Fan of an Eastern Conference team? You should be terrified of Tampa Bay

Justin Bourne

I’d be willing to bet a fair chunk of change that Tampa Bay Lightning bomber Steven Stamkos leads the NHL in goals next season, assuming he doesn’t snap any significant bones. While Alex Ovechkin has been hockey’s best goal scorer for a decade, last season was the first in which he didn’t top the NHL in goals-per-game. Stamkos had 25 in 37 games(!) for an average of 0.68 per, to Ovechkin’s piddly 0.65.

Ovechkin has been king, but it’s Stamkos’ turn to reign.

Even with Stamkos playing less than half the season, the Lightning turned a corner, making playoffs for the first time since 2010-11 and finishing second in the Atlantic Division. Those results came thanks in no small part to a trade that turned Cory Conacher into Vezina finalist Ben Bishop, and tremendous rookie campaigns from Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. 

Bishop is sitting at goaltender prime - 27 years old - while Steven Stamkos is in scorer prime at 24. This bodes well for the Lightning.

Also good? Holy bananas and applesauce do they have an embarrassment of young riches, particularly up front. Have you looked at their roster lately?

Going into next season, here’s a list of their forwards who will be 25 or under during the 2014-15 NHL season. These guys are virtually 100% locks to be on their roster:

Name Height Weight Birthdate Age
ALEX KILLORN 6' 2" 205 9/14/1989 24
STEVEN STAMKOS "C" 6' 0" 190 2/7/1990 24
J.T. BROWN 5' 10" 170 7/2/1990 23
TYLER JOHNSON 5' 9" 182 7/29/1990 23
RICHARD PANIK 6' 1" 208 2/7/1991 23
ONDREJ PALAT 6' 0" 180 3/28/1991 23
NIKITA KUCHEROV 5' 11" 171 6/17/1993 21
CEDRIC PAQUETTE 6' 1" 198 8/13/1993 20
JONATHAN DROUIN 5' 11" 186 3/27/1995 19

Yeah, it's not just "young" that's so impressive there - it's also "good." Nice combination to have, that.

And on the way?

Name Height Weight Birthdate Age
BRETT CONNOLLY 6' 2" 185 5/2/1992 22
VLADISLAV NAMESTNIKOV 5' 11" 174 11/22/1992 21
ADAM ERNE 6' 1" 206 4/20/1995 19

* Connolly already has a 30+ goal AHL season under his belt. He scored over 20 last year, and spent 11 games with the big club.

* Namestnikov put up 21 points in 44 games in the AHL as a rookie.

* Erne had 62 points in 48 games in the Q before gathering four points in eight AHL games at the end of the season. These all players who have legit chances at good NHL careers.

While it’s likely that at least two of the above don’t crack the big club in 2014-15, it’s very possible that one does (Connolly), leaving Tampa with 10 forwards 25 or under heading into next year, and the many years ahead. That’s three lines plus.

On the back-end, they have Victor Hedman, one of the league’s best defensemen (he’s 23), Andrej Sustr (also 23), and the excellent Radko Gudas (just turned 24), who are all major contributors. Mark Barberio got in 50 NHL games this past season a year after after tallying 42 points from the back-end in the American League (he’s 24), and the gigantic Keith Aulie just turned 25 last week.

You know what’s really scary about this? Like hide-under-your-blankets scary?

They have four first round picks over the next two drafts.

Four. First round. Picks.

When you have young players you have entry-level deals. When you have entry-level deals you have savings. When you have savings you can afford to pay your talent and add more.

I don’t know if this team will ever blossom into what it looks like it could become, but they've certainly got the assets to make it possible. It seems I’m not the only one who noticed, either.

When I tweeted about the Lightning's excitement at having Jonathan Drouin on the way, here's the simple response I got from the team's official Twitter account, in GIF form:

Yup. That about sums it up.