BRANDON — Lightning prospect Jack Finley is feeling a little different this time around at the organization’s development camp.
The forward, selected in the second round of the 2020 NHL draft, is one of 32 prospects hoping to leave a good impression on management from the Lightning and AHL Syracuse. As one of the more veteran players in the group (one of 10 drafted in 2020 or earlier), the 19-year-old is feeling more confident out on the ice.
And ahead of what could be his first full pro season in the AHL, the timing couldn’t be better. Instead of standing toward the rear in drills this week, Finley is one of the first to start the lines during camp at the TGH Ice Plex. And at 6 foot 6, 221 pounds, he’s hard to miss during drills.
Finley’s confidence boost can be attributed to his split Western League season between the Spokane Chiefs — where he was the captain in his fifth season — and Winnipeg Ice.
After spending most of the 2020-21 season injured, Finley came back in 2021-22 with 50 points in 60 games, most of his success coming after the Dec. 6 trade from Spokane to Winnipeg.
“It was definitely an adjustment,” Finley said of his midseason trade. “Spokane felt like home. I was there three, four years before that, and I was so comfortable with the organization. … I think it took a little bit of time for me to find my game that would help that team, but I think once I did, I was happy with how it went.”
With the Ice, Finley didn’t feel the pressure of needing to lead the team on the scoresheet every night, which allowed him to play at his own pace and explore what he could do with the puck, which the coaching staff left open to the players, he said. The flexibility resulted in a 34-point (19 goals) stint over 39 games with the Ice.
“I think when I got traded to Winnipeg, it took a little bit of the pressure off me not having to lead because there was a lot of really good leaders, a lot of really good players,” Finley said, “and the whole year, I didn’t really care how I was doing with points or whatever, I just tried to focus on improvement.”
Syracuse management is happy with Finley’s progressions, too. Lightning assistant general manager and AHL Syracuse GM Stacy Roest said he improves “with every month that goes on.”
This offseason is arguably one of the most critical for Finely, who likely will play his first AHL season with the Crunch.
“For his size, he skates really well and his skating is getting better and better with every month that goes on…,” Roest said ahead of this year’s amateur draft. “For him, going from Spokane to playing every situation and on to Winnipeg, a very successful and strong team, and he got stronger and stronger as the season went on … and we’re looking forward for him to turn pro.”
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And Finley hopes his improvements continue as camp takes a more competitive turn, starting Wednesday with the three-on-three tournament.
Working in small groups so far has given Finley more time with coaches and staffers, and the chance to freshen up on skills he’ll need going into training camp this fall when the Lightning’s big stars return to the ice in preparation for the 2022-23 season.
“(It’s important) to soak in everything they tell (me),” he said. “For me, I’ve worked with them a lot, so a lot of stuff they talk about is just a review for me, but you can never not keep improving, so I’m really grateful to be here and work with such great development coaches.”
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