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Ask Burnsie: Previewing the 2017-18 season

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns answers your questions on the upcoming season

by Bryan Burns / beat writer Bryan Burns will answer readers' most intriguing questions in a regular mailbag feature. Be sure to tweet questions to @bburnsnhl and include the hashtag #AskBurnsie to have your question answered in a future mailbag. If your question wasn't answered today, resubmit it in the future and we'll attempt to get it in for another edition. Have fun with your questions too; the more off-beat the query the better. 

Does Sergachev make the roster? If he does which D doesn't: Koekkoek, Dotchin, Sustr? (via @ColeShelton91)
Probably the most asked question I've gotten during training camp. Everybody, it seems, wants to know if the highly-touted Russian defenseman prospect is ready for the big leagues.

The answer, though, might not come until the fourth week of the regular season. Sergachev can play nine NHL games without starting his entry-level contract. If he suits up for a 10th, his entry-level deal kicks in and he's bound to the Lightning for the duration of the season. After nine games, the Bolts can decide whether they want to keep Sergachev or send him back to his junior team in Windsor. I think they'll use all nine games to gauge whether he's ready, so we probably won't have a definitive answer until, at the earliest, regular season game No. 10 on October 24 (at Carolina).

Personally, I feel Sergachev will make the team. And the Lightning are in a no-lose situation here. Sergachev has shown in training camp and through four preseason games he has the potential to be effective in the NHL this season. The question is whether he can sustain it for a full season. If the Lightning determine he's not going to get much playing time in the NHL this season and don't want him contributing less than 10 minutes a night or healthy scratched, they can send him back to junior where he can continue to develop his game while getting large minutes every night.

I think all eight defensemen - Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Sustr, Slater Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin and Sergachev - are on the roster for Opening Night and beyond.

As we've already seen early in training camp, injuries are going to happen. Stralman missed the opening of camp and didn't get into his first preseason game until Tuesday. Dotchin has yet to play in the preseason after breaking an unspecified team rule. So having eight defensemen on the roster allows the Lightning to account for any absences on the blue line, and it also allows them to more easily go with an 11 forwards/7 defensemen alignment should they choose to do so.

But, yeah, if I'm a betting man (which I'm not), I'd put my money on Sergachev sticking with the Lightning this season.

Who do you think will have a breakout year that's been relatively quiet in the past? (via @Iandix0n)
I don't know, does Yanni Gourde count as a guy that's been relatively quiet in the past? Because I think Gourde is primed for a big season and a more expanded role. Looking at the lines the Lightning have used in camp and preseason, I could see Gourde starting the season as the third line center between either Alex Killorn or Chris Kunitz on his left and Ryan Callahan on his right. I think Gourde is a solid two-way player who could fit in well on that line while also providing a bit of scoring punch. I also see him getting a good amount of time on the penalty kill. In the Calder Cup Finals against Grand Rapids last season, he was extremely effective as a disruptor at the top of the kill. I'd like to see him get a chance to play that role for the Bolts this season.

Video: Yzerman on the development of young prospects

Another player to keep an eye on is Vladislav Namestnikov. It's looking more and more like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov will play on the top line together. Namestnikov got the first crack at playing left wing with those guys, both last year at the start of the season and early in training camp this season. I think he complements those players well and should put up big numbers in that role. If Brayden Point skates with Stamkos and Kucherov - personally, this is the route I would go after seeing that combination Friday vs. Nashville…Yowza! - Namestnikov could find himself playing wing or center on the aforementioned third line or add scoring pop on the fourth line. Namestnikov's versatility and ability to play any of the forward positions gives the Lightning a lot of options for what to do with him.

Namestnikov's career highs are 14 goals and 35 points in 2015-16. I could see him flirting with 20 goals and 50 points this season if everything goes as planned.

Based off what you've seen in the preseason, what changes do you think will happen to the opening night roster, if there are any changes? (via @Luke_Finlay)
Well, let's take a look at the roster, shall we?

I've been meaning to map this out for my own purposes, so let's do it in this space. Let me preface my answer by saying this is just my opinion and I have no inside knowledge what the Opening Night roster looks like.

Currently, there are 30 players remaining in camp. Three of those players - forwards Erik Condra and Jonne Tammela and defenseman Dominik Masin - are injured. Goaltender Nicola Riopel is a camp invitee and isn't expected to figure in the Opening Night lineup.

So, let's subtract those four.

Now we have 26 players left for 23 spots.

The two goalies, Andrei Vasilevsiy and Peter Budaj, are a given. Likewise, I think the team carries eight defensemen to start the year, so we're left with 13 available spots for 16 players.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, Chris Kunitz and Vladislav Namestnikov are making the Opening Night roster. I think Yanni Gourde is a given, too, but not quite comfortable enough to label him an automatic.

Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown are veterans with an inside track to earn a roster spot, but nothing's guaranteed. Still, for our purposes, let's slot them in.

That leaves one spot remaining for Cory Conacher, Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival and Alexander Volkov to battle it out for.

Out of that group, I think Dumont gets the final spot. He's great in the face-off circle, which, let's be honest, has not been a strong suit for the Lightning in recent seasons. He impressed during his time with the Bolts last season, playing a similar style to Callahan while Callahan was injured. And he's versatile with his ability to play the wing or center.

Bournival has quietly had a really strong camp and I think finishes as the runner-up for the final roster spot. I think Dumont's success on the dot is the difference, however.

Conacher is a really good player deserving of a roster spot, but I feel he misses out because his style of play is already covered with guys like Johnson, Point and Gourde.

And Volkov is likely the most pleasant surprise of training camp, but he would be better served learning the pro (and North American) game at the AHL level to start the season.

Where does Killorn fit? J Smith has not reported who he is paired with. Could he be fourth line, has talent and a big contract? (via @Jamesawagner)
I've been pondering this question myself as I look at potential line combinations.

The natural fit would be to slot him in as the left wing on the third line. During the Stanley Cup run in 2014-15, the Lightning had a lot of success with a third line of Killorn-Filppula-Callahan as a defensive shutdown line that also had a bit of offensive firepower. I think we could see a resurrection of a similar line with Killorn-Gourde-Callahan, but Kunitz could also slot into that left wing spot and have success.

To me, Killorn, Kunitz and Namestnikov are battling for two spots: second line right wing and third line left wing. I'll take a guess and say Kunitz ends up on the second line, Killorn on the third line and Namestnikov slides down to the fourth line with Paquette and Brown.

Of course, all of these combinations will inevitably shift once the wear and tear of the season kicks in and injuries occur.

But one thing is certain: The Lightning have more depth this season than they've ever had and there are options, good options, at every position.

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