Power Ranking Tampa Bay Lightning's Top 6 Forwards for 2014-15 Season
In early September, when the temperature drops outside, things will be heating up across the NHL with the onset of training camp. On the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning will battle for 10 of the 11 forward spots, excluding Steven Stamkos as the No. 1 center.
The reloaded Lightning brought in a few new faces to up the intensity on the ice. The rest of the league has taken notice as Tampa Bay is slated to be a favorite in the Eastern Conference.
In less than two months, the Lightning will undergo the first of many grudge matches in the 2014-15 season. Capgeek lists 13 forwards for the Bolts without including prospects Vladislav Namestnikov, Adam Erne, Henri Ikonen or Cedric Paquette.
With so many names to choose from, coach Jon Cooper will have some difficult decisions to make. As he works to select his top 11 forwards, we power rank the top six based on production, physicality, two-way play and upside.
6. Nikita Kucherov
Few players on the Lightning like to shoot as much as Nikita Kucherov. He played in 52 games last season and put up 102 shots. No, he didn't lead the team in shots, but Lightning fans knew when he touched the puck in the offensive end, it was going toward the net.
Kucherov finished with nine goals and nine assists last year, including three power-play goals and three game-winners. His scouting report comes with some high praise, and he looks to take the next step in 2014-15.
He's not a physical guy, but he will crash the net. He battled against himself a bit last year, adjusting to the NHL speed, but if he finds his element next season, the Bolts may have another diamond in the rough.
If you have any doubts about his offensive abilities, his 2013-14 campaign was pretty impressive.
5. Ryan Callahan
Ryan Callahan had 11 points in 20 games for the Bolts last season. He has never been a prolific scorer, but he is consistently in the 30- to 40-point range.
Callahan's biggest asset is his forechecking and physical edge. In less than a quarter of a season, he finished tied for 10th on the team in hits. The physical forward made a strong impression on his team and the front office—enough for the organization to bring in some of his former teammates.
The former fourth-round selection also brings experience to the table. With 63 playoff games under his belt, Callahan's all-around game helps him crack the Lightning's top five.
4. Jonathan Drouin
The Lightning's top prospect Jonathan Drouin looks poised to make his NHL debut next season. The young forward has torn up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Halifax. Drouin has taken the additional year of development and used it to his advantage in preparation for the 2014-15 campaign.
Back-to-back 100-point seasons in the Q has made Drouin one of the most exciting players to come through the Lightning's system. He has an extended list of personal accolades, but he is a winner first.
He won the QMJHL championship in 2012-13 and will bring that to the Lightning next year. In the meantime, his scouting report from HockeysFuture.com should have Lightning fans salivating:
A wizard with the puck, Drouin has already lit up the highlight reels by making fans' jaws drop and opposing defenders look foolish. He pairs his magical stick-handling ability with great lower-body strength that makes it nearly impossible to knock him off the puck. Meanwhile, his on-ice vision and ability to slow the game down makes him a threat both in scoring a goal himself and setting up a teammate with an excellent chance. A dynamic offensive forward that makes his linemates better.
3. Ondrej Palat
Ondrej Palat was one of a pair of Lightning players selected as finalists for the Calder Trophy last year. Palat had 59 points to lead the team after Martin St. Louis' departure.
Even more important, Palat's line seemed to never surrender goals. While that is a team effort, a lot of credit should be given to Palat and his plus-32 rating. He was nine goals better than anyone else on the team (Tyler Johnson at plus-23).
For his efforts, he earned a three-year deal worth $10 million this offseason which will help bolster his spot on the roster. If he continues on this trend, Palat could be one of the Lightning's most powerful forwards in 2014-15.
2. Valtteri Filppula
There was no forward more valuable to the Lightning last season than Valtteri Filppula. The two-way center did everything for the Bolts on both ends of the ice. Injuries slowed him down a bit in the playoffs, but that cannot take away from his outstanding 2013-14 season.
Filppula had 58 points (second on the team), had a plus-five rating, led the team with 20 power-play points and shot an impressive 19.1 percent. Even more impressive, the center converted 52.3 percent of his faceoffs. That includes spending a significant part of the season on the top line due to the injury to Stamkos.
The Finnish forward projects to again be one of the most important forwards on the Lightning in 2014-15.
1. Steven Stamkos
Lightning captain Stamkos enters the 2014-15 season as one of the most powerful forwards in the NHL. NHL.com ranked Stamkos as the No. 2 fantasy player in the league, behind only Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Stammer missed a significant part of last season after crashing into the net and breaking his leg against the Boston Bruins Nov. 11. It was the first major injury of his career and the first time he had missed more than three games in a season.
The sniper had 40 points in 37 games with 25 goals, a pace that left many wondering "what if." A healthy Stamkos is a dangerous Stamkos. Just two years removed from a 97-point season, Lightning fans will have their eyes set on a triple-digit performance in 2014-15.
They might just get it.