Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning Farm System Ranked Fourth Best in NHL by Sports Illustrated

Sports’s Allan Muir recently ranked the Tampa Bay Lightning’s farm system at No. 4 overall in the NHL (the Buffalo Sabres took No. 1) in his top-five listing.

The New York Islanders were ranked No. 2 followed by the Anaheim Ducks, and the Florida Panthers rounded things up at No. 5.

Muir based this No. 4 ranking on the strengths of a Lightning farm system that has already seen two 2014 Calder Trophy finalists – forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat – while still possessing a stable of young up-and-coming talent, revving at the proverbial NHL gates, that have yet to make their mark in the league.

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This charge is primarily led by 2013 CHL Player of the Year Jonathan Drouin.Drouin, a 2013 first-round draft pick (at number three), is looking to burst out of the gates as a potential first-line winger in 2014-15 at the tender age of nineteen, with no limit to his game-changing possibilities.

Along with Drouin, you’d be remiss not to mention Adam Erne, Henri Ikonen, and Vladislav Namestnikov: all forwards, all looking to make an impact on the Lightning roster starting this season.

In goaltending, Tampa Bay has two up-and-comers percolating in the wings for a chance at nabbing a back-up slot, or, possibly even a starting job one day down the line (if, and hopefully not, 2014 Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop gets overworked). Andrey Vasilevskiy, along with Latvian Olympic standout Kristers Gudlevskis: both are significant goaltending prospects who show promising futures for as long as they aim to don Bolts’ jerseys.

Gudlevskis, who made his NHL debut late last season on April 11 before the playoffs, may still need to work out some kinks in his game (which goes without saying really for a rookie) despite the dazzling numbers he acheived in that one game (36 saves on 38 shots, .947 SV%, 2.00 GAA); he did struggle a bit for the 1 ½ games he played during the Lightning’s early first round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs which is hard to blame a rookie talent for with only one full NHL game under his belt; overall, he’s the closest of the two goalies to potentially make the team, in my opinion, and my personal favorite to do so soon.

Defensively, the Bolts recently selected arguably one of the most skilled blueliners (in a decidedly defensive-minded draft for Tampa Bay) available in 2014 with their first pick (19th overall) in the first round of last month’s draft in Philadelphia: D-Man Anthony DeAngelo of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.

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A few disciplinary issues aside, DeAngelo could one day prove to be a defining pick for the Lightning; giving a Tampa Bay team not precisely known for its muscle on the backend a shot of needed machismo on what’s slowly becoming through this offseason a more impressive roster of possible defensive lines (finally!).With acquisitions like Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Matt Corrente during free agency – adding some bulk, but mostly pedigree on the blue line – the current Lightning roster of talented defensemen, who are young in some cases, and still maturing, grows exponentially better. These acquisitions can certainly help the young starters who saw a lot of action last year (not without a few blemishes) come further into their own.

Defensemen Matt Carle, Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio, and Andrej Sustr will have more talent to work with which will hopefully give head coach Jon Cooper and Co. an opportunity to craft a more diverse, and thusly, more effective defense this season, and in the years to come.

Along with Slater Koekkoek (10th pick, 2012) and Dominik Masin (35th pick, 2014) the Lightning are starting to build up their defensive corps to one day meet the level of excellence and depth this franchise has already come to expect from its offensive farm system.

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