Ranking the 5 Most Important Players on the Tampa Bay Lightning Roster
As the calendar turns to September, the Tampa Bay Lightning are less than three weeks from the opening of training camp. All of the excitement their busy offseason brought will be put to the test as the final roster starts to take shape. With Game 1 against Florida right around the corner, there are players who are most important to the Lightning throughout the 82-game campaign.
Last season showed some interesting trends. Even after losing Steven Stamkos to a broken leg, the Lightning continued to win. But without Ben Bishop in the lineup, things didn't go as smoothly.
The trading of longtime Bolt Martin St. Louis could have sent ripples through the locker room. But it didn't and St. Louis' replacement was active in convincing other big names that Tampa Bay is a great place for hockey.
As the Lightning look to build off their 2014 playoff appearance, these five players will be the most important to the team in 2014-15.
5. Ryan Callahan
Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle decided to leave New York and fly south to join their former Rangers teammate in Florida. Callahan clearly believes in the situation in Tampa Bay. He is firmly invested in the franchise, and the Lightning are invested in him.
Callahan comes with a $5.8 million cap hit and he has a no-movement clause until 2018. His grit is a nice addition to a mostly finesse team. Cally will be tasked with mentoring some of the bigger forwards and providing secondary scoring.
A little bit of postseason production wouldn't hurt either.
4. Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin may be the Lightning's most heralded prospect since Steven Stamkos. Every hockey move he has made over the last few seasons has been well documented. Now, he has an opportunity to step onto the game's biggest stage.
Drouin will be one of the front-runners for a top-six forward spot in training camp. He will have an opportunity to be on the same line at Stamkos and create one of the most offensively gifted lines in the league.
The Lightning have a surplus of talented, young forwards, but Drouin has the highest ceiling. He was sent back to Juniors last season to help him prepare for the NHL. If he stumbles, the Lightning won't be completely lost. But they will have taken a significant step backward on their quest for perennial playoff appearances.
3. Evgeni Nabokov
Last season's struggles displayed just how important a backup goaltender is in the NHL. When looking across the NHL, teams like Boston, Los Angeles and the New York Rangers all had capable backups. Those teams also have Vezina-caliber starting netminders.
Tampa Bay has a Vezina-caliber starter but had a significant drop-off at No. 2. Tampa Bay went 9-13-2 without Ben Bishop last season, giving up 67 goals in those appearances.
The Lightning are very deep at goaltender, but much like with Drouin's development, they don't want to rush any of their prospects. This puts Evgeni Nabokov in a very interesting situation. Not only will he have pressure to perform behind Bishop, but he will have to outperform Kristers Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Nabokov went 15-14-8 with an underperforming Islanders team last season. The Lightning are hoping he has enough left to back up Bishop for a season.
2. Steven Stamkos
Even though the Lightning found ways to win last season without Steven Stamkos, few teams in the league would want to try that again. A significant part of the Lightning's offense runs through Stamkos.
Despite playing in just 37 regular-season games, he was just four goals behind team leader Martin St. Louis. He tied for the team lead in power-play goals (nine) and led the team with a 20.2 shooting percentage.
As one of the league's most prolific scorers, Stamkos will play a key role in the Lightning's climb up the Eastern Conference standings. He will have new linemates next season and will look to get back to the 50-goal mark that he has hit twice in his career.
1. Ben Bishop
Ben Bishop's meteoric rise came to a quick halt when he was injured right before the Lightning's playoff appearance last year. As a Vezina Trophy finalist, Bishop will have the eyes of the NHL on him as he looks to return to that level.
Bishop was seventh in the league in goals-against average, fourth in wins, seventh in save percentage and faced the ninth-most shots. The rigors of being an every-day goaltender caught up with Bishop as he suffered a variety of ailments throughout the year.
He is still recovering from offseason wrist surgery but hopes to be close to 100 percent before opening night. The Lightning are hoping Bishop will be most of the goaltender he was last season. But, he will have his own share of critics throughout the year if he returns to below-average form.
Tampa Bay struggled mightily without Bishop and will look to its young netminder to help anchor a now-experienced defensive group. The Lightning's season will be funneled toward their crease and the sixth-year goaltender will be asked to stand tall again.