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Lightning: Prospects on display at World Juniors in Toronto

When Canada opened camp for the World Juniors championship a few weeks ago, it started with some team-building.

There was an "Amazing Race" type competition, playing off the reality television show. Teams were split into groups of four or five to compete in adventures around Mont-Tremblant.

The winning team included three Lightning prospects — forwards Taylor Raddysh and Mathieu Joseph with goalie Connor Ingram.

"I don't know if that was on purpose," Raddysh quipped of his Lightning-heavy team.

They had no choice. There are a record five Tampa Bay prospects on Team Canada, which opened tournament play Monday night in Toronto against Russia. Forwards Mitchell Stephens and Anthony Cirelli join Raddysh, Joseph and Ingram. Canada nearly had six Lightning prospects but forward Brett Howden got cut.

"It's a lot of fun, there are a lot of familiar faces," Raddysh said. "And there's a lot of good players."

Raddysh, 18, a second-round pick in June, was not part of Canada's summer development camp, but played his way onto the team. He leads the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 23 goals an 38 assists (61 points) in 28 games for Erie.

"It's kind of disappointing when you don't get named to something like that, especially when I had a decent year last year," Raddysh said. "I used (the snub) at the start of the year to show them the type of player I can be. It worked out pretty well."

Stacy Roest, the Lightning's director of player development, said he loves Raddysh's hockey sense, and the 6-foot-2 wing is playing with a lot of confidence.

"I like his all-around game," Roest said. "He's smart, has got good skill, good hands. He's big strong and can skate. A good package."

Joseph, who signed a three-year entry level contract Saturday, has also been off to a hot start, with 25 goals and 45 points in 29 games for Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Joseph, a fourth-rounder in 2015, isn't known as an elite scorer, but he's come along way in his 200-foot game, Roest said.

"Every game I got to (in Saint John's), he's scored a goal or two," Roest said. "He's a good offensive player, good all-around player. In those (Canada) tryout games, he was making plays. He plays with a lot of energy. He flies around, gets in your face. Him playing that way and scoring is a bonus."

Stephens, a second-round pick in 2015, is one of five returning players for Canada. After another strong year in the OHL in Saginaw, he'll likely make an impact on AHL Syracuse next season. Roest said Stephens' skating is much improved.

"He sees the ice well and has got a good shot," Roest said. "He's working on his smaller area game, making plays in tight. It's all coming together."

For Cirelli, he's just continued his remarkable rise. After not getting picked in back to back OHL drafts, he became Memorial Cup hero in 2015 and then a third-round pick by the Lightning. Ingram joins Carter Hart as the tandem in net after being one of the top goaltenders in the Western Hockey League.

There's a lot of pressure on Canada, especially as a host team, to take the gold, especially after losing to champion Finland last year.

"The guys that came back from last year talked about how disappointing it was," Raddysh said. "From the first day we got here, the first thing they brought to our minds was they won't let that happen (again). It's what we came here for."

And if Canada wins, the Lightning will play a big part.

NOTE: The Lightning reassigned forwards Erik Condra, Cory Conacher and Tanner Richard to AHL Syracuse, and will decide after today's practice whether any of them return.

Up next for Lightning

vs. Canadiens, 7:30 Wednesday, Amalie Arena TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-FM

Lightning: Prospects on display at World Juniors in Toronto 12/26/16 [Last modified: Monday, December 26, 2016 9:02pm]
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