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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #3 Cal Foote

The eternal prospect faces another big season with the Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers - Game Two Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Cal Foote. Callan, son of Adam, brother of Nolan, Foote. You enigmatic prospect, you. Foote, who is now entering his second full season in the NHL, is the second highest ranked defensive prospects on the countdown this year (spoiler alert!). While he’s constantly been one of the top prospects in the organization, there are some that feel he hasn’t quite lived up to his potential.

The 2022-23 NHL season will be an interesting one for Foote. He literally can be penciled into the line-up in any of the three pairings on the right-side of the defense. He could be the seventh defenseman. Heck, he could be traded (see the Lightning Round links from yesterday). The 23-year-old could play 18 minutes a night or 8. We just don’t know. (We are pretty sure he won’t be racking up any power play time,)

One thing we do know is that the former first round pick (14th overall) has made the Top 25 Under 25 every year he’s been in the organization. He made his debut at #17 in 2017, but has been in the top 10 ever since then:

2017 - 17th

2018 - 4th

2019 - 4th

2020 - 5th

2021 - 6th

Yes, the bloom was off the rose a little over the last few years, but he did get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup over that time, so that was nice. However, the readers and writers did see enough last season to bump him up to highest ranking ever.

With 91 games played in the NHL and 246 in professional hockey overall, we’re starting to get an idea of what type of player Foote is going to be. He is a smart defender that is a solid passer with a heavy shot that he doesn’t use enough. While he can be quick in making decisions, his skating speed is below NHL level and can get him in trouble at times.

In his somewhat limited time last season he showed that he was willing to do some of those less-than-exciting things that one doesn’t necessarily associate with his games. He averaged 4.65 blocked shote per 60 minutes. The only player on the Lightning to post a higher average per 60 minutes of play - Ryan McDonagh (well technically Sean Day and Darren Raddysh did as well, but they had less than 11 minutes of ice time).

Foote also averaged 6.77 hits per game, which (when you take out a few players who had cups of coffee with the team) put him in the top ten for the team last year. At 6’4” and 227 lbs. he’s learning how to use his physical size to close off plays in the defensive zone. That, along with his hockey IQ, should help him evolve into a shutdown defender as his career develops.

Make no mistake about it, Foote is still developing as a player. While it is fashionable for some to list him as a bust, he is just 23 and should be entering his prime as a defenseman. For context, Nick Perbix, who is a trendy pick to beat Foote out for a roster spot is already 24 years old. In fact, Foote is probably going to be the youngest player on the roster this year unless Gabriel Fortier earns a spot. Let’s not give up on him just yet.

The biggest struggle for Foote so far in his rudimentary career has been consistency. He’ll play well for three or four games at a stretch and then struggle for a game or two and end up back in the pressbox. Having watched him since his debut in Syracuse, a lot of his issues seem to stem from not wanting to make mistakes. Instead of reacting naturally he overthinks and hesitates, which at the NHL level, will lead to mistakes and pucks in your net.

Last season was a golden opportunity for him to cement a spot on the blueline, but an injury to a tendon in his finger kept him out of training camp and delayed the start of his season. By the time he was in game shape it was roughly a third of the way into the season and it was hard for him to break into the defensive rotation on a consistent basis.

Still, he persevered and appeared in 13 of the Lightning’s playoff games, including a career postseason-high of 20:45 of ice time in Game Six against the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing some of the best hockey of his career. While he wasn’t on the ice during the Stanley Cup Final, he’ll be looking to build on that strong finish this year.

This year, it could be an injury that paves the way for Foote to finally earn a regular spot in the line-up. Zach Bogosian’s shoulder injury will keep him out until late November or early December and Coach Cooper will be looking for someone to step into that spot. Jan Rutta’s departure in free agency has left Erik Cernak as the only holdover on the right side of the defense from last season that played regular minutes.

Foote will be in the line-up to being the season, the question is if he can maintain his spot once Bogosian comes back. He’ll be fighting off newcomer Phillipe Myers and rookie Nick Perbix. The early reports have been positive from the coaching staff, as Coach Cooper mentioned the other day:

“Now, looking at this training camp, we’ve only been here three days, but I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from him and so he’s farther ahead now than he was, I think, all last year. That’s a good sign for him and us.”

Could he break camp on the top pairing with Victor Hedman? Honestly, yes he could. According to Natural Stat Trick the duo played 138:06 together at 5v5 during the season and posted positive numbers in shot attempts (52.04%), shots on net (57.52% - Hedman’s highest percentage with any defensive partner), and expected goals (55.26%).

Rutta was an unexpectedly good pairing for Hedman during his time with the Lightning and Foote could fill a similar role. The young defenseman would be able to relax a little knowing he’s playing with one of the best blueliners in the league and just focus on being in a supportive role. It also frees Cernak up to play with Mikhail Sergachev in what could be one of the strongest second pairings in the league. Ian Cole and Myers would likely round out the defensive corps with Hayden Fleury as the seventh defenseman.

Contract-wise, Foote is entering the final season of a two-year deal he signed back in July of 2021. He will still be a restricted free agent (with arbitration rights) but with Nick Perbix, Jack Thompson, and Roman Schmidt knocking on the defensive door, the right side of the defense could get crowded awfully fast.