Sunday Morning Card Show: The 2023-24 Tampa Bay Lightning Rookie Cards


As Upper Deck slowly catches up from their COVID backlog, the 2023-24 sets of hockey cards are starting to be released. Yes, it’s odd that we’ve hit the end of the season and hockey cards are still coming out, but that’s where we’re at. In fact, it looks like July will be a huge month for sets to be released as there are eight 2023-24 hockey sets tentatively scheduled to be released. On the calendar is also the first 2024-25 set of the season, 2024-25 Upper Deck MVP, set to be released on July 26th. So, yeah, things are still a bit weird.

All of that being said, the major sets have come out so we have a basic idea of which rookies are getting their first pieces of cardboard showing them in a NHL uniform. As you can imagine, it’s been the season of Connor Bedard for collectors all across the world. The Chicago rookie has driven sales ever since he popped up on a short-printed card in Series 1 of the 2023-34 flagship product. The good news is that, if you were lucky enough to pull a Bedard rookie in just about any set, then you pretty much paid for your year. The bad news was that the chase for Connor drove prices for boxes and packs to an all-time high.

If you were going after any other rookie, you were better off just waiting to buy the singles off the secondary market. Product was scarce and over-priced, so ripping random packs was just about impossible. Prices have cooled a bit, but a box of 2023-24 Upper Deck Series 2, which contains the official Bedard Young Guns rookie card, will still set you back a cool $290 according to Dave & Adams website. That’s roughly double what the product normally costs, but is down from the high of about $350 that we saw when the boxes first dropped in February.

What does that all mean for Tampa Bay Lightning fans looking for cards of the newest youngsters to put on the uniform? Well, it means don’t waste your money buying a box. After getting shut out in Series 1, two Bolts did show up in Series 2. Waltteri Merela (card #454) and Matt Tomkins (card #470) both made their NHL debuts early enough in the season to make the cut.

Waltteri Merela graces the front of an Upper Deck hockey card. He is facing to the left on the ice and wearing the Lightning's white road uniform.
Waltteri Merela Upper Deck Rookie Card (part of Justin G.’s collection)

The good news is that they can both be had for a pretty reasonable cost on the secondary market. According to verified sales on eBay, ungraded copies of Merela’s card sold for between $1.50 and $1.95 back in April (those are the most recent sales), and several are listed for sale right now around that price.

Tomkins has a few more recent sales, with all of them coming in under $3.00 including shipping. Again, these are ungraded base cards. The goalie did have a couple of his Silver Outburst parallels go for about $3.50 earlier last month.

If you’d rather not deal with eBay, redemption card with the Lightning logo on it, so chances are that the actual card hasn’t shipped from Upper Deck yet.

Will there be any other players getting a rookie card in upcoming product? After all, there were a total of eight rookies that suited up for at least one game with the Lightning this year and are now eligible to be included in sets. (Small NHL quirk – even though Matt Tomkins made his NHL debuts this season, he’s not considered a rookie since he was over the age of 26 as of September 15th). The odds are likely that at least one or two more Bolts will get their cardboard debut this year.

The best chance will be in the 2023-24 Upper Deck Extended series, which is scheduled to drop on June 26th (one thing to note, release dates aren’t iron clad. Production issues can push release dates back, but Upper Deck has been better at hitting their marks of late). This set serves pretty much as a third series to the flagship product and will usually include 30 or so rookies across the league. The Bolts had a big year in the 2021-22 Extended Series as Sean Day, Hugo Alnefelt, and Gabe Fortier all had their Young Guns cards included.

With most of the eligible players making their debut in early January, there is a chance that at least one of them shows up. There is a pretty long ramp-up time for production for these cards (mainly because they are printed in Italy) so they have to have the checklists ready to go several months out. Still, if I had to hazard a guess, it would be Emil Lilleberg.

That would also leave them a few players like Gage Goncalves and Max Crozier for the 2024-25 Series 1 set. With Upper Deck getting back to a more normal release cycle, they will want to have some carry-over rookies ready to go. With the NHL and NHLPA requiring players to have suited up in a NHL game in order to be on a licensed card set, Series 1 is usually filled with players who made their debuts later in the previous season.

What about Mitchell Chaffee or Cole Koepke? Yes, they were technically rookies last season, but they have already found their way into previous sets. In fact, the same set. Koepke was shown in a Lightning uniform in the 2022-23 Series 2 set (card #484) while Chaffee was in a Minnesota Wild uniform in the same series (card #462). I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chaffee make his Lightning uniform debut in the Extended Series this year, though.

While these cards aren’t likely to finance a new home (or a new dryer like Bedard did for me!) it’s always fun to pick up a Lightning rookie card. Thanks for indulging this card nerd on a Sunday morning!



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