NHL Draft: Lightning's biggest needs, top prospects

Lightning prospect Nick Perbix got some experience with the U.S. Olympic team this winter. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Lightning prospect Nick Perbix got some experience with the U.S. Olympic team this winter. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Winning back-to-back Stanley Cups makes the shallow nature of the Tampa Bay Lightning's prospect pool understandable. The Lightning, however, have successfully developed later picks and free agent signings into valuable NHL players in recent seasons, and there’s no reason to believe their current group doesn’t include another diamond in the rough.

Tampa Bay has a first-round pick this year, but it will again be at the close of the opening round. Luckily for the Lightning, the depth of Round 1 should still provide value at this position. It’s an important selection for the Lightning since they don’t pick again until the fourth round.

Top Prospects

Hugo Alnefelt - It was not a season to remember for Hugo Alnefelt, but it was his first in North America, so all is not lost. The Swedish netminder gave cause for concern with a goals-against average of 3.14 and save percentage of .882. He’s athletic, and his 6-foot-3 frame covers the net, but often Alnefelt relies too heavily upon his reflexes instead of staying calm. Also, there was a tendency this year for what should have been routine shots to find the back of the net.

With Andrei Vasilevsky signed for several seasons, there is little pressure for Alnefelt to reach the NHL, which should give him another season or two to develop consistency and find his angles on the smaller ice.

Jack Finley - There are a few things you’ll notice when Jack Finley steps on the ice. First, he’s a 6-foot-6 centerman. Second, he has surprising skill for a young player his size. Finley uses his length to get into passing lanes defensively, and is, as you might expect, an effective net-front presence. The development of forwards his size is unpredictable, but the Lightning showed confidence in Finley as a player when they selected him in the second round of the 2020 draft.

The Lightning will take their time with the big player who could be in the AHL full-time this season. It will likely be a slow transition with bumps along the way, but Finley’s upside will only benefit from patience.

Nick Perbix - It’s safe to say no prospect in the Tampa Bay system saw the meteoric rise of Nick Perbix this year. He stayed in the NCAA for four seasons, waiting until his senior year ended to turn pro. Perbix is already 23 years old, and the 6-foot-4 defender showed strength and maturity, both in scoring 31 points in 31 games for St. Cloud State this year, and in his successful jump to the AHL when his college career ended.

Perbix managed eight points in 12 games with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. He also represented Team USA at the Olympics this year, gaining valuable experience. Originally a sixth-round pick, Perbix could prove a steal as a sizeable right-shot blueliner with offensive upside.

Ready To Step In

From the moment Alex Barre-Boulet made the jump from the QMJHL to the AHL in 2018-19, he’s scored at close to a point-per-game pace or above as a pro. Although he’s now 25, there’s a chance he steps in next season and becomes a free agent steal discussed in the same breath as other late-blooming prospects such as Michael Bunting.

Barre-Boulet had success in 14 games with the Lightning this season, showing the skill and scoring abilities that have helped him climb the ranks. Behind Barre-Boulet, the team could get bottom-six depth out of Cole Koepke or Gabriel Fortier this season. Both had good years in Syracuse and will compete for a fourth-line position on the wing.

One To Watch

Jack Thompson used a trip to Sweden during the pandemic-canceled OHL season to his benefit. Thompson loves to attack from the blue line and has a strong enough shot to be a scoring threat. In the AHL next season, Thompson will need to choose his shooting lanes with more caution as he is a rapid fire defender.

As he makes that step, the Lightning will watch how Thompson manages the physical demands of the AHL. He often relies upon positioning to defend and lacks a physical edge, which is a critique of his game. How that translates to playing against higher-level professional players will determine his upside.

Needs At The Draft

With a prospect pool as shallow as Tampa’s, the team is likely to select the player they believe can make the largest impact on their roster, regardless of position. There will be a number of quality defenders available near the end of Round 1, as well as a group of higher-risk, higher-reward forwards.

Drafting a natural centerman with scoring upside could be a wise move in the long term, as Finley, and perhaps Gage Goncalves are the only centers in the system who look to be part of the plan.

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