Lightning's top 10 prospects led by improving Drouin

Friday, 08.22.2014 / 8:38 AM
Adam Kimelman  - NHL.com

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman got his first taste of life in an NHL front office working for the Detroit Red Wings, and saw how their deliberate, patient approach with their prospects resulted in creating strong NHL players.

He's implemented that same philosophy during his tenure with the Lightning, stressing incremental growth until the players are fully developed and ready to step into an NHL lineup.

"It's mostly up to the individual," Yzerman told NHL.com. "Do they have the drive and determination to get better? Whether they're playing junior or college, you still have to get better every year. How do you do that? It's through your work ethic, improving your conditioning, improving your skills, maturing as a person. They all have to do that. The guys who figure it out tend to play."

Here is a look at the top 10 prospects for the Lightning, according to NHL.com:

1. Jonathan Drouin, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 3), 2013 draft

Last season: 46 GP, 29-79-108, plus-50, Halifax, QMJHL

Yzerman said there weren't any specific things he was looking to see from Drouin when the talented 5-foot-11, 186-pound forward was returned to his junior team. He was hoping to see Drouin develop his all-around maturity. What he got was a second straight 100-point season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a leading role on Canada's team at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship and a player who averaged 2.5 points per game in 16 playoff games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Drouin also got physically stronger.

"We tested him last July, we tested him last September and we tested him in early July this year," Yzerman said of the 19-year-old. "His test scores are all significantly improved. Another year of hard work, a year older. I think he's learned a lot in the last year. … We just felt he was better off playing another year in junior, taking on an even bigger role. Improving in all aspects of his game and being one year physically and mentally more mature."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G

How acquired: 1st round (No. 19), 2012 draft

Last season: 28 GP, 14-8-5, 2.21 GAA, .923 save percentage, 3 SO, Salavat Yulaev, KHL

It was an outstanding season on all fronts for the 20-year-old goaltender. He was named the Kontinental Hockey League rookie of the year, helped Russia win a bronze medal at the WJC and a gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Championship. He capped his season by signing his first NHL contract, and he'll start this season in the American Hockey League.

"He's big (6-3, 210), he's very talented, he's very athletic and extremely competitive," Yzerman said. "He's been an outstanding goalie in junior. Watching him at the international level, he did a great job. ... He's excelled at every level. If we're patient and give him everything he needs to continue to improve, we're confident in time that he'll be an extremely good goaltender in the NHL."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. Vladislav Namestnikov, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 27), 2011 draft

Last season: 56 GP, 19-29-48, Syracuse, AHL

In his second professional season, the 5-11, 171-pound forward more than doubled his goals, assists and points from the previous year while still impressing the Lightning with his defensive responsibility. His strong play earned the 21-year-old four games in the NHL.

"We were really pleased with how [Namestnikov] has done," Yzerman said. "He's extremely competitive, and for a young player very responsible in all facets of the game, a good defending centerman. He understands how to play in his own zone and his responsibilities. He plays hard. … He's a very skilled guy, very fast. What we like best is his competitiveness and his sense of responsibility on the ice. We're very pleased with how he's come along."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

4. Slater Koekkoek, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 10), 2012 draft

Last season: 62 GP, 15-38-53, plus-44, Windsor, OHL

The good news for Koekkoek (6-2, 184) in 2013-14 was that he played more than 60 games for the first time since the 2010-11 season. The bad news was last season ended the same way the previous two did, with him needing shoulder surgery. He had the labrum in his right shoulder repaired in March, but expects to be on the ice when training camp starts. That followed operations on his left shoulder that cut the previous two seasons short.

Despite his injury issues, the Lightning remain excited by the potential displayed by the 20-year-old.

"He's a tremendous athlete, an excellent skater and a very competitive young man," Yzerman said. "We'll be patient, allow him to get physically stronger, allow both shoulders to get stronger, make sure they're healed properly. He's done what's needed to be done to get them fixed. I think he's on the right track. We're just being patient and allowing him to physically and mentally grow up, and we believe he will."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Adam Erne, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 33), 2013 draft

Last season: 48 GP, 21-41-62, Quebec, QMJHL

The stocky power forward (6-1, 210) had another strong season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the 19-year-old played a big role for the United States at the World Junior Championship.

"He's a thick, strong, powerful guy," Yzerman said. "He had a good year last year and we believe he can still get better. He's really taken the advice that we've given him to what it's going to take for him to become an NHL player. Knowing his path, training, how he prepares for practice, for games. He's been great. His attitude has been outstanding. He's physically strong enough and I think he has a real good mind for the game. He's a young guy that has potential. As long as he keeps working and showing the determination that he has, he's got a good chance to be a good player."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

6. Anthony DeAngelo, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 19), 2014 draft

Last season: 51 GP, 15-56-71, Sarnia, OHL

The leading scorer among Ontario Hockey League defensemen last season, the 5-11, 175-pound defenseman made headlines for the right and wrong reasons. Besides his outstanding play, he was suspended twice for violations of the league's harassment, abuse and diversity policy. However, Yzerman views DeAngelo's missteps as part of the maturation process every 18-year-old has to go through.

"We see great potential," he said. "He's going to be held to a high standard. Some of the situations he got himself into, he's got to learn from them. They're not going to be tolerated and he understands that. We've got to be patient, allow these kids to grow up. And we'll do everything we can to help them. We're really pleased to have him in the organization. Looking at our prospects, he really fills a void that we had; a puck-moving, power-play right-shot defenseman."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Adam Wilcox, G

How acquired: 6th round (No. 178), 2011 draft

Last season: 38 GP, 26-6-6, 1.97 GAA, .932 save percentage, 4 SO, Minnesota, Big 10

The 21-year-old had an outstanding second season at Minnesota in 2013-14. He helped the Golden Gophers reach the NCAA championship game, and along the way took home the conference's player of the year and best goaltender awards. The 6-foot, 171-pound goaltender also was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's best Division I player.

"He's very competitive," Yzerman said. "He's a really a good, young goalie. He's in a good spot with a good program, a team that does well. We'll just let him keep doing his thing. He gets better every year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

8. Henri Ikonen, LW

How acquired: 6th round (No. 154), 2013 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 25-45-70, Kingston, OHL

The 20-year-old Finnish-born forward made great strides in his second season in North America. Besides his strong showing in the Ontario Hockey League, Ikonen (5-11, 184) had three points in seven games to help Finland win the gold medal at the World Junior Championship.

"He's a prototypical Finn," Yzerman said. "He goes 100 miles per hour, he wins puck battles, he's strong, extremely competitive, he's got good hockey sense. It's amazing how he goes into corners and comes out with the puck more often than other players. … He plays a North American game. He's an interesting young prospect and a really good athlete who's very motivated. He works hard, he's in tremendous shape, physically strong, explosive. He's got really good potential."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

9. Cedric Paquette, C

How acquired: 4th round (No. 101), 2012 draft

Last season: 70 GP, 20-24-44, 153 PIM, Syracuse, AHL

The 2013-14 season was the first in the professional ranks for the 6-1, 198-pound forward, and the 20-year-old played well enough to get into two regular-season NHL games and then average 10:33 of ice time playing in all four of the Lightning's Stanley Cup Playoff games against the Montreal Canadiens.

"He's extremely competitive," Yzerman said. "He's a centerman that can play either left or right wing. He has real good hockey sense, good skill. He's a real grinder, hard to play against, abrasive. … He's still got a lot of room to grow, but we're really happy with the way he plays the game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

10. Luke Witkowski, D

How acquired: 6th round (No. 160), 2008 draft

Last season: 76 GP, 2-10-12, 204 PIM, Syracuse, AHL

After four seasons at Western Michigan University, the 24-year-old made his first full professional season an impressive one as he displayed a simple, smart game.

"He's going to make it as a defensive defenseman," Yzerman said. "His best two assets are his skating ability and he's really strong (6-2, 200). … He's one of those defenseman that you just put them on the ice and they're safe and they make simple plays and they defend well. He's very competitive, he's hard-nosed. DeAngelo fills a need as a prospect, so does Luke Witkowski, but in a different way."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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