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Tampa Bay Lightning are No. 29 in 2024 NHL prospect pool rankings

Tampa Bay Lightning are No. 29 in 2024 NHL prospect pool rankings
By Scott Wheeler
Feb 2, 2024


Welcome to Scott Wheeler’s 2024 rankings of every NHL organization’s prospects. You can find the complete ranking and more information on the criteria here, as we count down daily from No. 32 to No. 1. The series, which includes in-depth evaluations and insight from sources on nearly 500 prospects, runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 29.

Despite making only two picks in the first five rounds of the 2023 draft, the Lightning’s prospect pool ranking actually rises a little in this year’s countdown thanks to a bounce-back season from their top prospect and some positive steps from a couple of notable AHLers who are now knocking on the door.


Their pool is supported by two legitimate wing prospects and a cluster of potential depth options at other positions. It lacks in high-end talent, at center and in left-handed defensemen, with none of the latter on this list

2023 prospect pool rank: No. 31 (change: +2)

1. Isaac Howard, LW, 19 (Michigan State University)

Howard’s a player I diverged from the consensus on in his draft year, ranking him in the front half of the first round when he was drafted at the tail end of it. After an up-and-down freshman year at Minnesota Duluth and a transfer to MSU gave me some pause about whether I was a little too high on him, he has gotten back to looking like the player I believed him to be both with the Spartans, where he’s the team’s top offensive player, and the national team at the world juniors (I saw him play in East Lansing and Gothenburg in recent months, and he was impressive at both), where he was an important part of an excellent line and made some big plays in big moments, including the gold medal game.

Howard’s a player with the kind of track record of success that nearly always translates.

Though he’s “short” at 5-foot-10, he’s a long way from small, with a muscular build that makes him sturdier than you might expect on his feet/over pucks. He’s got quick crossover acceleration, with a hurried stride that cranks its way up ice to give him good speed. There are times when he can look like an all-offense player but when his effort level and tenaciousness match his skill level, you’ll see him around the puck all game, which we’ve seen more of as he has ramped up his off-puck movement and drive this year.

Inside the offensive zone, he’s extremely dangerous on the puck, with underrated creativity to complement his clearly high-end skill (though he tries things occasionally at the offensive-zone blue line that he shouldn’t get away with, he also usually executes them). He makes a lot of plays under the triangles of defenders’ sticks, he navigates in and out of holes in traffic really well, and when he’s in attack mode taking pucks from a standstill into the middle of the ice to create looks, he’s a ton of fun to watch and forces opposing players to reach in on him (which draws a lot of penalties).

But he’s even more dangerous off the puck, with a scorer’s sixth sense for always arriving just on time in Grade-A locations (whether that’s hiding in coverage or just staying around the puck at the net). He’s the kind of player who finds ways to get open in the home-plate area and then makes quick, aggressive finishing plays (either with his hands or a heavy one-touch/catch-and-release shot). I think some of his so-so freshman year last year can be attributed to some of his struggles to create for himself but also that they didn’t have a natural playmaker to find him in soft space and facilitate for him. He’s going to need that at the next level to make the most of his talent.

Ultimately, Howard is a player who is always going to have PP utility but will require the right coach, usage and linemates to be the impactful top-six winger I think he’s capable of being at five-on-five as well. It has been nice, though, to see him play with more jump, get to more loose pucks, move his feet to get off the wall and to the slot/net, and be above and supporting more pucks when the other team has it. His game has really come along nicely this year.

2. Ethan Gauthier, RW, 18 (Drummondville Voltigeurs)

Gauthier, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 QMJHL draft and son of former 10-year NHLer Denis Gauthier, is widely credited for his pro-style game and consistency. He had a strong showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup (where he scored six goals in five games). He had a strong draft year with a top team in Sherbrooke. He’s now having a strong post-draft season with another top team in Drummondville. He’s just a good hockey player. He’s not a star, but he’s a solid B-plus prospect who has an opportunity to become an up-and-down-the-lineup, plug-and-play NHLer.

He brings a lot to the table. He’s a versatile, hardworking player who excels in pretty much every facet of the game, gets to the middle of the ice, and makes plays around the net through skill and timing. He’s consistent shift-to-shift and game-to-game and while he might lack the dynamism of a true top prospect, he can make plays in a variety of ways on and off the puck and the ice usually tilts in his team’s favor when he’s out there (it’s also not a coincidence he has played on winning teams the last two years in the Q). He’s going to be an NHLer — I think the bigger question is whether he’s going to be more of a middle-six or bottom-six player who can jump up in a pinch. He’s a good, effective hockey player though, there’s no question about that. Detail, work ethic and pro habits can take a player a long way.

3. Jack Thompson, RHD, 21 (Syracuse Crunch)

After a really solid rookie pro season stepping onto the Crunch blue line and, as its youngest defenseman, looking like he belonged last year, Thompson has taken another step forward this season in a bigger role, earning his NHL debut along the way. He had a big year two years ago, leading all OHL defensemen in goals with 21 and finishing sixth in points with 57 (in 65 games) before closing out his junior career with another six goals and 14 points in just nine playoff games, as well as four points and a plus-10 rating in seven games for a gold medal-winning Team Canada at the summer world juniors. At the junior level, he established himself as an aggressive, minute-eating all-situations defenseman whose presence was felt at both ends of the rink. At the AHL level, he has kept his identity while beginning to make the right tweaks.

Offensively, he’s a shoot-first defender who likes to attack off the line, can beat goalies cleanly with his shot, and does a good job getting hard shots through traffic from the point. That aggression that he plays with in the offensive zone has also become a part of his game defensively, where he doesn’t search out hits but plays physically, using his timing to close gaps. He has upside as a solid third-pairing defenseman and a floor, at the very least, as an AHL call-up option. He’s not a super creative offensive playmaker, nor does he have the size that teams covet in their staunch defensive types, but he has a little bit of both along with a pro build and makeup and desirable handedness.

Jack Thompson made his NHL debut with the Lightning early last month. (Brian Fluharty / USA Today)

4. Dylan Duke, LW, 20 (University of Michigan)

One of my favourites from the 2021 draft, Duke’s a short but stocky winger with a nose for the net who impressed me in a bottom-six role as a freshman with the stacked Wolverines two seasons ago and has been successful in a greater role in each of the two consecutive seasons since, now factoring as a point-per-game player as a 20-year-old junior. He plays bigger than his size, stays on top of pucks when he’s being leaned on and always seems to get open off of the puck. He also goes to the net a whole lot (it is the hallmark of his game) for his size and is great on tips there (including, believe it or not, in that role on the PP, which is rare for a shorter player but he does it so well). There remain mixed opinions on how his game will translate, with scouts questioning his footspeed. I think his game is rounded enough to emerge from his college career, earn an NHL contract and give it a good go, though. He plays a hard, tenacious game, he loves to drive the crease and make plays into bodies, he regularly outmuscles bigger opponents (which he’ll insist is actually a strength of his if you ever ask him) and he’s got quick hands and a wrist shot that can beat goalies from midrange (though, again, most of his goals come from right at the top of the crease/post). If he can continue to improve upon his acceleration, he’ll have a chance. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a Rafaël Harvey-Pinard type who works his way through the AHL and emerges as a useful NHLer in his mid-20s.


5. Hugo Alnefelt, G, 22 (Syracuse Crunch)

After two years playing ahead of the curve to strong results in the SHL, and even longer than that to superb results against his peers, Alnefelt, who only just turned 22 in June, finally showed his age in his first pro season in North America in 2021-22 before rebounding to solid but unspectacular results the last two years, first in a tandem with veteran Max Lagace (who I thought he outplayed last year) and now in a tandem with veteran Matt Tomkins (whose numbers have been comparable to his). His athleticism and movement are his strengths. He’s 6-foot-3 and he gets from post to post or low to high quickly to challenge shooters and make reactionary saves. I also think the things that need developing are the kind of things that are more correctable with repetition and time than some of the natural tools he has. My main concern with his game has long been that a few too many routine shots squeak through his body (some of which I think comes down to spotty tracking that can occasionally prevent him from being set in his stance). These last two seasons, though, he has played a more compact, controlled style, staying square to swallow the shots he can see and limit holes around his arms. The challenge is that he’s now in the last year of his entry-level contract, so they’re going to have to decide whether he can be a No. 2/3 for them (he’s not going to be a starter at the next level but I think he can be an option).

6. Niko Huuhtanen, RW, 20 (Jukurit)

After scoring 42 goals and 87 points in a combined 70 regular-season and playoff games in a lone season in Everett at 18, Huuhtanen has been one of the better young players in Liiga the last two seasons, outperforming players who were drafted in front of him while maintaining his physical, mean, power-forward style (you often see young players pull back a little as they get their feet wet in pro hockey, but he has leaned into his identity). I liked him at the world juniors, where he was a consistent presence offensively for Finland, too.

Huuhtanen’s a 6-foot-2, 200-plus pound forward who plays a direct, attacking game that features good overall skill and a heavy wrist shot (though he often surprises goalies one-on-one on breakaways by deking instead of shooting). He’s broad-shouldered. He holds his ground with the puck. He generates a lot of power through his snap shot. When he drives and looks to attack into the middle third of the ice, he’s a lot to handle. He’ll forecheck and go to the dirty areas and the net/slot. He’s got the tools of a good bottom-six, up-and-down-the-lineup, checking-and-scoring winger if he can stay on his current trajectory. Considering he was the third-last pick of his draft, that’s some tidy work. The Lightning should sign him and bring him over to the AHL when this year finishes. He’s not the fleetest of foot but there aren’t many 20-year-olds, with pro qualities, leading Liiga teams in scoring.

7. Gage Goncalves, C, 22 (Syracuse Crunch)

Goncalves is a great story that just keeps getting better. In his rookie season at the AHL level, he stepped right in as a regular with the Crunch, endearing himself to Crunch staff like he endeared himself to Everett staff in his plucky rise through the ranks. Last season, he took another step forward to establish himself as a more important piece of the puzzle. This season, on a Crunch team I believe has exceeded expectations, he has been its leading scorer and now belongs in the NHL call-up conversation.

Goncalves is a feisty, engaged center with sneaky playmaking intuition, a middle-lane drive (though not always with the power or speed to make the most of his good intentions and effort level) and just enough skill to suggest he might be a competent depth/fourth-line center one day as his strength and confidence continue to build upon a strong foundation of tools and attitude. It’s his detail and the consistency of his habits, more than his offense, that has defined him. Goncalves is a well-rounded, complete player who will take his career as far as he’s capable of taking it — of that I have no doubt.

8. Jack Finley, C, 21 (Syracuse Crunch)

After opening his second pro season on injured reserve, Finley has slowly begun to get back to himself with the Crunch. He’s a unique player type as a 6-foot-6 forward with some depth NHL upside. There just aren’t many players as big as him who make it up front. He’s got more talent than his numbers (both at the end of his WHL career on a stacked Winnipeg team and so far in the AHL) indicate, and he has played well when I’ve watched the Crunch, with positive on-ice results to show for it even if the counting stats still don’t pop, especially for a player who just turned 21 in September. He’s got plenty of time to continue to find his frame, find his niche and hopefully develop into a player who gives the Lightning a different look in the bottom six. He’s also already 220-plus pounds, which is something to keep an eye on (for positive and negative reasons). If he can figure out how to use his size a little more (he has never been a particularly physical player, believe it or not), there’s a lot to work with there in the hopes that he can be a Brian Boyle type.

There are tools to his game you’d expect him to have: abilities of puck protection that help him dictate cycle shifts, net-front acumen on tips and redirects. But then there are also tools you don’t expect: some perimeter playmaking ability, good coordination and dexterity so that he can keep his head up when he has the puck. I’d like to see him use his puck skill to attack the slot a little more often and look for his shot, rather than deferring (when he drops his shoulder and cuts to the net, he’s tough to knock off the puck). He’ll need to continue to clean up his skating if he wants to be able to play at NHL speed (though his skating isn’t a huge deficiency considering his size), too. He’s the kind of player every organization’s development group ought to want to work with and see if they can turn into an NHL option.

9. Maxim Groshev, RW/LW, 22 (Syracuse Crunch)

Groshev’s skill set was, for a while, a bit of a mystery to me. He’s a powerful, balanced, fast skater who can push past opponents and turn defenders in transition to create for himself off the rush. That’s his hallmark and it has turned a fair number of scouts into proponents of his NHL upside. Mix in a dogged work ethic, a pro frame and decent overall skill and there was reason to believe he had the makings of a versatile winger who would fit in better on North American ice when he came over. Not surprisingly, that has been the case this year with the Crunch, where he has been a successful top-nine winger as a rookie. But I’ve also often seen a player over the years whose processing doesn’t keep up and whose game suffers east-to-west or under pressure as a result, too often trying to force the envelope. I found it hard, when you combine that with previous lackluster production, to be confident he’d get the most out of his obvious athletic ability. This year has gone a long way to help assuage those concerns, though. He may still top out as an AHLer who gets a call-up here or there, which was my projection for years. But he’s made a strong early case that he might have bottom-six upside as a regular, too. There are some tools there, for sure, and it has been nice to see him establish himself as a solid AHL player so quickly.

10. Roman Schmidt, RHD, 20 (Kingston Frontenacs)

The 6-foot-5, 216-pound Schmidt has traveled an unconventional path from the GTHL to the NTDP and then back to Ontario in Kitchener and now Kingston (with a brief stop in Syracuse). Typically, a path like that would make it hard for a player to progress up levels (particularly when a contending OHL team trades you to upgrade elsewhere/give you a better opportunity somewhere else). When you’re Schmidt’s size, though, and you’ve got some redeeming qualities, you’re going to get every opportunity to succeed and sometimes you need more runway to figure it out. The strength, length and physicality are what you’d expect. It’s his game in open ice and foot races where he can get burned (he doesn’t have great boots). The good news is he has had an immediate and positive impact in Kingston, looking more like the commanding presence a 20-year-old third-round pick should be at that level and involving himself more in offense (he has a heavy shot and actually handles the puck pretty well). Now it’s about building on that once he turns pro.

Roman Schmidt has had a positive immediate impact with the OHL’s Frontenacs since being traded to Kingston in December. (James Guillory / USA Today)

11. Lucas Edmonds, RW, 22 (Syracuse Crunch)

One of the smartest but also oldest players picked in the 2022 draft, Edmonds, the son of NHL agent Randy Edmonds, will turn 23 in a couple of weeks. He’s a heady, intelligent, spatially aware winger who can make plays with the puck on his stick but also understands how to play the game in all three zones on and off of it. Following a 113-point OHL season, which had multiple coaches and players praise him to me, he found his footing with the Crunch last year and looked like a potentially smart gamble in the third round by the Lightning. This year, though, he has struggled to take a step forward, raising questions about whether his smarts could carry him past ‘good AHLer’ as a 5-foot-11 player without dynamic athletic traits. Because while he’s decently skilled across the board, none of his other tools are of distinguishing quality and he’s neither quick nor big and powerful. I expect him to become organizational depth because of the way he thinks the game, but he may not be more than that.

12. Dyllan Gill, RHD, 19 (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies)

Gill didn’t have the statistical profile of an NHL prospect ahead of the 2022 draft, but he had the physical tools as a mobile, athletic, 6-foot-2 defenseman who made a good first pass, defended well in man-to-man situations through neutral ice, and got his shots through. The Lightning bet on that foundation, hoping that he could take a step. And that’s exactly what he has done over the last two seasons, becoming a much more involved and confident player on both sides of the puck. He was also one of the younger players in that draft, which speaks to his quicker-than-most progression. He’s still a work in progress but he was the third-to-last pick of the draft and has gotten off on the right foot. Unfortunately, his solid progression has been set back a little by season-ending shoulder surgery to deal with an issue that has bothered him and limited him to just 12 games this year. It’s a bummer because he was playing well (nine points in 12 games and positive underlying metrics) and was the captain of a QMJHL title contender in Rouyn-Noranda. Next year will be make or break for him as he’ll likely return to the QMJHL as a 20-year-old and have to show strongly again to earn an NHL contract.

13. Jayson Shaugabay, C/RW, 18 (Green Bay Gamblers)

Shaugabay has taken the typical Minnesota hockey path through high school to the USHL and, you guessed it, the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. One of the best high school players I’ve watched in recent years, Shaugabay is a small but talented player on the puck who broke T.J. Oshie’s scoring record at Warroad, won Minnesota’s prestigious Mr. Hockey Award, and has continued to make skill plays with Green Bay (though I would really like to see him get to the inside more) in the USHL over the last year. He can handle it, he can skate with it, he’s a natural power-play type and he’s a super heady passer of the puck (sometimes too much so) who relies on his smarts and puck skill to problem-solve. While he’s not the fastest skater and is going to be more of a winger up levels than the center he was in high school, he finds ways to make everyone else play at his pace, has real talent and thinks the game at an advanced level. With the right patience, there’s an outcome where he’s a top college player as an upperclassman and works his way into a pro contract. It’ll be years before the Lightning really know what they have, though.

14. Jack Harvey — C, 20 (Boston University)

When Jack Harvey was first eligible for the 2021 draft, I had both a USHL source and a Minnesota high school source tell me that despite the fact he’d only registered 17 points in 48 games on a loaded Steel roster, he was the league’s most underrated NHL prospect. Two years later, he finished second in the USHL in goals (40) and fourth in points (74) as a USHL Second All-Star Team member. I thought he played well in the 2022 and 2023 BioSteel All-American Games and was dominant as a shot creator in some of my viewings with the Steel last year too, regularly creating good looks for himself.

This year, it has been harder to update his projection/get a read on where he’s at due to a combination of injury and a deep BU lineup that has been hard to get playing time in. He’s sneaky strong for his size and while I would like to see him play with a little more fight at times, he can attack at defenders into his shot and adjust it ever so slightly before getting it off. He’s got really quick hands, and I’m interested to see what he’s going to look like in the college game once he gets settled at the level. He’s a long shot but I thought he was a worthwhile late-round pick.


15. Nick Malik, G, 21 (KooKoo)

After an excellent rookie season in Liiga two years ago, Malik, the Czech-American son of former NHLer Marek Malik, was better than his sub-.900 save percentage indicated behind an awful team a year ago and has been the same this year. He could have benefited from a change of scenery in Europe in my opinion, because it’s going to be hard for him to get a deal and come over here with poor numbers even if he’s a better goalie prospect than that. He’s a toolsy 6-foot-2 goalie who is decently athletic, has good hands, plays the puck well, and is calm and centered in the net for a goaltender his age. I’d like to see the Lightning bring him into the fold and let him work his way through the ECHL/AHL route. I wouldn’t call him explosive, and he’s not huge, but I like his makeup fine.

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