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Ross Colton to make NHL debut tonight when the Bolts host the Canes

The rookie centered a line with Pat Maroon and Alexander Volkov at this morning's skate

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL / TampaBayLightning.com

For the second-straight game, the Tampa Bay Lightning will see one of their young rookies make his National Hockey League debut.

In Monday's 4-2 win at Carolina, Alex Barre-Boulet got his first skate in the NHL and played well in his 12:11 of action, creating a couple good scoring opportunities, including a pass into the slot for an onrushing Ondrej Palat that led to a power-play opportunity for the Lightning.

Wednesday, when the Lightning start a back-to-back set against the Carolina Hurricanes at AMALIE Arena, Ross Colton will make his debut. Both Colton and Barre-Boulet were called up from AHL Syracuse to the Bolts' taxi squad on February 15.

Colton is a 6-foot, 191-pound center who was selected by Tampa Bay in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft. He's played the last two seasons with the Crunch, recording 14 goals and 31 points in his rookie year (2018-19) and following up with an 11-goal, 42-point season in 2019-20 to lead the Crunch for assists (31) and rank second for scoring.

This season, he had a goal and two assists in three games with the Crunch before being recalled.

"He's earned his right here," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "I like these. I like when guys get in for their first game and seeing how they perform. Happy for him. Another guy we've watched grow in the system. His work's paying off."

Colton centered the Lightning's fourth line at morning skate Wednesday, playing between Pat Maroon and Alexander Volkov. He'll be the fifth different player to center that line, which has remained in flux since Mitchell Stephens suffered a serious lower-body injury and remains out indefinitely.

"There's a different feeling out there when a kid's playing his first game than somebody playing his 634th game," Cooper said when asked what effect a rookie can have on a veteran team like the Lightning when inserted in the lineup. "So, yeah, is there good energy on the bench? There's no question. These players, the guys know these guys, have watched them come up in the system. I think they're excited when they get in."

Before joining Syracuse, Colton skated two seasons for the University of Vermont, the alma mater of Hockey Hall of Famer and Lightning legend Martin St. Louis. Colton was named to the NCAA (Hockey East) All-Rookie Team in 2017 and was an honorable mention All-Star Team selection in 2018.

Colton, 24, becomes the third different Lightning player to make their NHL debut this season, joining Barre-Boulet and defenseman Cal Foote, who got his first action in the season opener against Chicago.

"He can fly out there," Foote said of Colton. "He's a fast guy. And once he gets that shot off, it's pretty good. I'm very excited to watch him as a teammate and a really good friend. I'm sure he'll do great tonight."

CIRELLI UPDATE: Anthony Cirelli suffered an upper-body injury 13 days ago in the third period of Tampa Bay's 5-2 loss at Florida, and the timetable for his return was listed as week-to-week.

Wednesday, Cirelli was on the ice and practicing before morning skate with the extras/taxi squad players and wearing a regular jersey, a good sign he's getting closer to returning. 

Cooper said Cirelli won't play in either end of the back-to-back against Carolina Wednesday and Thursday but could be available shortly.
"Hopefully, we can move him to day-to-day fairly soon," Cooper said.

Cirelli is arguably Tampa Bay's top two-way forward, finishing fourth in Selke Trophy voting last season. He was poised for a breakout year offensively too after posting four goals and 10 points through 12 games before getting injured.

Pregame Sound

Video: Jon Cooper | Pregame vs Hurricanes

Video: Maroon | Pregame vs Hurricanes

Video: Foote | Pregame vs Hurricanes

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