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Bolts Optimistic Heading Into Preseason Opener

Photo Courtesy of Mary Holt

Following a longer offseason than what they’ve become accustomed to, the Tampa Bay Lightning returned eager to start training camp. After four days of practices and the preseason opener looming, they’re ready to test their mettle against someone besides themselves.

Tomorrow night, the Lightning begin the preseason and host the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:30 pm at Amalie Arena. The following night, they complete the home-and-home with the ‘Canes in Raleigh. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper expressed his pleasure with the team’s effort following practice on Monday.

“We’ve had these first four days on the ice, and at this point you’re looking for ‘Are the guys in shape? Are they competing?’ and we got all of that and more. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys and the effort they put forth,” said Cooper.

“I think the guys are probably a little sick of this and they want the games to begin.”

Cooper has lauded the organization’s depth when it comes to prospects, referring to the current group on media day as the deepest pool of youth the Lightning have had since he’s been with the team. He reiterated the importance of getting the younger guys plenty of ice time in the preseason.

“Early on, there’s gonna be a lot of rookies in the lineup. You wanna take a look at your draft picks and see how they do against competition from other organizations. Everybody passed the test with how hard they worked. You can’t simulate what happens in exhibition games to what’s going on in practice, so we’re looking forward to watching this,” said Cooper.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos’s return to health from a torn meniscus last season has been a hot topic throughout camp. Cooper wouldn’t give an exact timetable of how much action he’d see in the preseason. “We’ve talked to everybody, so that’ll play out as camp goes on,” said Cooper.

Training Camp Notebook

-Stamkos looks like his normal self so far in camp after missing 65 games in 2016-17. Last season, he centered one of the hottest lines in hockey between wingers Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov before getting hurt. Stamkos was on pace for 43 goals and 97 points, the latter of which would’ve put him in second place in the NHL and would have tied a career-high in points. The Kucherov-Stamkos-Namestnikov line hasn’t missed a beat so far in camp. If Stamkos remains healthy, there’s no reason he can’t post similar numbers to what he was on pace for a season ago.

-While Stamkos’s absence had an adverse effect in 2016-17, the Lightning missed Ryan Callahan’s leadership just as much. The 32-year-old winger’s bruising style and work ethic helps set the tone for the Bolts. After two hip surgeries in eight months cost him 64 games last season, Callahan has shown no ill effects. During a scrimmage on Sunday, he laid out prospect Christopher Paquette with a big hit near the boards. If Callahan can also provide something in the neighborhood of 20 goals and 40 points, that secondary scoring would go a long way towards getting Tampa Bay back to the postseason.

Following the signing of Dan Girardi, the re-signing of Andrej Sustr to a one-year deal, working out a deal with Vegas to protect Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin while exposing Jason Garrison, and trading for Mikhail Sergachev, the Lightning find themselves looking at the possibility of carrying eight defensemen heading into this season.

That’s certainly not unheard of, but it’s also not ideal. It means at least one blue-liner, sometimes two, will be scratched every game. A trade could certainly be a possibility between now and the regular season opener on October 6.

Dotchin was a midseason call-up last January, impressing enough to be Victor Hedman’s regular blue-line partner. Throughout camp, he’s been paired up with Braydon Coburn and has shown that his initial NHL performance wasn’t a fluke. While he’s not a guy that will generate a lot of offense, he’s been very sound in his own zone in camp and doesn’t make many mistakes.

The arrival of Sergachev from Montreal in the Jonathan Drouin trade brought a lot of hype and attention upon the 19-year-old chosen 9th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. So far, he hasn’t appeared out of place. Sergachev has the complete package of size, speed, shooting, and physicality, the latter on display in Sunday’s scrimmage. He leveled fellow prospect Alexander Volkov with a clean, vicious hip check along the boards.

Although he’s still putting it all together, it would be stunning if he’s not wearing a Lightning jersey for the season opener. Remember, he made it onto Montreal’s roster for four games a year ago before being returned to the OHL. If he starts the season in Tampa, don’t expect him to get top-pairing minutes right away. That’s simply because the team won’t need him to. He’s been paired with Dan Girardi in camp, so it won’t be a surprise if we see that same pairing when the games count in October.


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