The Tampa Bay Lightning have steadily built one of the NHL's elite farm systems during Steve Yzerman's tenure as general manager with an effective mix of prospect development, quality scouting and risk-taking to strengthen their organizational depth.
In the salary-cap world of the NHL, it is difficult at times to find teams exhibiting patience when it comes to player development, let alone find teams that have a large amount of top prospects in the AHL. A lot of top under-20 players will make the jump from the CHL to the NHL, or stay in college and Europe before making a brief stop in the American league on their way to the top level. However, Tampa Bay has veered from this model with a lot of good, young players in Syracuse, their AHL affiliate, which won last season's championship (then based in Norfolk) largely due to quality young prospects.
Tampa Bay has also shown that it is willing to take risks in the draft, using high picks on injured players like Brett Connolly and Slater Koekkoek. Also, in 2011, the team's first three picks were Russians -- Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov -- all of whom look like quality prospects. Tampa also has one of the league's best goaltending prospects, Russian Andrei Vasilevski. Plus, top young players like Cory Conacher (a current Calder candidate) and Tyler Johnson were undrafted players who Tama Bay's scouts were able to identify as potential NHL contributors.
Given the team's successful mix of scouting, draft strategy and existing talent, it appears the Lightning are primed for a bright future. To get a better sense of Tampa Bay's young talent, I spoke with Julien BriseBois, Tampa Bay's assistant general manager who also serves as Syracuse's GM, about the franchise's top prospects.
Here's a look at some of Tampa Bay's key AHL prospects and top amateurs.