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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Top 20 Prospect Profiles – Organizational Rank #32

Top 20 Tampa Bay Lightning Prospects

1. Isaac Howard

One of the more recent additions to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s prospect pool, Howard was drafted 31st overall in 2022, after putting up 82 points in 60 games with the USNTDP, as well as an impressive 11-point performance at U18s en route to a silver medal for Team USA. Last season, he moved on to the NCAA’s University of Minnesota-Duluth where he didn’t find that same offensive production and obviously wasn’t happy with his season as he has since transferred to Michigan State University for 2023-24. Howard is a speedy and creative playmaker who plays a strong small-area game. He can be a bit inconsistent in his effort level, but with the right coaching and development, he can reach his ceiling as a dependable second-line winger in the NHL. Lightning fans may need to be patient with him through his development as he works the kinks out.

2. Ethan Gauthier

After pumping in 6 goals and 7 points in 5 games for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, all eyes were on Gauthier’s QMJHL performance last season with the Sherbrooke Phoenix. Ultimately, the righty shot improved upon the 18 goals and 39 points of his freshman campaign into 30 goals and 69 points for his draft year, adding another 11 points in the playoffs and being named “Best Professional Prospect” in the Q for his efforts. A relentless pursuer of the puck who forces his opponents to make quick decisions, particularly on the forecheck, Gauthier possesses a smooth, mechanically-sound stride that utilizes sound crossovers and applies quick acceleration to create opportunities for his line. This is the fundamental strength and basis of his game that should allow for an NHL career in some capacity. Tampa Bay selected him 37th overall this summer with the hope that his keen understanding of how to apply his tools for generating offense will have him looking like a top-line support winger who plays a heavy game. His QMJHL rights were dealt to Drummondville, where the Lightning organization hopes he’ll enjoy a dominating offensive season before going pro.

3. Niko Huuhtanen

From being the last player selected in 2021 to the number three prospect in the Lightning system is a testament to both the development of Huuhtanen as well as an admission that he was drafted too low. The Finnish forward was selected after his second full season in the U20 SM-sarja, producing nearly a point-per-game. After being selected, he came overseas to the WHL’s Everett Silvertips where he impressed, leading all rookies in goals with 37 in just 65 games. He returned to Finland last season, but this time to the Liiga, where he again led all rookies in goals (17) as well as points (30). He has pro size and plays a hard, physical game while boasting a heavy shot. Huuhtanen is well on his way to slotting in as a bottom six contributor but could play up the lineup if called upon.

4. Jack Finley

It’s hard to miss Finley on the ice, standing at 6- 6” and 223 pounds. The Lightning took notice, selecting him 57th overall in 2020. He was coming off a strong sophomore season in the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs but lost almost the entire 2020-21 season due to a torn labrum. He returned to the WHL for one final season, taking time to get back up to speed but looking strong down the stretch. He moved up to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch last season, again taking time to adjust but fitting in well as the season wore on. He’s likely not going to be a high-skill player but should bring strong possession ability and be a net-front presence. He needs to improve his skating and to learn how to use his size to his advantage, but he’s a raw, intriguing prospect. Finley could be a bottom-six forward when all is said and done.

5. Jack Thompson

Thompson was another product of the 2020 NHL Draft, 93rd overall, after doubling his scoring output in his second OHL season. He headed overseas to play in the HockeyEttan during the cancelled 2020-21 season, contributing a point-per-game as a defender. He came back to the OHL in 2021-22 as the captain of the Sudbury Wolves before a trade to the Soo. Thompson’s season including leading all OHL defenders in goals (21) and helping Canada to a World Juniors gold medal. He jumped to the AHL last season, looking extremely comfortable in the process. He’s capable of playing big minutes, thrives when getting involved offensively, and has shown steps forward on the defensive side of the puck as well. He’s a pretty well-rounded player without excelling in one specific area and has the potential to be a bottom-four, two-way presence, especially if he can maintain his offensive success at the pro levels.

6. Hugo Alnefelt

It feels as though Alnefelt has been on the cusp of the NHL ever since he was selected in the third round by the Lightning in 2019. The goaltender was coming off a good season in the J20 SuperElit, while standing out internationally in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, winning a silver medal, as well as in the U18s, winning a gold. The next two seasons were spent in the SHL while appearing in back-to-back World Juniors. Alnefelt moved to North America in 2021-22 and struggled in his first season, before looking more comfortable with the Crunch last season. When he’s on, he angles out shooters well and is quite agile in the net. He controls rebound well and has good athleticism. He’s been quite inconsistent thus far and can let in soft shots at times. He could become a reliable backup in the NHL and could make that move relatively soon.

7. Gage Goncalves

Goncalves has followed a steady trajectory in his development, showing some improving each season. After two seasons in the WHL, the Lightning took note, using the 62nd pick in 2020 to select him. Goncalves returned to the WHL for one more season in 2020-21, as the alternate captain, earning his first NHL contract and moving to the AHL in 2021-22. His professional transition was rather seamless and looked even better in his second go-round last season. As seems to be a theme with Lightning prospects, he’s a competitive forward who never quits on a play. He’s a strong playmaker with a knack for feeding the slot, plays a smart game, and rarely makes a mistake. Goncalves seems well on his way to an NHL roster where he should be able to secure a spot as a bottom six player who could play up if needed. The Lightning have definitely been looking for players of his specific type in recent years.

8. Lucas Edmonds

Originally eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, Lucas Edmonds finally heard his name called in the 2022, 86th overall. After playing in Sweden in his first two draft eligible seasons, mainly in the J20 SuperElit, he split time between the HockeyAllsvenskan and HockeyEttan in 2020-21 and decided a change was needed, moving to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs in 2021-22, where he put up 113 points in just 68 games, leading the league in assists (79). The Lightning bit, immediately signing him to an entry-level deal, and bringing him to the AHL. Edmonds played well last season, employing an intelligent, well-rounded game. A playmaker who knows how to create offense, his path has been an interesting one, but he likely tops out as an AHLer and call-up option. That said, there is a reasonable chance that he finds a regular role as a bottom-line winger as well, considering his quick adjustment to the AHL.

9. Dylan Duke

High energy, highly competitive prospects give themselves a better chance to make it and the Lightning are betting on just that with Duke. He was selected 126th overall in 2021 after a point-per-game season with the USNTDP, which included being named a top-three player in the U18s. He moved on to the NCAA with the University of Michigan in 2021-22, falling victim to a lack of ice time on a deep Wolverines team, and seeing his production dip in the process. He took on a bigger role last season, increasing in offense and earning the call to Team USA at the World Juniors, winning bronze. Duke is a tenacious winger with only one gear – high! He battles hard, always working to get the puck back on his team’s sticks. If everything pans out, he could be a very entertaining middle-six winger.

10. Jayson Shaugabay

Shaugabay is a shifty and highly deceptive playmaking winger with significant offensive upside. When playing in the Minnesota high school loop, he was the best player in the State, earning the coveted Mr. Hockey award for the season. He also started and finished the year with USHL Green Bay and was a standout for the Gamblers too, with one of the highest point per game averages on the team, albeit in a smaller sample size of games played. Shaugabay was one of the most skilled and creative players with the puck from the 2023 draft class. He routinely creates extra time and space for himself by beating the first and second layers of pressure, turning would-be defenders into pylons. That said, there are a lot of areas to his game that will need work for him to reach his high ceiling, particularly his skating and strength on the puck, especially given his size. Minnesota-Duluth should be a great place for him, a program that tends to draw players who are more polished off the puck and incorporate power into their game, which could help his creative style flourish while transforming him into a more well-rounded player.

11. Declan Carlilie

There is a very quiet effectiveness to Carlile’s game. Efficient at both ends, he can start the breakout or squash the opposition’s. After a very solid first full year in the AHL, the former Merrimack defender has put himself in contention for a roster spot with Tampa Bay.

12. Daniil Pylenkov

Pylenkov is quickly becoming one of the better young defenders in Russia after a strong KHL season. A standout in the defensive end, he could probably play a third pairing role already. However, he still has two years remaining on his KHL deal and there are questions as to whether he’s actually interested in coming over.

13. Cole Koepke

A goal scoring winger with some jam to his game, Koepke has yet to live up to the high expectations that the Lightning had for him through two pro seasons. He struggled in a cup of coffee with Tampa last season, but there’s still some hope that he can be a quality third line option, even though he’s already 25.

14. Nick Malik

It was a step backwards for Malik last year after he lost his starting role with KooKoo due to inconsistent play. The son of former NHL defender Marek Malik, Nick is a tremendous athlete, but he is still working to refine his approach in the crease.

15. Roman Schmidt

Schmidt is a massive defender who also happens to be fairly mobile for his size. After a few seasons in the OHL with Kitchener, he will turn pro this year. His focus will be on improving his puck management.

16. Gabriel Fortier

The offensive upside is not significant, but Fortier will likely be an NHL player in some capacity in the future due to his tenaciousness and the energy he brings in whatever role that is asked of him. He could be a full time fourth liner this upcoming season.

17. Max Crozier

Even with some decent offensive production at Providence, Crozier’s future in the NHL will probably be in more of a defensive role similar to the way Nick Perbix quickly rose through the system. The right shot defender moves well and brings a physical element. He will play with Syracuse this year.

18. Connor Kurth

A former USHL standout, Kurth is a very talented offensive player. However, his freshman production was pretty pedestrian as he got buried in the Gophers lineup. Tampa Bay is hoping that he can earn a larger role as a sophomore.

19. Waltteri Merela

Signed out of Finland this offseason, Merela is a big winger with strong puck protection skills. He helped Tappara capture Liiga and Champions League titles last year and could easily make the Lightning lineup out of camp.

20. Jack Harvey

Taken by Tampa in his final year of draft eligibility, Harvey will head to Boston University this fall after a few good seasons with Chicago of the USHL. His off-puck play improved a lot this year, prompting his selection.