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Lightning prospect Tanner Richard poised to be Tampa Bay’s playmaker of the future

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Ontario Hockey League’s most interesting stat line these days just might belong to Tanner Richard.

The Lightning forward prospect has a team-best 39 points for the Guelph Storm, but only three goals.

His 36 assists rather, currently rank third among all OHL skaters and are an astounding 15 more than that of his next closest Storm teammate, Zack Mitchell, who has 21.

It goes without saying, then, that the kid has an affinity for dishing the puck.

It is a skill that Richard has been plying since the start of the 2011-12 season when he shifted his game over from Europe to North America, where he believes he will have the best opportunity to develop as a player.

He’s a good two-way center with strong hockey sense, but he also plays a real solid defensive game and has some grit to his game. - Director of Amateur Scouting, Al Murray

Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray knows all of this, of course, and punctuated it at this past June’s NHL Entry Draft where he advised general manager Steve Yzerman to select Richard in the third round with the 71st overall pick.

“He’s a good two-way center with strong hockey sense, but he also plays a real solid defensive game and has some grit to his game,” Murray said.

An interesting case, Richard was born in Canada but grew up in Switzerland, where his father, Mike, was a top star for nearly the better part of two decades.

The younger Richard made his debut in the Swiss A-League in 2010-11, but after being passed over at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft perhaps because he was playing in his native country which didn’t offer as much exposure, he didn’t hesitate to make the move back to Canada once Guelph made him the 28th pick of that year’s Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft.

“I knew that I wanted to play in the NHL someday,” Richard said. “Coming back home gave me the best chance to develop as a player and get noticed.”

So far, the move seems to be paying off.

Richard had 13 goals and 35 assists in 43 games with the Storm last season in just his first year in the OHL. His assist total has already been eclipsed by one this season, albeit in just 29 games.

As for that whole getting noticed thing, executives from the Swiss Ice Hockey Association last week tabbed Richard to compete on behalf of Team Switzerland at the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championships tournament, where last year Richard became somewhat of a national hero.

Playing for Switzerland at the 2012 World Junior Championships, Richard recorded two goals in six games, which typically wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that one of them coming in overtime against Denmark in the relegation round that kept Switzerland at the top level for the 2013 tournament, which kicks off next week in Ufa, Russia. In a previous tournament, he also once notched four goals in six games at the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

“I do like to pass a lot and set up teammates, but there’s more skills to my game that I can bring,” Richard said. “I can be used as a power forward-type player who can score some goals and get to the dirty areas, but I can also play on the penalty kill and be used on the power play. I’m a bit of a role player, I guess. Put me wherever you want on the ice and I’ll do my best.”

That certainly is impressive, but there is also this:

Richard is a self-proclaimed huge Lightning fan.

Noting current general manager Steve Yzerman as his hockey idol growing up, Richard became a Bolts enthusiast during the 2004 season when he was visiting his grandmother, who lives in the nearby community of Sebring.

His fondest memory, he recalled, was attending Game 5 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the New York Islanders, which the Lightning won in overtime to advance into the second round.

“It was pretty amazing,” Richard said. “I just got captured by the enthusiasm of it all and the atmosphere in the building. I remember it gave me chills.”

Soon enough, Richard might have a few fans in Tampa Bay himself.

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