We return to the sunshine state to visit Tampa Bay.
Vladislav Namestnikov - London Knights
Despite the reduction in his goal scoring numbers, I thought Namestnikov had a solid season. He was more consistently involved offensively and way less prone to stretches of invisibility (like he was in his draft year). He was also way more involved away from the puck and began to engage in battles in the corners and on the backcheck. He's always been very patient with the puck and a terrific playmaker, especially on the powerplay where he has a bit more room to weave and dart. He will definitely need to get stronger this summer though, in order to be ready for the AHL. He's at his best when he's got time and space to move in the offensive end, but at the AHL level, that time and space will be cut down. He'll have to start winning more one on one battles to create the space he needs. Because he's such a smart player, I think he'll still find some success at the AHL level, even if he's a bit over matched physically. It looks like he could have a shot of playing in the top 6 and on a powerplay unit. I'd expect him to be around the 40 point mark.
Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
This coming season is a big one for Koekkoek, as he tries to rebound from a shoulder injury that kept him out for most of last year. He's got a ton of potential as a two way defender, and Tampa was certainly ballsy for taking him as early as they did. Koekkoek is very raw still and even when he was playing last year, he struggled with his consistency at both ends of the ice. But he's got puck skill, he can skate, and he can be physical. All good things. This year in Peterborough he's going to need to become one of the league's top defenseman. The Petes need an anchor to help support their quest for a division title. They could definitely have a solid team, but he'll have to stay healthy and increase his intensity to provide the leadership that is necessary. It was after Koekkoek got injured that Peterborough's season last year really fell apart. He's too talented not to bounce back, so I'd expect big things from him. I'd even go as far as suggesting he could crack the 50 point barrier and emerge as one of the league's elite.
Dylan Blujus - Brampton Battalion
His selection in the mid 2nd round definitely caught me off guard a bit. There's no question that Blujus is a smart defenseman, who has the offensive skills to run a powerplay. But he's also very raw (again I'm using that word to describe a Lightning draft pick). By that I mean, he's got a lot of things he needs to work on. Firstly, his defensive zone coverage is somewhat erratic, and I feel like at times he gets a bit lost out there. His skating also needs massive improvement as it hinders both his ability to defend and carry the puck. I'd also like him to use his size more defensively and really become someone who's not afraid to push people around. Brampton will, yet again, have a very solid defensive core next year. Blujus will continue to build off the role he earned last year, by quarterbacking the top powerplay unit and continuing to improve defensively while playing a lot of minutes 5 on 5. I could see him making some strides offensively and getting into the 40 point range, but at this point, I don't see a HUGE spike in his numbers for next year, especially since I could see the Battalion struggling offensively.
Tanner Richard - Guelph Storm
The key to next year will be Richard's health. He had a lot of trouble avoiding injuries this past year, but when he played, he was excellent. I think he has a lot of potential as a two-way playmaking center. He sees the ice very well and is especially effective off the rush. Guelph's going to have a very good, young, offensive team this year. They are returning all of their forwards from last year. If Richard stays healthy, I'd expect him to have a massive year. I could easily see him eclipsing the 80 point mark and being among the assist leaders in the OHL. He'll have the opportunity to be flanked by some terrific goal scorers like Scott Kosmachuk, Zack Mitchell, Jason Dickinson, Brock McGinn, etc. Should be a great year for him.
Jake Dotchin - Owen Sound Attack
I was actually a little surprised to see Dotchin fall as much as he did on draft day. I think he's a solid prospect. Gives you a little bit of everything with his size and potential to play at both ends of the ice. His puck skill and ability to run a powerplay are particularly underrated. I definitely think he has more in him offensively than he showed us this past year. This coming season, he's going to be playing in Owen Sound's top four for the entire year, and should see time on the powerplay unit (although probably the second unit). He'll be given every opportunity to flourish. Owen Sound should have a solid team, so I expect big things from him. A 30+ point season, combined with an increased confidence in throwing around the body in the defensive end would be my expectation.
*of note, the Lightning chose not to sign 2010 pick Geoffrey Schemitsch, making him a free agent.