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Little Bolts make big impact with Otters

The Tampa Bay Lightning have kept a close eye on the 2017 OHL Playoffs.

Lightning prospects Anthony Cirelli, Taylor Raddysh and Erik Cernak are into the 2017 Rogers OHL Championship Series, making big contributions with the Midwest Division champion Erie Otters in their push for the franchise’s first OHL title since 2002.

“It’s been great to see,” noted Lightning Director of Player Development Stacy Roest, a former three-time 100-point scorer with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers (1990-95). “We like our guys to play as long as they can and get that valuable experience deep in the playoffs.”

The Otters have benefitted greatly from the trio of ‘baby Bolts’, with Cirelli and Raddysh both registering over a point-per-game and Cernak drawing the tough assignments on the blue line with a plus-15 rating in the postseason.

Cirelli leads the Otters with 13 playoff goals and was recently named the Pioneer Energy OHL Player of the Week. He set up a goal in Erie’s 2-1 Game 1 victory over Mississauga on Thursday to extend his current point streak to five games.

“He’s such a quick learner,” said Roest of Cirelli who was Tampa’s third round (72nd overall) pick in 2015. “Anthony is a real competitor and he is as hard a worker as I’ve seen. When a kid works as hard as he does and has that kind of talent, those players are a pleasure to work with.”

Cirelli’s Canadian World Junior teammate Taylor Raddysh is also property of Tampa Bay, a player the organization has been intrigued with from the moment they laid eyes on him.

He was the Lightning’s second round (58th overall) pick last summer.

“The blend of size and hockey sense is pretty impressive,” noted Roest. “He’s a big kid who can get around the ice. We’re working on his quickness but he sees the ice really well, can really shoot it and his physical attributes make for a really interesting package.”

As for Cernak, the big Slovakian defender was acquired by the Lightning in February in a trade that sent goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings. Cernak was LA’s second round (43rd overall) pick in 2015 and is in his second season with the Otters.

“Our people really like Erik. He’s big, strong and skates well for a guy who is 6-foot-3, 220Ibs.

“Erik keeps his game simple,” Roest continued. “He knows what kind of player he is and you need those types of defencemen to win championships. We’re happy to have him in the organization.”

In addition to the three Otters, Tampa Bay’s regional scouts have been kept busy this past season with seven prospects to keep tabs on across the Ontario Hockey League.

The Bolts just signed Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds winger Boris Katchouk to an entry-level deal, Peterborough Petes veterans Matthew Spencer and Chris Paquette reached the Eastern Conference Final and London Knights centreman Mitchell Stephens took his game to another level in a seven game series against Erie.

Peterborough Petes winger Jonne Tammela who was limited to just two games this season due to a lower body injury is also Lightning property.

Additionally, Windsor Spitfires overage winger Cristiano DiGiacinto, formerly a sixth round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014 who went unsigned, is currently preparing to play in the Mastercard Memorial Cup.

The Lightning, who operate under the guidance of former OHL graduate and NHL star Steve Yzerman in the GM’s chair, have frequented the OHL in years past too, taking Vladislav Namestnikov (London, 2011), Slater Koekkoek (Peterborough, 2012) and Anthony DeAngelo (Sarnia, 2014) in the first round while Czech rearguard Dominik Masin (2014) developed in Peterborough after being a second round selection.

Lightning prospects are having an impact elsewhere in the CHL as well, with Saint John Sea Dogs Mathieu Joseph and Bokondji Imama currently leading the QMJHL President Cup Final 2-0.

“The CHL is an outstanding development league,” said Roest who just completed his fifth season with the Lightning organization. “The guys learn the game, play a lot, do some travelling and are provided the platform to develop their game.

“Our scouts keep a close watch on all three leagues in the CHL.”

Cirelli, Raddysh, Cernak and the Otters are back on home ice for Game 2 of the Rogers OHL Championship Series this afternoon against the Mississauga Steelheads at 4:00pm.

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