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Gudlevskis, Point among Lightning's top 5 prospects

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning stockpiled young talent at the start of the decade and saw many of their top prospects graduate to the NHL over the past two years.

But with nine picks at the 2015 NHL Draft and good reports on players drafted in 2013 and 2014, there's plenty of high-end talent coming through the system, including 2015 third-round pick Dennis Yan (No. 64).

Jonathan Marchessault, 24, and Matthew Peca, 22, who are hoping to make the Lightning roster out of training camp, didn't make the top prospects list this year. That alone should speak to the strength of the young players in the organization.

Here is a look at the Lightning's top five prospects, according to

1. Kristers Gudlevskis, G

How acquired: 5th round (No. 124), 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Syracuse (AHL): 42 GP, 25-14-4, 2.81 GAA, .900 save percentage

For the second consecutive season, Gudlevskis, 23, suited up with the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a backup goalie. Although he didn't play in Game 4 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final as the backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy, he did make two appearances in the 2014 Eastern Conference First Round in relief of Anders Lindback.

This season, Gudlevskis (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) will be the top goaltender with Syracuse of the American Hockey League while waiting to see how things shake out between Ben Bishop and Vasilevskiy in Tampa. Bishop is signed through the 2016-17 season, but Gudlevskis is in the final year of his three-year entry-level contract and can become a restricted free agent July 1, 2016. He has the experience professionally and internationally (he played for Latvia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2014 IIHF World Championship) to be considered NHL-ready.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

2. Anthony DeAngelo, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 19), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL): 26 GP, 15-36-51; Sarnia (OHL): 29 GP, 10-28-38

When the Lightning selected DeAngelo in 2014, they appeared to be getting a top-10 talent who had fallen in the draft because of some controversies that got him suspended on two occasions. DeAngelo, 19, promised to mature as a player and person, and so far the Lightning have to be pleased with his development. Last season, he won the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the top defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League and was named Canadian Hockey League Defenseman of the Year.

It's almost certain DeAngelo (5-foot-11, 175) will open the season in Syracuse, where he will be asked to tighten things up on the defensive end, especially with turnovers. He showed improvement in that area last season, when he had a combined plus-33 rating with Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL. As a playmaker, DeAngelo has special talent and is exceptional with the puck on his stick.

"His defensive positioning and overall understanding of defending was better," Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest told the Tampa Bay Times in June. "He just looked like he was way more confident playing the full game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. Brayden Point, C

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 79), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Syracuse (AHL): 9 GP, 2-2-4; Moose Jaw (WHL): 60 GP, 38-49-87

Point, 19, fits the mold of Lightning skill players with his speed and ability to handle the puck. During their development camp in July, he was among the top scorers in the 3-on-3 tournament and was constantly praised for his work ethic and hockey intelligence.

After a career-best 38 goals with Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League last season, Point (5-foot-10, 160) signed an entry-level contract and joined Syracuse at the end of the season. He'll have time to develop in the AHL this season and likely much of the 2016-17 season as well.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

4. Adam Erne, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 33), 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Quebec (QMJHL): 60 GP, 41-45-86

Erne, 21, took a major leap forward with Quebec last season, establishing career highs in goals (41) and points (86). But it was his performance in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, when he had 21 goals and nine assists in 21 games, that really made everyone take notice when he arrived at development camp in July.

What separates Erne from many of the other top forwards in the Lightning system is his size. Listed at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Erne has added weight and may develop into the power forward missing from Tampa Bay's lineup. He'll be headed to Syracuse to start the season and expectations will be high.

"They have a lot of skilled guys on the team, great skaters," Erne said at the July camp. "And from me they are looking for a guy that's bigger and can play that power-forward role. I'm continuing to work hard to be that guy, and it's a process."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

5. Slater Koekkoek, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 10), 2012 NHL Draft

Last season: Lightning: 3 GP, 0-0-0; Syracuse (AHL) 72 GP, 5-21-26

Koekkoek's development has been slowed by injuries, but last season he was finally healthy and was called up to the Lightning for a short period near the end of the season. Koekkoek (6-foot-2, 184) is a mobile defenseman who's at his best when he's on the power play, but his overall defense has improved after a full season in the AHL.

After playing three games with the Lightning last season, Koekkoek will have an opportunity to earn a more consistent roster spot with a strong training camp.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

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