The Tampa Bay Lightning were one game away from reaching the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals. It was the second time in three years they’d come so close. Moreover, it was their third conference final in four years. With a veteran-heavy group trying to squeeze through the Stanley Cup window, there isn’t much room for rookies. However, this season will see a chance for one or more rookies to crack the roster.

Lightning Rookies To Watch

Within the last two years, big names like Brayden Point and Mikhail Sergachev showed skill during their rookie seasons. Additionally, Yanni Gourde and Anthony Cirelli also earned their spots on the Lightning roster in 2018. New Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois may infuse more new blood into the team.

New Faces on Offense?

There’s room on the fourth line. Veteran winger Ryan Callahan will miss at least the first month of the season as he recovers from surgery. Additionally, Chris Kunitz didn’t return this season. This leaves two open spots for a rookie to potentially come up. Three players come to mind.

Mathieu Joseph

Mathieu Joseph arguably has the best potential of Tampa’s forward prospects. He has incredible speed and already skates at an NHL level. He lead Tampa’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, in total points last season (15G, 38A = 53 points). However, Joseph’s value isn’t in being a fourth-line grinder. Spending some of his rookie season in that role could help him adjust to the physicality of the NHL.

Alexander Volkov was a huge dark horse pick in the second round of the 2017 NHL draft.  The rookie lead the Crunch with 23 goals during his first year playing in North America. Volkov is another player who shouldn’t spend his career as a fourth liner.

Internal Competition

Adam Erne

Either Joseph or Volkov have big potential to land a spot this year. However, the competition for a spot isn’t just between rookies. Adam Erne has been competing for a spot on the roster for what seems like forever. He looked great during his time with the team last year, too. Moreover, his gritty style makes him a great fit next to Cedric Paquette.

Additionally, Cory Conacher is one of the most underappreciated depth players around. When Conacher’s called up he can be a major contributor. Especially when he gets his fair share of games. No one should be surprised if Conacher makes the final roster to start the season.

Finally, Andy Andreoff was acquired from LA in the Peter Budaj trade this summer. Andreoff certainly fits the bill for a rugged fourth liner. If Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper wants a strictly shut-down fourth line that can bang up other teams, look for Andreoff to make the cut.

Honorable Mentions

While the competition looks tough, Joseph and Volkov aren’t the only rookies with a shot at joining the team this year. Taylor Raddysh is one of the best prospects in Tampa’s system. He’d bring some much needed size to one of the league’s smallest forward corps. His ability to skate and contribute in every area of the ice makes Raddysh a prospect with possibilities.

Boris Katchouk and Mitchell Stephens are the last of Tampa’s deep prospect pool. Stephens was one of the best players in Syracuse last season. He seems ready to crack an NHL roster sooner than later. The fourth line would be a good fit for him. Katchouk is another great scorer within the Lightning organization. Like Raddysh, he’ll probably need another year to be NHL-ready.

Best Foote Forward

The Lightning’s best prospect plays defense and his name is Callan (Cal) Foote (cover photo). The team wisely signed Slater Koekkoek for one more year this summer. But that still leaves seven players almost guaranteed to make the roster. Fortunately, three of Tampa’s defensemen will be up for new contracts next year. At least one is unlikely to return, if not two. That will leave a spot open for Foote, who should definitely be ready by then.

Aside from Foote, Dominik Masin and Erik Cernak are the next best prospects. Neither have much chance making the Lightning this year, but Cernak has a decent chance down the road.

What One Player has the Best Chance

The one rookie with the best chance to start this year is Joseph. After Volkov’s shocking season, one might assume he has the higher ceiling. But Joseph is already so familiar with North American hockey, and he has the best overall game.

It’ll be tough for the Lightning to choose between guys like Joseph, Volkov, Raddysh and Katchouk down the road. It’s a good problem to have. But for now, it’s clear which players are the ones fans should watch closely.
Cover Photo Credit: USA Today 
Clay Goupil covers the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlantic Division for Full Press Coverage.
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