Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he had planned to miss a large portion of Bolts' training camp while assisting with Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.
North America, despite being one of the more surprising and entertaining teams in the tournament, was bounced following the round robin stage, however, meaning Cooper's stay in Toronto was a bit abbreviated.
Cooper was at Bolts' training camp for the first time during morning skate today and took over where associate coach Rick Bowness left off. Cooper will return to the bench tonight as the Lightning open their preseason schedule at home versus Carolina.
"I have a pretty good feel for what's gone on so far," Cooper said. "I've only missed a couple practices, and I'll be behind the bench tonight for our first game so I'm really excited about that, especially to see a lot of these young guys. I had the guys raise their hand this morning to see who is going to be in their first exhibition game, and a lot of the guys raised their hand."
The Lightning will trot a mix of veterans and prospects onto the ice against Carolina. Regular starters Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown and Braydon Coburn will all suit up. So too will James Wisniewski (on a pro tryout), Slater Koekkoek, and offseason addition Cory Conacher.
Also, a number of the Bolts' 2016 draft picks, highlighted by first rounder Brett Howden, will see action.
"I've been around for a little while now. I've shaken these guys' hands on the draft floor," Cooper said about the draftees. "Just to watch them progress and now to play their first exhibition game, I kind of feel like a proud dad."
BISHOP RETURNS: Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop also made an appearance at morning skate after arriving in Tampa last night from his stint with Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey. Bishop didn't participate in morning skate and won't play tonight, but he said it feels good to be back with the Bolts and can't wait to get into the swing of camp.
"Obviously, that wasn't the result that we would have liked in Toronto, but it's kind of over and done with now," Bishop said, referring to Team USA's 0-3 record at the WCH. "So, just kind of focused on camp now and getting ready for the season. It was a busy month there, kind of all over the place. It's kind of nice to be back home, sleep in your own bed and getting ready to go."
Bishop said the summer rehab on the ankle injury that kept him out of all but the opening period of the Eastern Conference Final went well, and he felt healthy during the WCH competition.
"The practices were obviously really good," he said. "The games, I got to play four periods, which probably isn't enough to start the season right now. It'd be nice to get a game in and after some practices, but no, it was definitely good. The caliber of players up there is something you don't get too often. Good practices, and now it's just getting a couple games in."
Lightning teammate and Team Czech Republic member Andrej Sustr scored on Bishop in the final game for both teams at the WCH, a goal Bishop is sure he'll hear about more than once from his teammates during camp.
"I'm just trying to help his confidence," Bishop said jokingly. "I still don't know how it went in. Obviously, not one you'd like to give up, but really wouldn't do anything different. I still don't know what hole he found, but he was able to squeak it in.
"If anybody was going to score, I'm glad it was him."
ON POINT: Lightning prospect Brayden Point continues to turn heads, including Cooper's, during training camp. Point led the Bolts for goals (3) and points (5) during last week's rookie tournament at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, and he will center a line with Joel Vermin on his left and J.T. Brown on the right at tonight's preseason opener.
"(He) just keeps taking steps. And they're all positive steps," Cooper said. "So, as much of a positive impact he made on our team last year, we knew he wasn't going to make our team last year. Things are different for him now; now he's a pro. He's a special talent, but like a lot of our special talents we have, you know it takes them a little time to find their way, who they're playing against. It's bigger, stronger, faster players, and the quicker the guys acclimate themselves to that is usually the faster they find their way into the NHL."
Point spent last season in juniors, scoring 35 goals and adding 53 assists in 48 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. He's AHL eligible now and will likely start the season in Syracuse but could be one to watch for a potential callup to the Lightning should the need arise.
"Is there any sense to rush Brayden Point? There is not," Cooper said. "In saying that, we're really excited he's in our system, and he's going to have a bright future in this league whenever that starts."
Tampa Bay will go with the following lines tonight against Carolina:
Killorn Johnson Conacher
Yan Howden Joseph
Vermin Point Brown
McGinn Cirelli Imama
Defensive pairings were a bit jumbled as Braydon Coburn, James Wisniewski and Slater Koekkoek rotated on one end of the ice while Luke Witkowski, Matt Spencer and Libor Hajek took turns at the other end. Kristers Gudlevskis was the first goalie off the ice from morning skate and will get the start in net with Adam Wilcox backing him up.