TAMPA — The pandemic affected hockey in many ways, including how it prevented teams from getting a closer look at some of their top prospects. Last year was absent of showcases or development camps, with several junior seasons delayed. While most prospects were able to find some semblance of a season in 2021, some haven’t played games in more than a year.
That’s what makes this week’s Lightning Prospect Showcase key for the organization’s player development staff. Twenty-four prospects and rookies began practicing at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, with games starting Saturday against their counterparts from the Panthers, Hurricanes and Predators. It’s an opportunity for Lightning staff to get an eye on their top up-and-comers, spend time with them and gauge their development in advance of the upcoming training camp.
“We haven’t seen some of these players in a couple of years, and they haven’t been here for development camps or for rookie tournaments,” said Stacy Roest, the Lightning’s director of player development. “So it’s good to get them all together and play some games and we’re excited.”
Here are five players to watch at the showcase:
C Gage Goncalves
Goncalves, a second-round pick in 2020, logged a 12-goal, 22-assist season in 23 games with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Their delayed start also allowed him to initially play on a log-jammed roster with the Lightning’s AHL team in Syracuse. The 6-foot-1, 184-pounder could open this season in Syracuse for his first full pro season as a 20-year-old.
C Jack Finley
A shoulder injury that required surgery in March took away most of this past season from the 19-year-old Finley, a 2020 second-round pick, but he is healthy again. Finley played just three games last season and his injury prevented him from training with the Canadian junior team, but now he aims to play for Canada in the world juniors at the end of the year.
F Gabriel Fortier
A second-round pick in 2018, Fortier had a promising showing in his first extended professional opportunity, logging six goals and four assists in 30 games with Syracuse. There’s still plenty of room to grow for the 5-foot-10, 174-pounder, but he has shown the foundation of being a nice two-way forward who is responsible on the defensive end and has a knack for the front of the net in the offensive zone.
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LW Cole Koepke
A sixth-round pick in 2018, Koepke finished out his college career at Minnesota-Duluth, where he tallied 75 points in three years, went to two Frozen Fours and won a national championship in 2019. He joined the Crunch late last season, playing nine games with two goals and an assist. The 23-year-old has a winning pedigree, and the Lightning like his size (6-foot-1, 194 pounds).
D Roman Schmidt
This will be the first look at the Lightning’s top 2021 draftee. A third-round pick in July, Schmidt utilizes his size to bring physicality. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, he is the second-biggest player in the showcase, but at 18, he’s also the youngest. Seeing how he fares and adjusts to competing with more-seasoned players will be interesting, but he looks the part of a big, puck-battling defenseman.
Saturday: Hurricanes vs. Panthers, 10 a.m. (AdventHealth Center Ice Complex in Wesley Chapel); Lightning vs. Predators, 2 p.m. (Amalie Areana, part of Lightning Launch Weekend)
Sunday: Predators vs. Panthers, 10 a.m.; Hurricanes vs. Lightning , 1 p.m. (both in Wesley Chapel)
Tuesday: Predators vs. Hurricanes, 10 a.m.; Panthers vs. Lightning, 1 p.m. (both in Wesley Chapel)
Admission: Saturday’s game at Amalie Arena is free, but fans must reserve tickets at tampabaylightning.com/lightninglaunchweekend. Games in Wesley Chapel are free.
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