Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s recent draftees and top prospects gathered at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon for their annual Development Camp. A summer tradition that showcases the team’s future while quenching the fans’ thirst for hockey during the offseason.
While the process of drills involving power skating and board battles can become tedious, there’s no doubt the highlight of the camp is the 3-on-3 tournament. The prospects split up into six teams of four over two days. During the championship game, each remaining team added an additional player. The four goaltenders rotated, with the goaltender having the best save percentage playing in the final game.
Following a spirited opening day of the tourney, the competition whittled down to four teams for the semifinals on Saturday. The first semifinal pitted Team Richards, the #1 seed, against the #4 seed Team St. Louis. Led by Anthony Cirelli, Kevin Hancock, Samuel Walker, and Callan Foote, Team St. Louis knocked off Team Richards to advance to the tournament final despite some of the individual performances from Team Richards, led by Mathieu Joseph and Erik Cernak.
Joseph, a forward taken in the 4th round in 2015, tied Brett Howden for the tournament lead with nine points. He consistently created scoring chances for his team throughout the tourney. Cernak, acquired from Los Angeles in the Ben Bishop trade, was also a force despite his team falling short in the tournament. A defenseman listed at 6’3″, 208 lbs, Cernak is an excellent skater for his size. Considered a shutdown defender, Cernak is a very good puck-mover with some offensive skill. He’ll play in AHL Syracuse in the fall, but he’s a guy that should challenge for a roster spot in 2018.
The other semifinal featured Team Esposito beating Team Lecavalier to set up a showdown between Teams Espo and St. Louis.
Team Esposito was led by Howden, who showed tremendous progress over the course of camp one year after being chosen by the Lightning in the first round of the 2016 draft. During the tournament, Howden showed tremendous offensive ability, using his size to drive the net and create chances. He still has room to put on more muscle on top of his 6’2″, 191-pound frame. His teammate with Moose Jaw of the WHL, Brayden Point, made the Lightning out of training camp last season. However, Howden told the media earlier this week he isn’t ready to look that far ahead just yet.
“It’s obviously exciting each year, progressing, but I don’t wanna look too far ahead,” said Howden. “Right now I’m just focused on being here and then (I’ll) go home and train and then we’ll see what happens.”
Despite being on the losing side in the semifinal with Team Lecavalier, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev looked like a player that has a serious shot at making the Lightning’s roster in the fall.
Acquired in the trade that sent Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Sergachev led the tournament with six goals on just 12 shots while chipping in a pair of assists. A 6’3″, 215-pound defenseman, Sergachev has drawn comparisons to Victor Hedman. Sergachev has the puck-moving ability and a great shot to go along with tremendous skating and the size to play a physical game. Having played four regular season games with Montreal last season before being sent back to Windsor of the OHL, he will be given every chance to make Tampa Bay’s roster this fall. Sergachev helped lead Windsor to a Memorial Cup Title and won the Max Kaminsky Trophy for the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman in 2016.
The final contest of the tournament turned out to be a low-scoring affair.
During the showdown between Team Esposito and Team St. Louis, Mitchell Stephens was added to the Esposito side while Alexander Volkov joined up with Team St. Louis. Stephens helped make a big difference, potting a crucial goal and showing great chemistry with Dennis Yan. Team Esposito won the championship final by a 2-0 score. Joining them in the celebration was goaltender Connor Ingram, a 2016 third round pick who will play in Syracuse next season. Ingram played in the tournament final due to having the highest save percentage in the tournament.
Despite coming up short in the final, Team St. Louis possessed their share of impressive performers. Samuel Walker, a 7th round pick in this year’s draft out of Edina High School in Minnesota, tallied 5 goals and 2 assists in the tournament. Highly-touted first round pick Cal Foote also held his own, while Anthony Cirelli showed plenty of skill and creativity, chipping in four assists despite not finding the back of the net.