Top 25 Under 25: #20 Cedric Paquette

Looking to build on last year's AHL debut as a "black ace", former QMJHL forward Cedric Paquette is one player moving up to the next level of development as the Tampa Bay Lightning organization continues a system of call-ups and backfilling.

Since he came to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, GM Steve Yzerman has predicated his program on building from within via the draft and developing his own prospects through affiliations with minor league clubs.

A system like the one Yzerman has built, however, only works if you are consistently restocking the cupboard with quality players for each level of development, so that each time you move a player up you have someone ready, willing, and able to plug the hole you leave behind.

So while #Tampacuse is a thing -- and a thing many Bolts fans can and should be excited about -- plucking prospects out of the AHL Syracuse Crunch lineup could be seriously detrimental to continued success at the AHL level if not for players like Cedric Paquette, who is ready to step into the lineup and fill the void likely to be soon left by a handful of AHL forwards poised to make the NHL club this year.

Here's how the panel ranked him:

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Clark Brooks Clare Austin Patti McDonald Mike Gallimore
20 12 13 NR 18 NR

Raw Charge Managing Editor John Fontana was highest on Paquette:

I think what got me most was the fact he was forcing the hand of the Syracuse Crunch during the playoffs last season. His Junior career had ended and he was basically a black-ace type figure with the team during the AHL playoffs... And his play during practice and drills encouraged the team to give him a shot during the all-or-nothing AHL Calder Cup Finals. Cedric didn't record a point, and must have been playing some guarded minutes because he didn't have a single PIM and was even in the plus/minus department, Yet between forcing his way into a stacked Syracuse lineup and what he had accomplished with Blainville, that had pretty much influenced my vote. Maybe a little high, but I think he's been overlooked a lot. I hope he proves that's a mistake.

Mike Gallimore (who left Paquette off his list altogether) of Bolt Prospects and Bolt Statistics provides the counterargument:

Look, I love me some Cedric Paquette. What's not to like about a late-blooming (Paquette made his CHL debut at 18), hard-nosed, meat-and-potatoes pivot with a healthy appetite for net-front and board battles complemented by a scorer's touch from up close. He's much more of a finisher, though, than a play-maker (though he did rack up 56 assists, which was more than triple than he registered in his draft year count) and his skating earned him the fond moniker "Dump Truck" over at Bolt Prospects because he moves like one on the ice.

I had Paquette 24th on the list I submitted for the latest rankings -- in which Paquette finished 22nd overall -- released over at BP in July but that was without having to rank some players (Aulie, Connolly, Hedman, Stamkos) as they didn't qualify as prospects due to their age and/or the number of NHL games already played. Really, the fact that he was so low on my list and not ranked for this exercise here speaks to the quality and quantity of young talent throughout the Lightning's system.

Maybe some see shades of Ryan Malone in Paquette but I think his ceiling is lower and that he's much more likely to make his mark in the NHL as a versatile energy and checking line junkyard dog.

Paquette was drafted in 2012 (4th round, 101st overall) by the Lightning out of the QMJHL's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, where he played two seasons and averaged just over a point (and a penalty minute) per game.

As noted in the Top 25 Under 25 piece on Adam Erne, his scoring rates don't suggest he'll end up a prolific scorer in the NHL, but if he retains 1/3 of his scoring that's still good for 20-30 points in an 82 game season, and he has plenty of other skills besides scoring points.

Paquette made his professional debut at the end of last season during the AHL's Eastern Conference Finals and failed to record a point as the Syracuse Crunch advanced to the Calder Cup Finals against the Grand Rapids Griffins, top affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.

Jeremy Houghtaling, who covers the Syracuse Crunch for Bolt Prospects, had this to say regarding Paquette's 3-game stint in the Calder Cup Playoffs this spring:

Cedric Paquette may have only played three games with the Syracuse Crunch last season, but definitely left an impression with the coaching staff. When he first arrived as one of the team's "Black Aces," he was heralded as the "ultimate competitor" by developmental coach Stacy Roest. He came as advertised: a bit raw, mostly with his skating, but a gritty forward with a ton of motivation. When he finally saw game action -- during the Eastern Conference Finals -- Paquette embraced his fourth line role alongside Philippe Paradis, and hit everything in sight. Although he didn't register a point, Paquette created chances by driving the net. After Paradis registered a hat trick in the Crunch's 7-0 win over the Wilkes-Barre Penguins to clinch a berth into the Calder Cup Finals, Syracuse coach Rob Zettler noted it was more than just the play of the goalscorer. "I just thought (Paradis) and Cedric Paquette were really playing well," he said. "They were hitting everything, they were in their face, and (Paradis) got rewarded by scoring some goals. "For Paquette, it's only a matter of time until the points come along with his hard work."

Paquette is expected to step into a larger role this year with the Crunch and probably play more minutes than he did in his debut as a 4th line banger when he was still adjusting to the pace and physicality of the professional game.

The opportunity will certainly be there for Paquette with Rob Zettler's Crunch squad almost certainly losing Tyler Johnson to the NHL team, which opens up a permanent spot for a center in the AHL lineup alongside Vlad Namestnikov, Tanner Richard, and captain Mike Angelidis.

The good news for Syracuse, however, is that they're getting a solid player with some diversity to his game. From Bolt Prospects Final Supplemental Rankings:

Paquette is good on faceoffs and has the size and strength to cause havoc around the net and along the wall. With 58 goals over the past couple of seasons in the QMJHL, he's also a decent finisher around the net, to boot. The downside is obviously his skating where both his first step and his straight line speed are below what you'd want from a pro prospect.

The more offensively gifted Namestnikov and Richard figure to seize the top-6 roles in Syracuse, but Paquette is not a purely defensive forward and if he continue to develop chemistry with Philippe Paradis, the Crunch might have found a very difficult line to play against with unusual scoring ability for a group of forwards deployed primarily for their tendency to lay big hits whenever possible.

While a common refrain for the defense-starved Tampa Bay Lightning organization has been to get bigger and tougher, Paquette may end up being exactly the type of player that makes your team tough to play against without having to dress a pure enforcer or bottom line player incapable of playing meaningful minutes against skilled opposition.

Paquette is probably never going to crack the NHL lineup because of his offensive gifts, so he obviously needs to continue to work on his skating and defensive play. Luckily, the AHL is the place to do that and if he can develop into a solid bottom-6 forward that can hit, win faceoffs, and kill penalties, there may be an opening for him in Tampa Bay before the ELC he signed this spring expires.