Every summer during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Development Camp, the highlight of the week is the two-day 3-on-3 tournament. During the days following the NHL Entry Draft, the Lightning’s newest draftees, returning prospects in the system, and invitees convene for this camp. Under the watchful eye of the team’s coaches and management staff, the players participate in various drills and scrimmages.
While the practice time and off-ice training is crucial, there’s no denying the real fun for the players, coaches, management, and fans is the 3-on-3 tournament. For an organization like the Lightning, who prize undersized, speedy, skillful players with a strong work ethic, the tournament is a real showcase for that kind of ability. What made this year’s camp different was the fact that no former first round picks suited up among the group of prospects, either because the team didn’t have a first round selection (2015 and 2018), they traded them away (2016 first rounder Brett Howden), or due to personal reasons (2017 first round pick Cal Foote was not present due to a family issue).
Despite this, several of the team’s mid-to-late round selections from 2015-17 made quite the impression at the tournament.
Since taking over as general manager in 2010, Steve Yzerman’s strength has proven to be selecting players in the second round and later and watching them develop into productive NHL players. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Anthony Cirelli easily come to mind as mid-to-late round gems. After witnessing the current prospects in action, there could be a few more of those in the next few years.
During this weekend’s 3-on-3 tournament, the Lightning divided their prospects into four teams: Team Stamkos, Team Hedman, Team Johnson, and Team Killorn. They each played a round robin schedule, with the top two teams taking on one another in the championship game. In the end, it was Team Stamkos, led by Sammy Walker, who emerged victorious at tournament’s end.
Walker, a seventh round pick in 2017 out of high school who played for Sioux City of the USHL last season, led all players with nine goals during the tournament. He consistently found open areas on the ice, putting himself in position to create and finish his chances. He attributes his growth from last year’s camp to this year’s camp to the fact he learned how to put his speed to use.
“Learning how to use my speed more and with the power skating, learning how to shift your weight and all the different techniques that go along with it,” said Walker. “I think I just got lucky getting put on a good team,” he said in reference to his tournament success. “I think you want to go out there and have fun. You play your best when you’re having fun.”
Walker will suit up for the University of Minnesota in the fall.
While Team Johnson came up short in the championship game, they featured three of the top five scorers.
Ross Colton (4th round, 2016), Jonne Tammela (4th round, 2015), and Boris Katchouk (2nd round, 2016) put on an absolute show. Colton and Tammela each racked up 14 points, tying for the lead in the tournament. Katchouk, who also displayed a finishing touch, ended the tourney with nine points. Colton was particularly impressive, setting up his linemates while also showing off an impressive shot, notching a natural hat trick in the second-to-last game of the weekend. A forward for the University of Vermont who just recently signed his entry-level contract with the Lightning, he is certainly a prospect to watch over the next couple of years.
Tammela, who missed last year’s camp due to a knee injury, looked healthy and dynamic, scoring five times among his 14 points. His knee injury forced him to miss a large chunk of last season with Syracuse in the AHL, but as long as he stays healthy, he should have a big impact for the Crunch next season.
Team Johnson also featured a rising prospect that patrolled the blue line.
Towering defenseman Oleg Sosunov, a 6’8″, 230-pound Russian picked in the sixth round in 2016, was seen as a bit of a project when drafted. Following his selection in 2016, he spent a year in Russia before making the move overseas to play for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. The time spent in North America has been good for him, as his skating has improved and is quite impressive for a player his size. In addition, he showed some good hands with the puck earlier in the week. During the tournament, he also displayed a blistering shot that led to him scoring four goals and three assists. Expect Sosunov to be in Syracuse for the 2018-19 season.
Team Hedman featured one of the team’s more intriguing prospects and one expected to make an impact with Syracuse.
Alex Barre-Boulet, an undersized, undrafted winger from Quebec (sound familiar, Lightning fans?), showed why he was scooped up as a free agent by the Lightning a couple of months ago. Named the CHL Player of the Year on the heels of a 53-goal, 116-point season with Blanville-Boisbriand of the QMJHL, Barre-Boulet has speed and tremendous skill to offset his lack of size. Finishing with six goals and nine point in the tournament, Barre-Boulet was a threat to score whenever he had the puck, displaying soft hands around the net and the ability to set up teammates. You could make a case that he was the most skilled prospect on the ice throughout the week and during the tournament.
Taylor Raddysh, a second round pick from 2016, is one of the top prospects in the Lightning’s system. He’s a goal-scorer with a ton of playoff experience in the OHL. He also earned plenty of international experience for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Although he chipped in modestly in this tournament (three goals, two assists), he’s expected to make the jump and turn into an important contributor for Syracuse.
What a difference a couple of years makes for Connor Ingram, a third round pick from 2016.
A goaltender taken from Kamloops of the WHL, Ingram arrived at his first development camp in 2016 and looked a bit shell-shocked. Fast forward two years, and it’s amazing what some development time with Kamloops, Team Canada at the WJC, and Syracuse can do. In his first professional season in 2017-18, Ingram played in 35 games, sporting a respectable goals-against average of 2.33 and a save percentage of .914 for the Crunch. Obtaining some pro starts under his belt appeared to help tremendously, as he was the best goalie in this weekend’s tournament by a wide margin. Don’t let the .810 save percentage in the tournament fool you, when you’re involved in a 3-on-3 tourney, some goals will go in. That’s just the nature of the beast.
However, Ingram made some spectacular saves throughout both days, including a dazzling sequence where he stopped Raddysh on a breakaway and immediately followed it up with an equally impressive stop moments later. Both saves brought a loud approval from the Lightning fans in attendance. Expect Ingram to spend another couple of years with the Crunch before eventually making the move to challenge for the role of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup.
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