2018-19 Farm System Report: Tampa Bay Lightning

Although long-time General Manager Steve Yzerman is moving on from the Tampa Bay Lightning, his contributions will be felt for years to come.

In his eight seasons as the head-honcho in Tampa Bay, Yzerman pieced together an incredibly skilled and deep roster capable of gracing the ice with consistency. Strong, fast, and endlessly potent, the Lightning stand as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender as a direct result of Yzerman’s intelligence and tactile decision-making.

What’s more is that Yzerman quietly built an impressive farm system comprised of excellent young prospects during his time with the team. Although Tampa Bay does not boast an elite prospect, per se, the organization owns a wealth of incredibly promising players capable of playing with poise and purpose at the NHL-level.

Franchise Breakdown:

Division: Atlantic

Stanley Cups: One

2017-18 Record: 54-23-5; 113 Points

2017-18 Top Scorer: Nikita Kucherov; 39G, 61A, 100PTS

Farm System Grade: B

Top 10 Prospects:

  1. Cal Foote
  2. Anthony Cirelli
  3. Mitchell Stephens
  4. Alexander Volkov
  5. Taylor Raddysh
  6. Erik Cernak
  7. Mathieu Joseph
  8. Boris Katchouk
  9. Gabriel Fortier
  10. Dominik Masin

The State of the Lightning’s Farm System

Given their consistent success in recent seasons, the Lightning have not held exceptionally high selections in the annual NHL Draft.

Yet, despite this reality, Tampa Bay has done an excellent job of stealing quality young talent in later rounds of the draft. Of these mid-to-late round gems, perhaps none are more promising than Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens. Both selected outside of the first round of the Draft, Cirelli and Stephens are persistent two-way centres who play strong, professional-style games.

Mitchell Stephens of the Saginaw Spirit played in Game 3 of the CIBC Canada-Russia Series in North Bay, ON on Thursday November 10, 2016. Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images
Stephens is a consistent centre who plays a stellar north-south game. (Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

In fact, following a strong season in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, Cirelli appeared in 18 regular season games for the Lightning and was able to record a highly impressive five goals and 11 points. As a player known for his defensive play and shutdown capabilities, Cirelli also appeared in 17 postseason contests for Tampa Bay — a glaring indication of his value within the organization.

Outside of Cirelli and Stephens, it is none other than Cal Foote who stands as the Lightning’s best prospect.

Standing 6-foot-4 and 215-pounds, Foote — like his father Adam Foote — is an intimidating defender who uses his size to his advantage with regularity. However, unlike his father, Foote is a promising offensive player who moves the puck well and features a heavy, seeing-eye shot from the point. Capable of playing a mobile, two-way game from the blue line despite his size, Foote should factor into and bolster Tampa Bay’s back-end in the near future.

Perhaps the only weakness present within the Lightning’s farm system at present is the lack of a high-end goaltending prospect. Yes, the franchise added by Ty Taylor and Magnus Chrona in the 2018 NHL Draft, however, neither of which have fully developed as goaltenders and will need more time to do so.

One Lightning Prospect to Watch

Let’s take a moment to talk about Cirelli in greater detail, as he’s one prospect Lightning fans should follow this season.

Although he stands just 6-feet tall and weighs in at 185-pounds, Cirelli has long been considered a dominant two-way centre. Cirelli first began to gain attention during the 2014-15 OHL Playoffs when, as an undrafted rookie, he shutdown soon-to-be first overall draft pick Connor McDavid and led the Oshawa Generals to an OHL Championship. As a relative unknown at the time, Cirelli’s ability to dominate one of the game’s best young talents caught the eyes of scouts around the world.

Cirelli_AB43697
In his three seasons of play in the OHL, Cirelli’s two-way game was second to none. (Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

Despite being passed over in two consecutive OHL Drafts, Cirelli’s tireless determination led him to a leading role with the Generals and one which called upon his defensive awareness on a nightly basis. Named as the CHL Memorial Cup’s Most Sportsmanlike Player in 2016-17, Cirelli’s commitment to securing his own zone in addition to providing offence has now come to define his style of play.

Set to embark upon his first full season of play at the NHL-level, the Lightning will once again expect Cirelli to do exactly such. While he may not play major minutes this coming campaign, Cirelli’s ability to defend paired with his sporadic offensive contributions will afford him a role of importance in Tampa Bay, and one worth watching.

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