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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #25 Connor Kurth

Could Kurth be another one of those later round diamonds in the rough for Al Murray

2021 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by NHL Images/NHLI via Getty Images

We start things out with a bit of an unknown prospect, but one that could be quite intriguing. If you were wondering, no, that’s not Connor Kurth in the header photo. We don’t have one of him in our database (at least not one that we can publish without getting into questionable copyright territory). That’s Al Murray in the photo. Kurth could be a prototypical Murray pick - a late round choice that has a certain set of skills that intrigues the Tampa Bay Lightning. Skills that can make a player dangerous to other teams if developed correctly.

Kurth, a powerfully build 5’11”, 214 pound forward, has spent the last two seasons playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL. In 114 games he’s put up 50 goals and added 72 assists to average just over a point a game in his age 17 and 18 seasons. That’s not too shabby for a prospect. He’ll take his talents to the University of Minnesota this season, a team stocked with NHL prospects headlined by Logan Cooley (Arizona Coyotes First Round, 2022).

As Geo pointed out in his draft post about Kurth it’s a formula the Lightning have employed with some mixed results over the last few drafts. In their late rounds they take a flyer on a USHL player heading to university and let him develop there. Nick Perbix spent a year with the Omaha Lancers before heading to St. Cloud State University for a few years. Ross Colton skater for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders for two seasons before putting time in at the University of Vermont. That plan doesn’t always work out. Case in point - Sammy Walker and Cole Guttman not signing after ending their college careers. Overall, though, it’s a solid approach for developing prospects who aren’t going to immediately shoot up the professional ranks. Once they graduate, their professional career tends to be accelerated as well.

As you can see from the numbers, the skill Kurth possesses that intrigued the Lightning was his ability to score. Dubuque head coach, Greg Brown, describes his shot as “lethal” and Kurth himself admits that it his best skill, and he likes to shoot (which is always nice).

He has pretty good hockey awareness, as highlighted by the third goal in the video above where he forced the defenseman (Lightning prospect Alex Gagne) into a turnover. Brown also noted that one of the things that contributes to his “great gift for scoring” is his ability to remain calm and process information around the net. He doesn’t get overly excited in scoring areas and can read the situation to make the correct play.

Kurth is solidly built and can take some punishment in the corners and in front of the net, although he’s not really a post-in-front-of-the-goalie type of scorer. Rather he uses his size to maintain control of the puck until he’s in a position to let his shot go. His passing ability is sharp enough to keep defenders and goalies honest, which also allows him some space to get his shot off.

Like many late round pick, there are some flaws to his game. Most notably it’s his skating. While he has improved some over the last year, he does have a bit of a laborious stride, however, if he can develop that into an average skill, the rest of his abilities may carry him to the NHL. During the prospect camp (where he sported the number 68) Kurth did get some power skating work in with Barb Underhill and Tracy Tutton.

“It’s unreal,” he said. “I don’t know how many teams have that. Never have I had that, so it’s great. Everyone needs to work on their skating. It’s a huge part of hockey. So it’s amazing we have that here.”

Also, as with most young scorers, he can stand to improve his play off the puck and in his defensive zone. If he wants to advance in the professional leagues, especially with the Lightning, he will have to be competent in all three zones. That will be the biggest thing to keep an eye on while he plays with the Golden Gophers. His natural scoring ability can take him far, but he can’t cost his team goals while he’s on the ice by slacking off in the defensive zone.

Kurth isn’t a stranger to overcoming long shots. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2019 USHL draft. All he did from there was to get named to the All-Rookie Second team in his first year and then the USHL Second All-Star Team in his second season. The Elk River, Minnesota native was also named the 2022 USA Hockey Dave Taylor Junior Player of the Year. That award honors the best American-born player in junior hockey for a given year. He was also one of the final cuts from the 2022 Team USA Under-20 squad that failed to medal earlier this month. Depending on how his season starts off, he could make the final team for the 2023 tournament (along with fellow draft pick Isaac Howard).

For the next few seasons, the only time we’ll see Kurth in a Lightning uniform is at the prospect camps and pre-season. If he can raise his defensive play to the level of his offensive play while at the University of Minnesota, he might just find his way into the Tampa Bay locker room on a permanent basis.