The World Juniors Championships are upon us and its finally time for the fans to get some hockey back. Their are many prospects from all the different National Hockey League teams but of course, we shall look at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s prospects. General Manager Steve Yzerman has shown no fear in drafting and signing the highly skilled, Russian prospects which has allowed the Lightning to have four players on Team Russia in this years Championships. A mix of all different positions, the Russian quartet includes forward Nikita Kucherov, Defensemen Nikita Nesterov and Artem Sergeev, and the 1st round pick Andrey Vasilevskiy. The other player representing his country in the Bolt’s pool is on Team Switzerland in forward Tanner Richard.
Andrey Vasilevskiy: This is the goalie that everyone wants to watch. He is a big six foot, three netminder who is known for his extreme quickness and athleticism. Vasilevskiy started the first game of the tournament against Slovakia and gave up two goals on 34 shots in the 3-2 overtime win for Russia. Today against the United States, Andrey Makarov started for Russia and played very well in the win as well. Hopefully, for Lightning fans, Russia can start Vasilevskiy in the majority of the rest of the tournament games because that will only further his development.
Nikita Kucherov: Another highly skilled forward in the Russian lineup. Talent has never been the question for the small forward who plays in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies after an early season trade from the Quebec Remparts. Kucherov’s issue has always been effort level, but he has been a point-producing machine this season. He scored in the opening game against Slovakia but was held off the score sheet against the United States. Look for Kucherov to pile up some more points in this t0urnament as he is paired with Mikhail Grigorenko, the 1st round pick of the Buffalo Sabres.
Nikita Nesterov: This is an extremely intringuing prospect for the Lightning. Currently in the KHL in Russia, Nesterov has always been described as being solid at everything, but doesn’t excel at any one thing. He can do it all, just not at an elite level. While watching Russia, you will see Nesterov playing even strength, penalty kill, and power play time while trying to shut down the oppositions best forwards. He has assists in both games so far in the World Juniors Tournament and has looked very solid in both games positionally. If the Bolts can get him over to North America then this former 5th round pick will look like a steal in the future.
Artem Sergeev: Ironically, Sergeev is probably the least known of the Lightning’s Russian prospects, even though he has been in North America the longest playing in the QMJHL. He seems to have some offensive flair for a d-man while being a sturdy player on the back-end. In the few times that I have seen him, he has looked like he has a lot of the tools that it takes to become a good defenseman. He hasn’t received the type of playing time that Nesterov has so far in the first two games but he did get an assist today against the United States. The Bolts are playing with house money here as they signed Sergeev as a free agent; hopefully he can continue to develop and become a nice addition to the blue line in the future.
Tanner Richard: The one non-Russian player for the Lightning in this year’s tournament is the “Swiss Sensation” Tanner Richard. He currently plays for the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League and has 36 assists this season which leads his team. Seeing Richard at prospect camp earlier this year, he has some high-end offensive skill while being very responsible defensively. He is a magician with the puck and could pass it wherever he wanted to. I look at him as being an absolute steal after being drafted in the 3rd round last year. I am very high on Richard and he hasn’t disappointing so far getting three assists in the first game for Switzerland against Latvia. I look forward to seeing him playing against higher competition in the tournament to see how he measures up.
So there are the Lightning prospects representing their countries in this World Juniors Tournament. Watch them on the NHL Network at various times throughout the morning or on replay at night and Go Bolts!