Tampa Bay Lightning Position Battles to Watch in 2014 Offseason
The Tampa Bay Lightning will have a long list of position battles to watch as the NHL prepares for the upcoming training camp and preseason slate. Tampa Bay's depth acquired through the past few drafts will make for some extremely tight competition for NHL minutes.
Head coach Jon Cooper typically rolled out an 11-forward, seven-defensemen lineup last season, which will make the Bolts' competition up front even more difficult to solidify. There are more than enough talented forwards for the Lightning to fill out those line rushes.
On defense, the additions of veterans Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman don't leave much room to battle for a top-four spot. Players like Andrej Sustr, Mark Barberio and Slater Koekkoek will be among the many fighting for the last blue-line spot.
With so much on the line, the upcoming training camp will be a beauty. Even players who seem like locks for the everyday roster could find themselves playing a wide variety of roles.
Here are some of the biggest position battles for the Bolts in 2014.
Jonathan Drouin should be a lock for the opening-day roster. The question is where.
Drouin played left wing for the majority of his junior career, but he can play center as well. That should make it easier for him to find a role, but the Lightning are crowded at those positions.
At center, there is Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson and Brian Boyle. If necessary, versatile forwards like Alex Killorn could also be thrown into that discussion. We know Drouin won't beat Stamkos or Filppula, making third-line center his best opportunity up the middle.
Looking at wing, recently signed Brendan Morrow, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat play on the left side. What about versatile Brett Connolly, who has yet to make an impact on the NHL level?
Expect Drouin to be an everyday player for the Lightning this season. He will need to have a strong camp to decide just what role he might play. There will be more than a few players gunning for his spot.
There is only one right wing who has a spot locked up for the Lightning. Ryan Callahan's big offseason contract secured his spot, and rightfully so. He deserves to be a top-six forward, but who fills in the lines around him?
If there was an organizational weakness, right wing is it. Not that they don't have capable players, but the Bolts will need to be creative.
Players fighting for these spots include Brett Connolly, Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown and possibly Tyler Johnson, depending on Jonathan Drouin's position.
We could look at individual contracts to find some clarity in this situation, but there isn't much to be had. Kucherov could be sent back to the AHL without having to clear waivers, which could hinder him in the beginning.
None of the other players listed have been outstanding (outside of Johnson at center), but that waiver wire makes things difficult. This will be a fun battle to watch in the preseason.
It shouldn't be that hard to find a reliable backup goaltender in the NHL, right? As previously mentioned, the Lightning have an issue with depth.
Evgeni Nabokov was brought in this offseason to provide a veteran presence, but that doesn't mean his spot is locked in. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Adam Wilcox and Kristers Gudlevskis all could knock on that door in the preseason.
While it's a bit of a longer shot for any of those prospects to unseat Nabokov due to the Lightning's steadfast approach to not rushing players, it is far from impossible. Given the unfortunate result of the Lightning's playoff appearance last season, the No. 2 goaltender has taken on a new level of pressure.
Keep an eye on preseason minutes as the Bolts look to balance their goaltender of the future with the reserve role for now.
The Lucky 7
The blue line was a major cause for concern over the past couple of seasons, and general manager Steve Yzerman has done his best to solidify that position. According to CapGeek, Tampa Bay has nine (more like eight) contracts out to NHL-ready defensemen. Typically, the Lightning skate with seven defensemen.
Mattias Ohlund is the one player who doesn't necessarily count as a roster spot despite costing the team over $3.6 million annually. Still, the Lightning have Matt Carle, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison and Eric Brewer as experienced veterans on defense.
Victor Hedman isn't as seasoned, but he is a lock for a top-four defenseman spot. Radko Gudas and Andrej Sustr might have the inside track to the final spots, but Mark Barberio and Slater Koekkoek won't go quietly.
We could see a revolving door in the sixth and seventh defensive spots this season unless someone blows the competition away at camp. This will be another great position battle to watch in the 2014 offseason.