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Five Lightning prospects crack Hockey Prospectus Top 100 List

by Jamie Kelly / Tampa Bay Lightning

Four forwards and one defenseman in the Lightning system have been awarded with a spot on Hockey Prospectus’ annual list of the Top 100 NHL prospects.

Vladislav Namestnikov, the 27th overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, was the highest-rated Lightning prospect, chiming in at the No. 31 spot. Namestnikov was then followed by Mark Barberio (41), Nikita Kucherov (74), Cory Conacher (79) and J.T. Brown (83).

Tampa Bay’s five prospects were tied for third-most amongst the 30 NHL clubs, as the New York Islanders led the way with seven prospects on the list.

Namestnikov, Barberio and Kucherov were all drafted within the last four years while Conacher and Brown were undrafted and signed out of college.

Namestnikov, a dynamic two-way threat from Voskresensk, Russia, has graduated from the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights and will move on to the professional ranks, suiting up for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch this season. Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman , who is the originator of the list, believes Namestnikov has the potential to be a top-line center in the NHL one day.

“Namestnikov is a complete package prospect who can excel in seemingly every aspect of the game”, Pronman notes. “He skates well, has good hand-eye coordination, is creative with the puck, plays great defense, drives the physical areas, is tough, and has high-end hockey sense. His vision/sense stand out amongst his other tools, but Namestnikov has the offensive package to score at a significant level and play the tough defensive minutes at the same time.”

Mark Barberio, drafted in the sixth round, 152nd overall, of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is the reigning American Hockey League Defenseman of the Year. In just his second year as a pro, Barberio proved to be dominant at both ends of the ice, recording 13 goals, 48 assists, 61 points and a plus-28 rating all the while leading the Norfolk Admirals to a Calder Cup Championship. Pronman believes if Barberio continues to progress, he could be a top three defenseman at the next level.

“He’s a plus skater who can fly up the ice, shows good four-way mobility, and generates a powerful first step”, adds Pronmon. “Barberio is a good all-around player with the puck in terms of hands, vision and being able to rush it up. He’s a smart player who tends to make good decisions.”

Nikita Kucherov, selected in the second round, 58th overall, of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, has recently left his native land of Russia to play the 2012-13 season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Quebec Remparts.

Kucherov’s decision to come to North America and continue his development bodes well for the Lightning organization, as he has been described as a player with elite level skill.

“Kucherov’s skill set gets described as the kind that will keep you on the edge of your seat. He’s an above average skater and puck handler, and a high-end passer”, Pronman says. “He has all the components to control the puck in the pro game and be a true offensive weapon. He’s also a high-end shooter who shows great mid-distance finishing ability.”

Lightning prospect Mark Barberio was acknowledged as the AHL's top defenseman for the 2011-12 season.

Cory Conacher, an unsigned free agent out of Canisius College, had a sparkling 2011-12 campaign with the Norfolk Admirals in just his first professional season. Conacher, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound offensive dynamo reeled in the hardware, earning the AHL MVP award, AHL Rookie of the Year, AHL All-Rookie Team honors, a spot on the AHL Second-All-Star Team and most notably a Calder Cup Championship. Conacher established himself as a legitimate offensive threat that could reach the National Hockey League sooner rather than later.

“He’s a high-end skater who simply jets up the ice and can make defensemen turn their hips regularly”, Pronman added. “He’s a complete offensive player with good if not high-end puck skills and good vision as well. He’s a tough player who loves to throw his body around and work hard in battles. Conacher has the potential to be a good second line winger at the next level.”

Lastly, J.T Brown, another Lightning undrafted prospect plucked out of the college ranks, graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2011-12 and immediately joined the Lightning for five games at the end of the season, recording one assist. Even though Brown is only 22-years-old, his experience in five games with the big club last season might accelerate his ascension to the NHL due to his maturity.

“Brown plays a high pace game due to his high-end speed and tremendous amount of energy he brings to every shift”, notes Pronman. “He’s undersized but shows average physical game potential because of his on-ice work ethic and willingness to use his body with fine strength for a player his size. Brown also has a booming shot that flies off his tape when he winds into it. He has a solid skill level as well.”

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