Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman will make their preseason debuts when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Nashville Predators tonight at AMALIE Arena in the final game of the exhibition schedule.
The trio has been skating with the Lightning since Tuesday when the Bolts moved training camp to Estero, Florida but haven't seen game action after Thursday's contest at the Florida Panthers was cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew. Although all three saw plenty of ice time at the World Cup of Hockey, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said it's important to get them on the ice to knock off any rust they might have from a long layoff.
"We haven't played in a week, so this is the first time we've got primarily most of our team together," Cooper said. "We've put a lot of emphasis on our structure and how we want to play, but in the end, these guys are hockey players so for me it's effort. Let me see your effort and everything kind of falls into place after that. I know guys like Stammer and Hedman and Strals have played a lot of the World Cup but they haven't played in probably almost 10 days now. So, shake it off, get into game shape and give us an effort. The reason this team's stuck together is because they do give you an effort, so not really worried about that."
Cooper said Ben Bishop will start in goal for the Lightning, although Andrei Vasilevskiy could get time in net as well depending on the amount of action Bishop sees.
"We'll see how this game goes…and see how much work (Bishop's) getting," Cooper said. "I want to get Vasy in there at some point, so it just depends where we're going to get him in."
FINAL PUSH: With Opening Night less than a week away, the Lightning have whittled their roster down almost to what it will look like on Thursday when they drop the puck against the Detroit Red Wings.
That's good news for prospects like Brayden Point and Joel Vermin, who remain in Tampa and will get one final chance tonight to state their case to make the roster out of camp.
"I'm very excited and full of energy, so I hope I can just leave it all out there," Vemin said. "Hopefully it's going to be enough to make the team."
Vermin made his NHL debut last season against the New York Rangers and played six games when the Lightning were dealing with a rash of injuries in November and December. Vermin collected his first NHL point - an assist in his second game vs. Anaheim - before suffering his own injury when he broke a finger blocking a shot in Columbus.
In his short stint, however, Vermin turned some heads with his speed and the impact he was able to have at the NHL level.
Point also got an extended look in training camp last season before being shipped back to juniors. He currently leads the Lightning for preseason goals after scoring in back-to-back games versus Carolina (Sept. 27) and Florida (Sept. 29).
"I played in a couple preseason games last year, so that helped, but now they're getting closer to their opening day roster," Point said. "It's going to be more NHL guys in the lineup, so just going to go out there and take advantage."
Both players said it will be important not to try to do too much tonight because that's when mistakes can happen.
"Sometimes you probably want too much and you probably overthink it too every once in a while," Vermin said. "At the end of the day, it's just hockey, and you don't have to overthink it. Just go with your instinct and go hard and leave it all out there."
Added Point: "Just want to get out there and try to relax and have fun because it is the last preseason game and you never know what can happen. So, just try to enjoy it."
With Ryan Callahan injured to start the season and Nikita Kucherov holding out, it appears both Point and Vermin have a good opportunity to get on the roster, at least to start the season.
"I think it's every kid that plays hockey dream to play in the NHL someday, so it would be a dream for sure," Point said.
LINE COMBINATIONS: The Lightning will go with the following lines and defensive pairings for their game tonight against Nashville:
Palat Stamkos Drouin
Killorn Johnson Point
Conacher Paquette Condra
Filppula Namestnikov Vermin
Brian Boyle filled in defensively for the Bolts at morning skate, but it appears he'll be a healthy scratch tonight along with Slater Koekkoek and J.T. Brown. All three, joined by Ryan Callahan, stayed on the ice and continued to practice while the rest of the game group headed to the locker room.
Callahan is still recovering from off-season hip surgery and wore a grey jersey at practice. He is expected to return to action in mid-November, although Cooper has said previously his rehab appears to be a little ahead of schedule.