(Photo via NHL.com)
By Michael Wax
Before the 2020-21 season, the Lightning’s pipeline was thought to be headlined by Alex Barré-Boulet. A talented scorer with a wicked shot, many Bolts fans couldn’t wait to see him in the NHL. On February 15, 2021, Barré-Boulet was recalled to the team’s taxi squad, but he wasn’t the only one. Another little-known forward by the name of Ross Colton took the jump from the American Hockey League to the NHL. Less than a year later, Colton has solidified his place in the NHL, and potentially in the Lightning’s top six soon.
Looking back at Colton’s rookie season, Colton scored at a time when no one else on the team could. From scoring on his second shift to a three-game goal streak in early April, Colton showed a timely shooting prowess and a willingness to drive the net. He continued to impress in the playoffs, playing solid 4th line minutes. Even scoring that goal. You know, THAT goal.
There were some warning signs that Colton’s rise was unmaintainable. For starters, Colton shot an absurd 19.6% during the 2021 season. As a reference, Colton’s shooting percentage would’ve ranked 10th in the entire NHL had he qualified. (Funny enough, Mathieu Joseph ranked 6th in the NHL with a 20.3% shooting percentage last year). That felt, in a word, unsustainable. Indeed, it has been, as Colton has dropped to a 10.3% as of the writing of this piece. But, if the tools were there, the foundation to Colton’s game was rock-solid.
It was expected that while Colton would still bring the energy and shooting mentality, a sophomore slump seemed imminent. Instead, as the leader of the “Kid Line” with Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh, Colton has upped everything in his game. Despite remaining in the bottom six, Colton has increased his numbers in most major categories and has been given an increased role (10:34 ATOI --> 13:18 ATOI). He’s been more willing to put his body on the line and make the necessary play, as evidenced by his 21 blocks (4th among Lightning forwards) and 86 hits (2nd among Lightning players). Usually, this would mean that a player or line of players would be chasing the puck, but Colton has upped his offensive possession statistics this season. An increase in Corsi For percentage (Shot attempts for / (Shot attempts for – shot attempts against) has led the 4th line to be one of the most consistent in the Lightning lineup (55.5% for Colton).
Colton has been great in the faceoff dot as well. The Lightning as a team have improved in that regard (except on the power play, which is an entirely different discussion). Colton’s 48.6% in the dot last year was fine, but he made strides to improve in the circles and bumped it up to 50.7 in the 2020-21 season, good for 3rd on the Bolts among qualified players. Colton’s two-way play has seen a massive jump as well, protecting the puck carefully while improving his takeaway game (5 in 2020-21 --> 17 in 2021-22).
It's not just the fact that Colton is scoring, it’s the way he’s scoring. Take the goal below as an example.
Colton has put more emphasis on his slapshot this season. On a team that is seemingly afraid to take slap shots at even strength and on the power play, Colton has put it into his arsenal. Colton showed a willingness to go to the net, which was on full display in the 2021 season. But his ability to take long-range slapshots makes him a more dangerous player.
What Can Colton Improve On?
Though he’s improved extensively this season, there are still some things to improve on for Colton to take the next step. As the veteran on his line, Colton has taken charge of shooting the puck. An increase in distribution would be much kinder to his assist totals, which has lagged this season.
Colton has taken a jump this season in power-play ice time (:41 ATOI --> 1:37 ATOI) but has yet to capitalize on the over 100% increase. While the entire power play has struggled at times this season, and Colton has scored two of his nine goals the shift after a power play, getting on the board with a power-play goal has to be on Colton’s bucket list.
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