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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #6 Isaac Howard

Acres of style on and off the ice

2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Portraits
MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JULY 07: Isaac Howard, #31 pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning, poses for a portrait during the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre on July 07, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s most recent first round pick was inches away from the top-five in our countdown, but has buckets of potential to end up much higher very soon. Howard was taken 31st overall by the Lightning in 2022, but was ranked in the teens by many before the draft. The fact that a highly skilled, top-notch skating, and hardworking prospect fell in Tampa Bay’s lap is a huge boost. Howard will be heading to the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season as he begins his NCAA career.

The Player

Isaac Howard comes from the US national team development program where he outscored draft-mate Logan Cooley who ended up going third overall last summer with 82 points in 60 games. Auston Matthews is the all-time leader in points in a season on that team, but Howard put himself 11th all-time alongside players like Trevor Zegras and Matt Boldy.

He was ranked 20th by Bob McKenzie just a few months ago, he was taken 19th in our SBN Mock Draft by LAK (written by our own Justin!), and he was the top Minnesotan prospect in the draft class according to Hockey Wilderness. Coming into the Lightning system with this sort of resume, despite his age, made him an automatic top-five player and I even considered him third over Cal Foote because I see real top-six potential in him. It’s actually hard not to see a top-six future for this kid based on all his comparables.

Scouting Report

When Howard is on the ice, he brings a high level of hockey IQ, speed, but most importantly he has a very good shot. The core of Howard’s success is in his skating. He has very efficient mechanics and a very stable base, allowing him to move very quickly in a straight line but also laterally with flexibility in his top half. Having a tough lower body, despite his size, has given him success in the dirty areas and in keeping opponents away from the puck when he has it. He’s not prime MSL by any means right now, but he’s in a good place for an 18-year-old that’s going to grow and develop.

As for his shot, he’s not Auston Matthews who I mentioned above with a huge heavy shot, but he’s able to twist and get shots off at different, often awkward, angles with lots of speed on them. If you put the puck in his general area, he’ll know how to get it to the net.

Overall, Howard follows the Trevor Zegras mold of new hockey players in the United States that are meshing their incredible creativity and deceptiveness with objectives that the team needs to get better scoring chances.

This includes shifty plays in the neutral zone, dangling around the perimeter in order to create weaknesses in the middle, using speed and clever footwork to be able to move around the defender. This is something that is laced all over the Team USA’s U18 and U20 teams for the past few years (and interestingly enough not what we’ve seen at all in the Canadian teams).

This type of hockey is inherently risky to scouts — especially those with a little more inertia than others — because flash is stereotypically unprofessional and childish. But these young players today have figured out how to think outside the box but with clear goals in mind on the ice.

Looking at the 2022 first round, teams who failed in the playoffs and finished in the 20s by and large went with “classic” hockey players who are big and straightforward and skilled because I think they feel they have more to lose. And I’m sure those players are great, but Isaac Howard was consistently considered to be better and a team like the Lightning who could honestly care less about prospects right now had no problem to pull the trigger.

Timeline

As mentioned above, Howard will be heading to Minnesota-Duluth as the highest draft pick on next year’s team. Despite being a generally low-scoring team, Minnesota-Duluth had a good season and went far in the playoffs. I expect Howard to give them a big boost, but at the same time I don’t expect Howard to spend too much time there. I think very soon you will see Howard come over to professional hockey, and possibly straight into the NHL within a couple years.

Ever since Sammy Walker I’ve feared Minnesota boys leaving us in the sunshine to go play with their hometown team, so if the Lightning can get Howard on an ELC long before his rights expire in summer 2026, that would be excellent. I think this youngster is really good and is in a new wave of American hockey players that the Lightning will want to be part of.

Howard Highlights

Wide Eyes Moment

Season Highlights