The Prospect Spotlight feature returns for the 2016-17 season on TampaBayLightning.com. Fans will be able to catch up on how their favorite prospects are performing and progressing throughout the season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have selected at least one player from the United States Hockey League (USHL) in each of the past three NHL Drafts, including two in 2016. One of those players is Ross Colton, who spent 2014-16 playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders before committing to the University of Vermont.
Colton has had a strong start to his college hockey career as he is currently pacing the Catamounts in both goals and points with nine and 18, respectively. Vermont currently plays in the Hockey East Association, which has consistently proven to be the strongest Division-I conference.
Colton is the only freshman in the Hockey East that holds sole possession of the scoring lead for his team.
"We thought pretty quickly that he was special player," Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said. "We could really kind of sense that he was going to make an immediate impact as a first-year player for us."
A year before coming to Vermont, Colton was the most productive scorer for the RoughRiders all season long. Colton finished with 66 points in 55 games, which was 15 points more than the next closest player who skated in 60 games.
After tying for second place in the USHL scoring race, Colton was selected to play in the 2016 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Omaha, Nebraska. Colton stole the show, netting the first hat trick in USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game history while adding two assists and taking home the Team East MVP award.
"I just think you have a good player there that's going to continue to get better and better," Sneddon said. "His first year, when he played in the USHL, he was a very good player. In his second year, he was dominant. He's a very good player for us right now. I think he's going to become dominant."
Colton brings a unique skillset to the ice for the Catamounts. Despite being a freshman, the Robbinsville, New Jersey native is seeing the ice during some of the game's most vital moments, including playing on the penalty kill and Vermont's top power play unit.
"As we talked to him in the recruiting process, we had big plans for him," Sneddon said. "He certainly deserves the credit for earning it, but we certainly felt that he'd be doing this for us.
"For a first-year player, he's strong. We think by his sophomore or junior year, he should be a dominant player in college hockey because of the combination of his speed, grit, and skill level. He's a guy that we feel like will be an All-American."
Colton's offensive tools make him a tough player to play against for opposing defenders. A combination of speed and desire to go into the dirty areas have made Colton successful at every level he's played.
"He's got exceptional speed and a great competitive edge to him," Sneddon said. "I think he's a very smart hockey player. He reads plays very well both offensively and defensively. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he takes it to the net probably harder than anybody on our team right now. He's not afraid to go to the tough areas to try to score.
"I think he just keeps getting better as his confidence grows at each level and I think he's a guy that's going to continue to find a way to be playing for Tampa Bay. I don't have any doubts about that."