Advertisement
  1. Lightning

Lightning draftee Cirelli has dizzying climb of prospect ladder

Anthony Cirelli is invited to the NHL draft combine after getting noticed last season in Canadian juniors. The center is later taken by the Lightning in the third round of the draft. “It’s starting to hit me now, what’s going on and stuff,” he says.
Anthony Cirelli is invited to the NHL draft combine after getting noticed last season in Canadian juniors. The center is later taken by the Lightning in the third round of the draft. “It’s starting to hit me now, what’s going on and stuff,” he says.
Published Jul. 5, 2015

BRANDON — It took 14 months for Anthony Cirelli to rise from a center who was overlooked in two junior-league drafts to Memorial Cup hero and third-round NHL draft pick, and the Lightning prospect feels like his head is still spinning.

"It's starting to hit me now, what's going on and stuff," Cirelli said during the Lightning's development camp that ended Saturday at the Ice Sports Forum. "It's been an unbelievable season."

And it's one that was unthinkable a year ago for the Woodbridge, Ontario, native who turns 18 next week.

Cirelli wasn't among the 299 players taken in the Ontario Hockey League draft in 2013 or the 300 chosen the next year. But last year, a scout for Oshawa, Joe Washkurak, liked Cirelli enough to pound the table as he lobbied for him, eventually convincing general manager Roger Hunt to invite Cirelli to the team's orientation camp for younger players.

"It wasn't that he was the best player on the ice," Hunt said. "He looked very responsible. He looked like a complete player."

Cirelli showed enough promise to land a spot in training camp, where older players and the top prospects competed. Hunt expected him to spend the season with Washkurak's second-tier team. Cirelli finished the exhibition schedule and was back home when Hunt started having second thoughts.

Cirelli, 6 feet and 160 pounds, didn't dominate, but he played well in both ends of the ice. He always seemed to find the puck. He won draws. He did everything Hunt was looking for.

Hunt called his staff to figure out why he was sending Cirelli to the second-tier team instead of the OHL's Generals.

"The consensus was, 'Well, why are you?' " Hunt said. "Don't let him go."

So he didn't. Cirelli made the roster, and that was just the beginning.

He played in 68 games, scoring 13 goals and getting 23 assists to skate his way onto top 100 prospects lists.

"He really came out of nowhere," said Mitchell Stephens, the Lightning's second-round draft pick this year and who competed against Cirelli in the OHL while playing for Saginaw.

Cirelli cemented himself in Canada hockey history with his performance in the Memorial Cup tournament, for the three junior leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League.

With Oshawa trailing by one in the second period of the final against Kelowna of the Western Hockey League, Cirelli took a stretch pass and blasted a booming shot for what Hunt called a "big-league goal."

Then, less than two minutes into overtime with the score tied at 1, Cirelli was camped outside the crease when a rebound found him.

"The puck laid there for me," Cirelli said, "and I just put it in."

His winning goal gave the Generals their first Memorial Cup in 25 years. A week later, Cirelli was working out at the NHL combine, and the Lightning chose him with the No. 72 overall pick last month.

It took a few days, but Cirelli said he is starting to wrap his head around the years of struggles that led to the last few months of dizzying success.

Follow all the action on and off the ice

Follow all the action on and off the ice

Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter

We’ll send you news, analysis and commentary on the Bolts weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

"Knowing I'm actually here now," Cirelli said, "it's becoming a reality."

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge