot accuracy, can shoot off a glide or both feet, one timers, slapshots, etc.”
Small and Skinny... for now
The Lightning are not shy about having players under 6’ in their lineup. Look around, there’s plenty, and no one would dare say the Lightning are a soft team. Firkus is 5’10” and only 154 lbs, but that tells me he has room to grow. With the right training and diet, it’s very possible for him to build up that muscle he needs to get that much better on his feet, get that much better of a shot, and be able to throw his weight around.
Right now, his lack of explosiveness is rippling into other areas of his game (skating, shooting, checking), but they are problems that can be solved with time and training. I will say this about his shot — it’s great already, really whippy, but I’m anticipating it being even better.
At the end of the day, teams don’t draft players for who they are now, they draft them for what they’ll be at 22-23. In the same way we should reasonably expect a big skinny defender like Sam Rinzel to fill out in a few years, we should expect the same for Firkus.
Work in Progress Defensively
Let’s get this out of the way. There are lots of great forwards in the NHL who don’t love the defensive side of the game, but who’s offense far outweighs their defense. Lots of offensive players get skewed minutes (some more than others) because they can do things others can’t. It’s like saying Cirelli nets out better than Kucherov by the percentages, but I know I’d rather have Kuch scoring goals no one else can. Both help the team win, both are necessary.
And that’s how I see Firkus. Canadian junior hockey is also famous for not needing to do much defense if you’re a certain kind of player. Owen Tippett is one that comes to mind, but he’s in the NHL now and playing decently well at both ends. I think the defense will grow as Firkus gets bigger and stronger, and spends some time in the AHL working hard and following the system.
Even if he’s not the best two-way threat, there’s more than enough talent here that Firkus can jump into better leveraged minutes in the top six than having to make do with the minutes he would get in the bottom six. This is one of the things holding ABB back right now. He’s got lots of offense, but can’t keep up with the skill at the top of the lineup, and can’t keep up with the grind in the bottom six. That leaves him as an AHL scorer.
It’s worth mentioning he was one of the MVPs from the CHL Top Prospects game.
Watch the vision and precision on this Firkus pass. Very impressive stuffhttps://t.co/UuRk2CSq0C— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) February 12, 2022