Each week Bolts beat reporter Missy Zielinski is grading the Tampa Bay Lightning in the categories of forwards, defense, goaltending, special teams and rookies based on their performance during the 2013-14 season. This week she is starting it off with Lightning forwards:
BOLTS FORWARDS – B+
The Lightning produced a group of skilled and speedy forwards, many of which spent their first full season in the National Hockey League. Usually faced with a learning curve at the rookie level, they remained up to the task even after a costly injury to Steven Stamkos that caused him to miss 45 games of the regular season and Valtteri Filppula’s nagging lower body ailment at the end of the year. It showed their depth and allowed others to emerge from the influx of young talent, including co-Calder Trophy finalists Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. Palat and Johnson finished the season first and fourth on the Bolts for points and second and third, respectively, among NHL rookies.
Stamkos then returned to the lineup in enough time to build on his hot start to the year when he was on a season-best, eight-game point streak. The Lightning captain finished the season tied for first on the team with 25 goals, led the Bolts in power-play tallies (nine) and postseason points (four) and recorded two hat tricks, one of which was a natural hat trick. Filppula also rebounded from 2012-13 when he recorded just 17 points. He was eight points shy of his career-best for points set in 2011-12, but did surpass a personal-best for goals with 25.
One area that the forwards need to address this offseason? Their grit and toughness.
When Ryan Callahan joined the team at the trade deadline head coach Jon Cooper hinted that the grind-it-out forward added a component to the Lightning that they had been lacking, however he alone could not provide that extra toughness that is essential in the postseason. It is also not a guarantee that Callahan will re-sign with Tampa Bay.
Cooper’s game plan also relies heavily on defense and he worked hard to get the forwards to play a more seasoned two-way game. While the Lightning definitely saw strides among the defensive play of their forwards, they will want to continue to improve on this come 2014-15.
Best in Class: center Tyler Johnson
Most Improved: center Valtteri Filppula
Room to Grow: right wing Teddy Purcell