Welcome back to another season! Training camp is in the air, RFAs are blooming for a new contract, and people are losing their minds over optional skate line rushes. In our unofficial final post of the summer, here’s a recap of the 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25 prospect rankings.
The voting and research was a lot of fun this year and I can’t wait to see how the players on and off our list perform this season. We had some big movers last summer (which we’ll talk about) and some disagreements between the writers and with the readers.
2019 Top 25 Under 25 Ranking Breakdown
|Name||Position||Age||Final Rank||Writer Rank||Reader Rank||2018 Rank|
2019 Top 25 Under 25 Writers Votes
There were four players who stood out as jumping up significantly in the rankings from last year to this year. All four are players who either stepped into a significant role in the NHL, or put up massive points in the minor leagues, showing signs of promise in the NHL.
Say what you will about how much impact Cernak actually had relative to his partners, but the rookie defenseman was able to step into the top-four and hold his own as a defensive specialist. His jump from 11th to 5th is quite impressive considering some of the high-scoring prospects and solid NHLers that he passed on his way (Raddysh, Katchouk, Erne, Joseph, Volkov). The players below Cernak aren’t quite sure things yet, which is where he got that extra bit of affection.
Now, I think ABB’s leap from 17th to 10th is a bit of an aberration since I believe points are generally overrated, especially in the minors. He and Carter Verhaeghe formed a dynamic duo and the two put up a dominant offensive season for the Syracuse Crunch last year. That said, for an undrafted prospect making the splash he did in his first AHL season is quite an accomplishment. If he can keep his production up — like he’s done all through his junior career — he should only see his top 10 ranking validated.
Verhaeghe is on the older side, and won’t be on next year’s T25U25, but his season leading the AHL in scoring was quite impressive. His value came in the form of a possible NHL fit now. He has a pretty good shot in camp this year, despite some of the signings the Lightning made in August.
After being selected in the third round last season, Fortier didn’t garner much attention from public scouts or the fanbase. He wasn’t close to the NHL, nor was he projected to be a big player in the future. He proved the critics wrong after a jaw-dropping season in the QMJHL, putting up 83 points in 68 games. With that, Fortier jumped from last in last year’s ranking to 15th this year. I think we can all see a path to the NHL for Fortier now. Before, it wasn’t clear if he could put up the points to stick in the pros but last year was as good of an indication as any. On top of that, Fortier will be the captain for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar this season.
In this section I’ll address some of the differences we saw in the reader versus writer rankings. Broadly speaking, I think the readers valued players who were going to help the NHL team now and in whatever way they can above high end prospect potential. That’s why we saw players like Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk fall below where the writers had them. It also meant fourth-liner Adam Erne was ranked 7th by the readers when no writer had him higher than 10th.
Raddysh and Katchouk
These two former Sault Saint Marie Greyhounds have been in the organization for a long time (both drafted in 2016). It’s fair to feel a little stale about these two players as options. They’re not the young and sexy names that they once were. That said, both have steadily developed into very good forwards in junior and in their rookie season in the AHL. Raddysh especially has looked like a very capable power forward. I think both are going to hit the NHL soon, they just need some more time in the AHL to get on top of that level of competition. Both are only 21, they have time.
Here’s a few examples of where the writers disagreed with each other. I think there was a lot of debate as to what to value more: closeness to NHL vs. high-end talent.
Among the top picks, our two Syracuse Crunch writers Alex and Justin both had Raddysh lower than everyone else, in the low teens instead of around where he ended up. I’m very interested in their take on his play this season and whether it’s a product of the amount of time he needs to develop still. That said, when Lauren wrote the Raddysh article, she argued that he’s close to being ready for NHL duty.
The masthead was quite split on where to rank Nolan Foote. Foote was given top-10 votes by five of us (Alan, Geo, Achariya, Lauren, and myself) with the remaining five (Alex, Justin, Matthew, Igor, and Tracey) all had him in the teens. I think this is a perfect example of potential vs. production. Foote is brand new to the organization and has the potential to be a great player one day, but there is a question mark associated with whether he’ll actually realize that potential. When you’re watching the minors a lot, you see plenty of these players come and go, failing to hit that next level.
Which brings me to my vote on Alex Barre-Boulet. I was quite optimistic on ABB in my report on him. I gave him a much more rosey outlook than my personal vote revealed. Similarly to a player like Jeremy Bracco on the Toronto Marlies (whom I wrote about and got the PPP comments into a frenzy as a result), I worry that there isn’t enough of a full package in order to make the jump to the next level. How much did their linemates affect their points? How developed is their defensive game? Will they be able to contribute to the team without offensive zone starts and power play time? These questions get answered over time, but for now I’m more skeptical than I am optimistic.