Tampa Bay Lightning 2017 first round draft selection Cal Foote will make his NHL debut tonight when the Bolts host the Carolina Hurricanes at AMALIE Arena in preseason game number one for the 2017-18 season.
Foote, the 14th overall pick in the most recent draft, said he was excited to see his name in the lineup for the exhibition opener. He'll have added incentive tonight too as his father Adam, a 19-year veteran of the NHL with stops in Quebec, Columbus and Colorado, will be in attendance.
"Kind of a dream my whole life, my whole childhood," Cal said about playing in the NHL. "It's going to be a fun moment, that's for sure."
Foote is part of a prospect-laden blue line for the Lightning against the Hurricanes. The only defenseman in the lineup that has seen regular season action with the Bolts is Andrej Sustr. They'll be tasked with shutting down a Canes lineup that includes NHL regulars Justin Williams, Teuvo Teravainen and Victor Rask.
"When the kids get their first opportunity to play in these games, and you can tell even this morning, they're nervous, 18-, 19-year-old kid, your first game, you are nervous," Tampa Bay associate coach Rick Bowness said. "Once we get past that, what we want to see is just, we've been working on certain things, so we hope they're grasping that. But more importantly than the team play is just their individual play in terms of effort, in terms of compete, in terms of skill, in terms of their ability to read the play."
Bowness said Foote has impressed so far in training camp and has shown the coaching staff he was worthy of a high draft pick.
"He's a great selection for us, and he fits in that bill of a good, young, up-and-coming D," Bowness said. "He moves laterally very, very well, and he reads the play and moves the puck well and seems to be very poised out there. You can see why he was a really good first round pick by our scouts, and he just needs to keep playing."
Video: Bowness on expectations for preseason games
BLUELINE PROSPECTS IMPRESSING: As training camp enters its fifth day on the ice, Bowness said the young crop of Lightning defensemen he's watched so far is as talented as any he's seen during his time with the organization.
"This is the best young defensive corps we've had in my five training camps here," he said. "A lot of good, young prospects, and a lot of that is because of their improvement from year to year. You look at (Dominik) Masin and (Ben) Thomas, we saw them a couple years ago and you say, 'Wow, they've got a long way to go.' Now you watch them and you say, 'Wow, they're close.' And there are a lot of guys in that category; I'll just use those two. Anyone that we've watched for the last couple years, every one of them is now a lot closer to playing here than they were three years ago, so good for them."
In addition to Foote, the Lightning will ice 2016 second round pick Libor Hajek, 2015 trade acquisition Daniel Walcott and 6-foot-8 sixth round pick (2016) Oleg Sosunov, a Russian with raw skill but tremendous upside, tonight.
"I coached (Zdeno Chara) when big Z first came to the Islanders, and this kid can skate," Bowness said of Sosunov. "He moves quicker than Z did. Now, Z's a great player and a hall of famer, so I'm not knocking him. The kid can move for his size is my point. The rest we'll see…He hasn't played over here. He's not coming from the junior leagues like a lot of guys do. He's coming from Russia, so we'll see how he adapts to the pace of play in the smaller ice surface."
VETERANS ON NOTICE: Only a handful of NHL regulars will skate for the Bolts in tonight's game, among them forwards Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, J.T. Brown along with Sustr on defense.
Bowness was asked what he's looking for from the veterans in tonight's lineup.
"That they better realize that they're fighting for ice time really," Bowness said matter-of-factly. "They've got to be on top of their game, and no one's being given anything here and they're going to have to earn it. We know what to expect from our veterans. We know their strengths and we expect to see those strengths and we expect to see a little eagerness and realizing, 'Hey, I'm in a fight for ice time here because of the depth and the talent in camp.'"
ICE CHIPS: Michael Leighton will likely start in goal tonight for the Lightning. Leighton is going up against his former team having spent last season in the Hurricanes organization, mainly with the Canes AHL affiliate in Charlotte…Keep an eye on the trio of Cedric Paquette, Gabriel Dumont and J.T. Brown. Those three were joined together on a line at morning skate and should provide a physical, veteran presence against the Canes…The Lightning showed a couple power-play units during morning skate. Cory Conacher, Vladislav Namestnikov, Taylor Raddysh, Alexander Volkov and Libor Hajek made up the first unit; Adam Erne, Alexey Lipanov, Boris Katchouk, Anthony Cirelli and Jamie McBain were on the second unit…Defenseman Jake Chelios will play in tonight's game for Carolina. Jake is the son of NHL great Chris Chelios and the sister of our very own Caley Chelios, Lightning hockey reporter for tampabaylightning.com.