The Tampa Bay Lightning are back on the ice. The 2013-14 line combinations are anything but set and that makes training camp even more exciting.
Training camps are in full swing around the NHL, and the Tampa Bay Lightning could have one of the most competitive camps in the league. The eye test says the Lightning have eight of the 12 forward spots locked up, which allows for an educated prediction on the strength and weakness of each line in 2013-14.
Head coach Jon Cooper gets his first full season with the Lightning in 2013-14. He has looked forward to the training camp for a long time calling the cliche kid-in-a-candy-store reaction.
With so much familiarity among the prospects, system and coaching staff, Tampa Bay should have no issues finding the players that can run the system to the best of their ability. Emphasis will be put on execution this training camp.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, here are the projected lines and the strength and weakness of each grouping.
The league's most prolific goal scorer could have a new linemate feeding him the puck.
Drouin, Stamkos, St. Louis
The top group should include Jonathan Drouin, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis up front. On the blue line, expect Matt Carle and Eric Brewer to patrol the defense.
This line’s biggest strength this season will be production. With proven offensive stars like Carle, St. Louis and Stamkos, the Bolts should get significant numbers from this group. Add in young blood in Jonathan Drouin and this line could make an opponent’s head spin.
Weakness: Physical Play
This group will be relied on for points, not to intimidate or outhit the opponents. Carle has never reached 60 hits in a season. Salo is an experienced defender that is rarely out of position. His presence will be crucial.
The forwards won’t be expected to contribute much in the hits department. If they can keep turnovers to a minimum, maybe physical play won’t be as necessary.
Teddy Purcell will need to be more consistent in 2013-14. A full season under Cooper could provide that opportunity.
Purcell, Filppula, Alex Killorn
Strength: Two-Way Play
This line could be the Lightning’s most complete line on both ends of the ice. Valterri Filppula was brought in to center this line and improve the Lightning on both ends of the ice.
Alex Killorn had a solid season last year and will look to improve on that. Teddy Purcell is still waiting to take the next step to stardom, but has proven he has what it takes to be a leader on the team.
This line can produce and keep opponents in check. With solid defenders like Radko Gudas and Victor Hedman, the Bolts should be in great shape on the back end.
Purcell has struggled with consistency. Filppula is entering his first season with the Lightning, and Killorn is entering his second season. Filppula had a 66-point season two years ago, but managed just 17 last year with Detroit.
It shouldn’t be feast or famine with this group, but it may go through some very distinct hot and cold streaks.
Eric Brewer could be demoted to third-pair minutes but that is a good sign for depth in Tampa Bay.
Panik, Johnson, Palat
This third group would be one of the younger groups on the team—that’s assuming they all make the team. Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat combined for 39 games and 13 points last year. If they can find full-time jobs in the NHL and full-time production, this would be a great, young line.
Tyler Johnson added another 14 games and six points last year. The Lightning have one of the deepest talent levels at forward. This third line could be a rotating door with players like Tom Pyatt, Dana Tyrell, Mike Angelidis and J.T. Brown fighting for spots.
Tampa Bay has a good problem on its hands—a ton of players for few spots. Unfortunately, the Lightning don’t have a lot of established players. As previously mentioned, this third line could be a revolving door, which could affect the continuity of the team.
Ryan Malone could also have a spot on this line—or even the second line.
This is a tricky grouping to predict even on the blue line where players like Andrej Sustr, Brian Lee and Matt Taormina could also work in some time on the final pair.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie is a fan favorite and could see some good minutes in his enforcer role this season.
Labrie, Thompson, Crombeen
This will be the Lightning’s most physical line with Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Nate Thompson and B.J. Crombeen. As is the norm in the NHL, this fourth line will be the group of enforcers. Thompson adds an interesting wrinkle with his offensive skill, but this group’s best attribute will be physical play.
The line won’t be half-bad in the defensive end either. Hopefully, they can make things difficult on the opposition’s scoring lines.
Weakness: Puck Possession
Outside of Thompson, this group doesn’t have a lot of skill with the puck. One of the best defenses is solid puck possession. This line will need to find a way to possess the puck and provide quality minutes while tiring the opponent’s top lines.
This is another line that could be played by committee throughout the year. Keep an eye on the training camp and the line combinations as the Bolts will look to get things back on track in 2013-14.