Lightning season preview: Return of Stamkos bodes well for Cup defense

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The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will play in the Central Division.

 

Coach: Jon Cooper (ninth season)

Last season: 43-21-6 (.657 points percentage); second place in Eastern Conference, won Stanley Cup

 

3 KEYS

1. Overcoming loss of Kucherov

Forward Nikita Kucherov will miss the regular season after requiring surgery to correct a hip injury, but the Lightning roster remains capable of winning the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017). Kucherov, who could return for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has missed four games in the past three seasons and has never played fewer than 74 games in a full NHL season since playing 52 as a rookie in 2013-14. His 529 points (212 goals, 317 assists) in 463 games during the past six seasons are tied with Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for the most in the NHL through that span.

 

2. Return of Stamkos

Steven Stamkos, the Lightning captain, is expected to be recovered from a core muscle injury sustained during voluntary workouts in early July that required two surgeries and ruled him out of all but one game in the Stanley Cup Final. He returned for Game 3 against the Dallas Stars on Sept. 23 and scored his only postseason goal in 2:47 of ice time in a 5-2 win. A healthy Stamkos gives the Lightning better odds at a shot to repeat, particularly in the absence of Kucherov.

Video: TBL@DAL, Gm3: Stamkos returns to lineup with goal

 

3. Fresh faces

The Lightning need some younger players to step up after the loss of defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (Anaheim Ducks) and Zach Bogosian (Toronto Maple Leafs) and forward Carter Verhaeghe (Florida Panthers) in free agency. Defenseman prospect Callan Foote, 22, and center prospect Alex Barre-Boulet, 23, each will be given an opportunity to earn playing time. In the past two seasons with Syracuse of the American Hockey League, Foote scored 59 points (16 goals, 43 assists) in 138 games and Barre-Boulet scored 124 points (61 goals, 63 assists) in 134 games.

Video: 31 in 31: Tampa Bay Lightning 2020-21 season preview

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

Foote has the offensive skill to intrigue the Lightning, which could use another right-shot defenseman following the departure of Shattenkirk and Bogosian. According to assistant general manager Stacy Roest, Foote’s skating has improved since turning pro and he was playing with more pace, getting up in the rush to close gaps and take away time and space in the defensive zone with more confidence by the end of the 2019-20 AHL season.

 

Most intriguing addition

Forward Barclay Goodrow, acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 24, was a perfect fit on a line with Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman during the postseason. He averaged 2:49 per game in shorthanded situations, highest among Lightning forwards in the playoffs. The 27-year-old was also second in blocked shots (31) and third in hits (103) among Tampa Bay forwards in the postseason.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Barre-Boulet, who signed as an undrafted free agent March 1, 2018, was voted AHL rookie of the year after scoring 68 points (34 goals, 34 assists) in 74 games for Syracuse in 2018-19. He followed that up with 56 points (27 goals, 29 assists) in 60 games last season. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, he’s likely to be on the taxi squad.

 

Ready to break through

Coleman, acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 16, has never scored more than 36 points in any of his four NHL seasons, but that could change significantly in a full season with the Lightning. Tampa Bay ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.47) in the regular season and fourth in the playoffs (3.08). The 29-year-old, who can play any of the three forward positions, scored 13 points (five goals, eight assists) and led the Lightning with 126 hits in 25 postseason games.

 

Fantasy sleeper 

Left wing Ondrej Palat (average draft position: 159.6) scored 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) in 25 postseason games skating mostly on the top line with Kucherov and Brayden Point. Palat’s fantasy ceiling is not nearly as high with Kucherov out for the entire regular season, but Palat could still be a difference-maker on a unit with Point and another elite forward, likely Stamkos. Palat should make up for any dip in offensive production with his strong hits coverage (145 in 69 games last season). — Rob Reese

 

Projected lineup 

Ondrej PalatBrayden Point — Steven Stamkos

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliTyler Johnson

Blake Coleman — Yanni Gourde — Barclay Goodrow

Pat Maroon — Alex Barre-Boulet — Alexander Volkov

Victor HedmanJan Rutta

Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevLuke Schenn

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

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