The Tampa Bay Lightning have a sour taste in their mouths heading into this season. After falling just one game short of a chance to compete for hockey’s holy grail in the playoffs last year, this is a hungry group with high expectations.
Following a fast paced, competitive training camp, twenty-four players earned their spot on a team with big aspirations for themselves. It’s Stanley Cup or bust this year in Tampa Bay, as those expectations remain high with this team’s championship window wide open. Below is a player-by-player preview of the group that looks to earn the franchise its first title since 2004.
#71 Anthony Cirelli, Center
Here is a player who could have a breakout season for the Bolts. Cirelli averaged just 13:14 of ice time in the regular season last year and posted a strong 11 points in 18 GP. The 6’0, 180-pound center is strong with the puck, responsible at both ends of the ice, and has sneaky good hands and offensive ability. Watch for him to fly under the radar and put up solid numbers. Thirty goals is not out of the picture for the 21-year-old.
#9 Tyler Johnson, Center
“Johnson, upper body, is considered day to day.” Sound familiar? Since bursting onto the scene as a rookie, Johnson has been plagued by nagging injuries. That’s a shame, because the undersized center can surely produce when he’s in the lineup. He proved exactly that last season, putting up 50 points in 81 games. As the Lightning’s depth grows, expect a strong year from Johnson if he can remain healthy.
#10 JT Miller, Center/Winger
Miller was simply phenomenal for the Bolts after joining the team at the trade deadline. He was a consistent point producer in the latter part of the season and chipped in in the playoffs as well. An underrated offensive talent with a league-renowned possession of grit, expect more of the same from the recently extended Miller this season. Logging PP minutes, he is a definite 30-goal candidate.
#13 Cedric Paquette, Center
As much as every Lighting fan has an undeniable soft spot for #13, his role on the Bolts is frankly diminishing. The scrappy French-Canadian will be hard-pressed to see much ice this season following the emergence of Brayden Point and the up-and-coming Anthony Cirelli. Paquette will struggle to produce points and will be a healthy scratch more than once on a dynamite Lightning roster.
#21 Brayden Point, Center
Brayden Point was good in his rookie season. “Great” doesn’t even begin to describe the magic we saw from the 22-year-old last season. Point has league-leading speed, filthy hands and an underrated shot. He became the Lightning’s go-to for clutch goals, smart play, and a keen sense of leadership. After putting up 32 goals and 66 points last year, there’s no telling just how good the Canadian can be this year. Forty goals and 80+ points are not outside the realm of possibility.
#91 Steven Stamkos, Center
Many question whether Stamkos will ever hit the 40-goal mark again. Unfortunately, I don’t think he does this year, or ever again. However, that does not detract from the immense value the Lightning captain brings to this group, be it raw talent or locker room leadership. When healthy, he is a once in a generation type of talent. His patented power play one-timer from the left circle is just one of the million ways he can and will beat you. With that said, there are simply more mouths to feed in Tampa nowadays. However, thirty goals and a 90+ point season is more than possible.
#89 Cory Conacher, Left Wing
A solid depth player, Conacher can step into the lineup when needed and fill any spot admirably. The 5’8″ Conacher had just twelve points last year, and will not produce much more this year but is a good security blanket when the Bolts experience injuries up front.
#73 Adam Erne, Left Wing
Adam Erne is your prototypical power forward. He looks and plays the part. Though he only logged 23 games and 4 points last season, Erne is primed to build off that this year. He is very strong with the puck and diligent at both ends of the ice. A definitive candidate to work his way up from the fourth line if the injury bug hits.
#37 Yanni Gourde, Winger/Center
If there’s anyone I’m more high on than Cirelli heading into this season, it’s Yanni Gourde. As his 64 points last year prove, the kid can flat-out play. He’s got speed and is very nifty in close to the net in using his hands. After a 25-goal campaign in which he took the NHL by storm, I feel like 30 goals is the floor for Gourde, while the sky is the limit.
#17 Alex Killorn, Left Wing
We know exactly what to expect from Killorn. Steady play, streaky production. It seems yearly he goes on a six or seven-game tear where he pulls out his inner Connor McDavid and puts up about nine goals. However, though I have Killorn posting close to 50 points, his value shows up in other ways as well. A big body with soft hands, Killorn is very versatile. He is right at home in front of the net on the power play unit, can log PK minutes, and produce offensively. It’ll be another day another dollar for Killorn, who continues to reap the rewards of the seven-year, $31.15 million contract he signed in 2016.
#62 Danick Martel, Left Wing
Danick Martel played in just four games with Philly last year and has yet to record an NHL point. The sophomore NHLer survived the Lightning camp and made the roster. However, we could see him being a frequent healthy scratch considering the wealth of young talent the Lightning have in Syracuse.
#18 Ondrej Palat, Left Wing
When Ondrej Palat is in the lineup, he is the picture of consistency. Though he was hindered by injuries in a 35-point, 56-game campaign last year, he looked strong as ever in the playoffs and is primed for another solid season with the Bolts this year. The 27-year-old Czech winger is a great puck handler, can kill penalties, produce points and is a ridiculously hard worker at each end of the ice. Being the most underrated player on the Lightning, in my opinion, look for Palat to stay healthy and do more of the same this season.
#24 Ryan Callahan, Right Wing
The Bolts will yet again be without Callahan to start the season. However, he was cleared for contact Thursday and is on track for a November return. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the end is near for the former Ranger captain. The 33-year-old veteran always brings an unprecedented degree of class, leadership, and grit to the Bolts lineup. No longer a massive point producer, watch for Callahan to take less ice but perform admirably if healthy enough. Sadly, one more major setback or surgery and the right winger may be hanging up the skates on an impressive and steady 12-year career.
#7 Mathieu Joseph, Right Wing
Laval, Quebec native Mathieu Joseph could be something special for the Lightning. He is everything the Lightning seem to love. Undersized, but incredibly fast and talented in the offensive zone. Joseph had an incredible preseason and his offensive abilities earned him a roster spot. Currently projected at third line minutes, don’t be surprised if Joseph, a player I’m very excited about, has an outstanding rookie year.
#86 Nikita Kucherov, Right Wing
If you need a reminder that Kucherov is an incredibly gifted hockey player, you clearly aren’t a fan of the sport. But here goes. Kucherov, who signed a monstrous eight-year, $76 million dollar extension with the Lightning in the offseason, earned every penny in a ridiculous 39-goal, 100-point season last year. Only special players ever eclipse 100 points, and Kucherov did it by terrorizing goaltenders with his rocket of a shot and disgusting hands. Kucherov, Stamkos, and Victor Hedman combined to make the Bolts’ PP unit a truly terrifying animal in the playoffs. The scary part is the Russian sniper is only going to get better.
#55 Braydon Coburn, Defenseman
This could quite possibly be Coburn’s last season in blue and white. The veteran D-man will log minuscule minutes in an improving Lightning defensive corps this year. Though he is fairly reliable with the puck, he will not produce offensively and his speed is diminishing rapidly. The 13-year pro will simply log third-pairing log minutes and try to keep the mistakes to a minimum.
#5 Dan Girardi, Defenseman
In a theme throughout the Lightning defensive group, here we have an aging defenseman who will be a UFA come the summer. Girardi is a similar player to Coburn. He will log minutes and brings experience to the table. However, Girardi is a workhorse penalty killer and a bruiser. It will be interesting to see who survives next offseason on Tampa’s blue line. Girardi may stay because the Lightning are in need of talent on the right side, however, it’s very possible that he is on the outs following a season where he will continue to play like a prototypical third pairing d-man.
#77 Victor Hedman, Defenseman
Hedman is a world class player. Plain and simple. He was the Norris Trophy winner last season and will continue to demonstrate why this season. The towering Swede uses his reach extremely effectively to box out opposing players and regain possession in his own end. In the offensive end, he is among the best in the business. The real treat with Hedman is his league-renowned knack for knowing when to stay at home and help out defensively, and when to jump into the rush and utilize his very impressive offensive abilities. He’ll be a gem yet again this year and contend as a Norris candidate for the second straight year.
#29 Slater Koekkoek, Defenseman
It seems every time Koekkoek cracks the Lightning lineup, he is very impressive, especially considering the lack of NHL opportunity he’s been given. Yet again, Koekkoek makes the Lightning roster, but is not projected to start opening night. He is a good skater and puck-handler. If he makes the lineup for a long period of time, watch out for him to surpass expectations. However, the emergence of Mikhail Sergachev has made that less likely. If Koekkoek doesn’t make the lineup soon, watch for new Bolts GM Julian BriseBrois to pull the trigger on trading the intriguing young blueliner.
#27 Ryan McDonagh, Defenseman
After signing a big seven-year deal with Tampa Bay in the offseason, McDonagh will be a staple on the back end for the Lightning. While an offensive threat, McDonagh surely isn’t afraid to throw his body around either. The former Ranger was a big splash for the Bolts, and will be well with the price tag of Vladdy Namestnikov and more that the Bolts paid to acquire him. He brings steady play in both ends of the ice, can play at full strength, power play and a man down, and brings leadership into the locker room.
#98 Mikhail Sergachev, Defenseman
Sergachev’s first NHL season was simply a thing of beauty. Forty points as a 19-year-old is certainly nothing to sneeze at. He’s shifty, has excellent lateral movement and offensive ability, and his work in his own end will only improve with time. Lightning fans should be very keen on the youthful phenom, because he’s going to be around awhile.
#6 Anton Stralman, Defenseman
Rounding out the “aging defenseman in a contract year” crew is none other than Stralman. You’ll find few more responsible with the puck than Stralman. That being said, his age is beginning to show. He looked slow and often out of position in his own end in the playoffs. He may be brought back on a one-year deal to be utilized as a mentor for the inevitable youth movement on Tampa Bay’s blue line, but his game will have to improve this season to ensure an extension with the Bolts.
#88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
“The Big Cat” Andrei Vasilevskiy had his best season last year. He posted 44 wins, a .920 save percentage, and was a Vezina candidate. He’ll be in that conversation yet again this year. Vasilevskiy has arguably the best lateral movement in the league, and his positioning, which is already a strength, should only continue to improve. However, he did admit fatigue was a factor last season, so keep an eye on his conditioning and rest days this year.
#70 Louis Domingue
The Lightning extended the former Coyote in the offseason after he had an solid half season backing up Vasilevskiy after coming over from Arizona. He had an .894 save percentage on the year in 17 starts split between the Coyotes and Lightning. Keep your eye on the Lightning using Domingue more this season, particularly in back-to-backs, as they look to ensure Vasilevskiy is fresh for what they hope is a lengthy playoff run.
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- Goaltending thrives as Bolts knock out Hurricanes in Game 5 June 8, 2021