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30 in 30: Top prospects for Tampa Bay Lightning

by Corey Long / Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Tampa Bay Lightning farm system isn't what it was five years ago, but it has promising young forwards who have well-rounded skill sets, including center Brett Howden, the No. 27 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft.

Tampa Bay, which reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference Final last season, continues to emphasize skating over size and high hockey IQ over raw talent.

Here are the Lightning's top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Brayden Point, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 79 pick of 2014 NHL Draft

Last Season: Moose Jaw (WHL): 48 GP, 35-53-88

It's clear the Lightning are extremely high on Point, so much so they asked for his input before selecting Brett Howden in the 2016 draft.

What Point, 20, lacks in size (5-foot-10, 160 pounds), he makes up for by being a dynamic puck-handler and a playmaker on the power play. He has been a scoring machine for Moose Jaw with 324 points (134 goals, 190 assists) in four-plus seasons. Point brings effort every time he's on the ice, and it's easy to make comparisons to Lightning center Tyler Johnson. Point played nine games for Syracuse of the American Hockey League near the end of the 2014-15 season (two goals, two assists in nine games) and will make the full-time jump to the AHL this season.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

2. Slater Koekkoek, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 10 pick of 2012 NHL Draft

Last Season: Tampa Bay: 9 GP, 0-1-1; Syracuse (AHL): 60 GP, 5-10-15

When the Stanley Cup Playoffs began, Koekkoek, 22, was a healthy scratch, but in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he had more than 15 minutes of ice time and had won the confidence of coach Jon Cooper. Koekkoek played 10 games in the playoffs, with one assist, and averaged 10:04 of ice time.

In the offseason, Tampa Bay bought out the contract of defenseman Matt Carle, opening the door for Koekkoek to take on a full-time role this season. Koekkoek has good size (6-2, 198) and is a smooth skater who understands his responsibilities defensively but possesses solid offensive instincts.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

3. Brett Howden, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 27 pick of 2016 NHL Draft

Last Season: Moose Jaw (WHL): 68 GP: 24-40-64

While they were keeping tabs on Point in Moose Jaw, the Lightning got a good idea of the type of player Howden can develop into. He's a very good skater and one of the bigger forwards in the system (6-2, 193). Howden, 18, already has a reputation as a responsible two-way player from his time at the junior level.

Howden excelled in the WHL playoffs, with four goals and 11 assists in 10 games.

"Of course, having Brayden there, we were with [Moose Jaw] maybe more than other junior teams," Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest said. "It was fun watching Brett become a complete player and watching his progression."

Projected NHL arrival: 2019-20

4. Adam Erne, LW

How acquired: Selected with No. 33 pick of 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Syracuse (AHL): 59 GP, 14-15-29

Erne, 21, missed time with injuries last season, but the outlook remains high for a player who eventually could provide the physical forward presence the Lightning are seeking. He put up stellar numbers during his junior career with Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he had 275 points (118 goals, 157 assists) in 240 games.

Erne (6-1, 210) loves to use his size and push his way to the front of the net. With Lightning forward Ryan Callahan expected to miss at least the first month of the season recovering from hip surgery, there is an opportunity for Erne to start in the NHL if he can impress during training camp.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

5. Kristers Gudlevskis, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 124 pick of 2013 NHL Draft

Last Season: Syracuse (AHL): 41 GP, 16-12-2, 2.83 GAA, .907 SV%; Tampa Bay: 1 GP, 0-0-1, 1.00 GAA, .969 SV%

Gudlevskis, 24, has been biding his time in Syracuse waiting for the Lightning goalie situation to resolve itself. Ben Bishop is entering the final year of his contract and, despite some rumors, wasn't traded at the draft.

That means Gudlevskis (6-3, 218) is likely to start another season in Syracuse. If Bishop is traded, Gudlevskis will become the Lightning's backup goalie behind Andrei Vasilevskiy. Gudlevskis is likely to be exposed in the NHL expansion draft, and his age and pedigree with the Latvia national team could be appealing despite his lack of NHL experience.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

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