NHL

Lightning's prospect depth on display at Canada's world jr. camp

Six Tampa Bay Lightning draftees are among the 31 players looking to crack Canada's 22-man lineup for the world junior hockey championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Toronto and Montreal.

Returnee Mitchell Stephens among 6 Tampa draft picks trying to make team

Mitchell Stephens is one of six Lightning prospects trying to crack Team Canada's 22-man lineup for the world junior hockey championship later this month in Toronto and Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

If the Tampa Bay Lightning want to check out their top prospects, all they need to do is go to the Canadian national junior team's selection camp.

Six Lightning draftees are among the 31 players gathered at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau in Boisbriand, Que., looking to crack the 22-man lineup for the world junior championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Toronto and Montreal.

"It's awesome," one of them, centre Mitchell Stephens of the Saginaw Spirit, said Monday.

Stephens, one of five players returning from last year's world junior tournament, is rooming with forward Mathieu Joseph of the Saint John Sea Dogs, another Lightning prospect.

And Stephens was slated to play on a line with left-winger Brett Howden of the Moose Jaw Warriors, another budding Bolt, in an exhibition game Monday against a team of Canadian university players.

It shows they're one of the top teams in the [NHL] for a reason.— Team Canada's Mitchell Stephens on being one of 6 Lightning prospects at world junior selection camp

Goalie Connor Ingram of the Kamloops Blazers, and forwards Anthony Cirelli of the Oshawa Generals and Taylor Raddysh of the Erie Otters are other Tampa Bay draft picks in camp.

"It's a credit to the management staff in Tampa Bay for the prospects they've put into their system," said Stephens. "It shows they're one of the top teams in the league for a reason."

Ryan Jankowski, Team Canada's director of player personnel, didn't purposely seek out Tampa Bay prospects, even if his predecessor, Al Murray, is the Lightning's head of amateur scouting.

"They've had some first and a lot of second round picks the last few years," said Jankowski. "They've drafted Canadians, which certainly helps.

"And I guess we like the same kind of player. Al Murray, who has done this job before, does a great job of scouting and drafting. It's more than just coincidence. It's because they've drafted really good players."

Two NHL teams have three players each in camp. The Montreal Canadiens have goalie David McNiven of the Owen Sound Attack and defencemen Noah Juulsen of the Everett Silvertips and Victor Mete of the London Knights; while the Carolina Hurricanes have Calgary Hitmen defenceman Jake Bean and forwards Julien Gauthier of the Val d'Or Foreurs and Nicolas Roy of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.

The Bolts didn't have a first round pick in 2015, but they took Stephens 33rd overall, Cirelli 72nd and Joseph 120th that year. In 2016, they got Howden 27th overall, Raddysh 58th and Ingram 88th.

Raddysh filling the net

That's not to mention the European players they got in the same drafts.

Raddysh played for Canada at the under-17 level but then was dropped from the system until he started filling the net for Erie this season and got invited to camp. He arrived as the Ontario Hockey League scoring leader. It helps that he plays with Dylan Strome, the 2015 third overall draft pick who is among Team Canada's returnees.

"What he's done with Dylan Strome for part of the year, and what he's done without him, was score goals, create offence, make plays off the rush," said Jankowski. "He's a big package, a big body, and he's an adequate enough skater to come to this level.

"It's definitely a tryout for him because he wasn't at our summer camp, but his offence is what we want in our depth, on our third and fourth lines, as we look at our roster."

"He's a great player," Strome said of the six-foot-two 210-pound Raddysh. "He can shoot and pass and check and he creates. We worked well together in junior.

"He's got confidence now, leading the OHL in scoring. He deserves to be here."

'Depth in prospects'

Raddysh said he wants to show Canada's coaches he has the skill to play at world junior level.

Having five other Lightning draftees around is a bonus.

"It's pretty cool when you have six guys here from our organization," said Raddysh. "It just shows the depth in the prospects in Tampa Bay right now."

All six know each other from the Lightning's rookie and development camps, but they now have a chance to be teammates in an elite level tournament for junior-age players. Canada is looking to win on home ice after being eliminated in the quarter-finals by host Finland last year in Helsinki.

One day, they'll all be competing with one another for NHL jobs.

"There's six players that all have a shot one day," said Raddysh. "It'll be a lot of fun when the process gets closer."

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