It’s rookie showcase season! Whether it’s up in Traverse City, Michigan (a town I came wildly close to moving to about a year ago), Buffalo, Las Vegas, St. Paul, Penticton, or good ol’ Estero, the younglings around the NHL are taking to the ice. For Lightning fans, the focus will be 144 miles south of Channelside Drive as the Bolts rookies will take on players from the Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Carolina Hurricanes in the 2023 Southeast Rookie Showcase.
The rookies will play three games over the weekend with the first one later this afternoon (4:00 PM) against the Predators. Saturday’s game will be at 3:00 PM against Carolina, and then they cap things off against Nashville on Monday the 18th at 1:00 PM. All the games will be streamed at the Lightning website.
As we mentioned earlier in the week, due to NCAA restrictions, some of the Lightning’s top prospects aren’t on the roster, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing players to keep an eye on if you have the chance to watch. With the bulk of the players taking part likely bound for Syracuse this season, that means they are just a call-up away from making it to the NHL. Could this weekend be the next step for them achieving their ultimate hockey dream?
Here are three players that I will be trying to keep an eye on over the next few days.
Hugo Alnefelt – Goaltender
With Nick Malik playing in Europe, the Swedish netminder will be the only goaltending prospect at the showcase for the Lightning and should be getting the bulk of the playing time in net over the three games. Ben Gaudreau, who was also an invitee to the development camp after the draft, will be serving as the back-up, but he’s not under contract to any of the team’s in the Lightning organization.
For Alnefelt, this will be the start of a big season for him. After splitting time with Max Lagace in Syracuse last season, Alnefelt is the pre-season number one netminder for the Crunch. Veteran Matt Tompkins is also on the roster, but the hope for the organization is that Alnefelt takes the reins and shows them that he is ready to be a full-time starter.
It’s been an interesting career already for the 22-year-old. Since coming over to North America fulltime for the 2021-22 season he’s logged games in the ECHL, AHL, and, thanks to a bout of COVID with the Lightning, the NHL. Last season he appeared in 33 games for the Crunch and posted a 2.77 GAA with a .904 SV%. There were flashes of NHL-quality from him, but he also struggled with injuries and consistency.
This weekend will be a good chance for him to show the staff that he’s ready to take it to the next level. No matter how well he plays over the next four days and then in training camp, it’s unlikely that he will unseat Jonas Johansson as the Lightning’s back-up to Andrei Vasilevskiy this season, but a strong season could speed up his time table to Tampa.
Lucas Edmonds – Right Wing
While Alnefelt is likely bound for Syracuse, Edmonds can use the next few weeks as a chance to earn a spot on the Lightning. Despite losing a few key players this summer, there still aren’t a lot of roster spots open for Tampa Bay, but Edmonds might have the skillset to fill the ones that are on the forward lines. Depending on how things shake out, there could be an open spot on the fourth line with Luke Glendenning and Tyler Motte. Also, if Julien BriseBois can manages the cap correctly, the Bolts should be able to carry an extra forward.
The battle for the 12th and 13th forward spots will likely come down to a group consisting of Logan Brown, Gabriel Fortier, Alex Barre-Boulet, Cole Koepke, and Edmonds. The player that shows Coach Cooper and the rest of the staff that they can play just as well in their own end as they do in the offensive zone will be the one that gets the nod (even if they’re not on the initial roster because JBB has to mess around with cap hits and the like). Speaking of cap implications, one thing Edmonds has going for him is that he is waiver-exempt and carries a slightly higher cap hit then some of his competitors. If Mr. BriseBois is trying to max out every dollar of the LTIR benefit from Brent Seabrook, Edmonds might get the nod.
On the ice, he has the skillset to be an effective fourth-line player. It was kind of an up and down year for him last year in Syracuse where he only suited up for 49 games. While he did finish the season with a respectable 15 goals and 12 assists, there were some stretches where he struggled. That’s not unusual for someone adjusting to North American hockey.
Edmonds does have some pro experience having played in Sweden before spending his draft year in Kingston in the OHL (where he racked up 113 points in 68 games) so he knows what it’s like to go up against bigger, stronger players. The 22-year-old is smart with the puck and has really good vision on the ice allowing him to get the puck on the stick of teammates in the offensive zone and on breakouts.
While not the swiftest of straight-line skaters, Edmonds has been described as “quick” with the puck, and is able to skate effectively to position himself where he needs to be. The Lighting wouldn’t need him to pile up points on the fourth line, but having a player with a hint of offensive ability never hurts. He’s also seen time on the penalty kill for the Crunch, which would come in handy in the NHL.
Ethan Gauthier – Right Wing
Look. He’s the shiny new toy from the most recent draft so who doesn’t want to see what he can bring to the ice? The second-round pick is likely heading back to the QMJHL for a season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, but a strong showcase and training camp could give the Lightning brass a pause in what is normally an easy transaction. Who knows, maybe he pulls a Brayden Point and doesn’t give them a choice by earning a spot on the roster. Yes, it’s unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility.
“The first thing that stands out is his persistent and ruthless ability to get in on the attack and establish a forecheck.” I’m not sure there is a more perfect description of what Coach Cooper wants out of his bottom-six forwards than that. Prior to the 2023 draft, that was how Gauthier was described in a profile from The Hockey Writers.
It will be interesting to see if he can translate that skill to the NHL level, and this weekend will be his first go-round with other potential NHL players. Again, it’s not very likely that he’s going to make the Lightning in his first training camp, but it will still be fun to watch him try, right? Maybe he earns a 10-game tryout with the Bolts, something that we haven’t seen in these parts in quite a long time.
There is usually a tendency to read too much into these rookie showcases. After all, they are young players going up against other young players and not grizzled veterans who know all of the tricks and trades of playing in the NHL. Still, it can be a chance to catch a glimpse of some future potential in a player. It’s also a sign that training camp is right around the corner and our long hockey-less summer is almost over.