Lightning head coach Jon Cooper felt his team looked physically ready for the start of the season, and the players’ familiarity with the system was impressive.
“If I could rewind to 2 years ago when we were going through this camp to now, it’s night and day,” Cooper said.
One area, however, where the Lightning were left a bit short-handed is at the goaltender position as Andrei Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis were both unavailable. Vasilevskiy, the Russian phenom who went 7-5-1 in his rookie season and earned his first playoff win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, had vascular surgery to remove a blood clot on September 3 and is out for two to three months.
Gudlevskis suffered an upper-body injury during the final game Tuesday at the Lightning Prospect Tournament in Estero and is day-to-day.
The absence of both youngsters has opened the door for a pair of netminders at opposite ends of their career: 22-year-old Adam Wilcox, a star the past three seasons at the University of Minnesota, and 12-year NHL veteran Ray Emery, who went 10-11-7 last season for the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I felt good out there today,” said Wilcox, who saved 72 of 77 shots in 132 minutes of action during the prospect tourney. “It took a couple drills to kind of catch up to the pace when you have some of the best guys in the world shooting and coming down the middle. After a couple drills, I kind of get used to the shots, used to the pace. It was fun. I got a lot of rubber today. I’m definitely tired, but it was a good first day I thought.”
Emery was invited to training camp on a professional tryout contract after Vasilevskiy went down. With Gudlevskis hobbled as well, Emery’s presence becomes even more valuable.
“As a goalie, you stop the puck, that’s the best impression you can make,” Emery, 32, said. “I’m willing to take any role that is there on the team, but, first and foremost, you’ve got to show them you can stop the puck. If you can, you’re in good shape. You can contribute.”
Cooper said Emery’s past playoff experience can be valuable for the Lightning, even with the Bolts coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Emery won a ring with Chicago after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013 (although he didn’t play in the postseason) and has made 39 playoff appearances over his career.
“He’s got experience at going deep in the playoffs,” Cooper said. “He’s played on winning teams. There’s a reason he’s still around. He’s a heck of a goaltender, and, clearly, we’re going to need his contributions here, especially with the guys we lost to injury.”
Vasilevskiy and Gudlevskis, meanwhile, were not totally absent from the first day of camp. Both were working together with Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean after the main sessions had been completed.
CONDRA FITTING IN: Lightning forward Erik Condra spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators, playing in 299 games and recording 87 points.
Opening camp with a new team, Condra said, made him feel a bit like a rookie again.
“It’s a little different, a little rejuvenation I guess for me,” he said. “It’s exciting. You kind of feel like a young guy sometimes because you don’t know everybody and you don’t know all the drills like some of the guys do. But, it’s fun. I’m excited about it.”
During media day on Thursday, Cooper mentioned how, when scouting Condra, the 29 year old always seemed to be on the ice in critical situations.
“We went on a pretty special ride in Ottawa, and they have some young up-and-coming skill guys there, kind of like Tampa Bay does,” Condra said. “I kind of took some of those guys under my wing, and you try to show them the ropes and do whatever you can to win games. I’ve played a few years now, and I just want to win.”
Starting February 18, Ottawa won 21 of its last 27 games and qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.
The Senators were knocked out in the first round in six games by the Montreal Canadiens, however.
“It was a crazy experience,” Condra said. “It was like we couldn’t lose no matter what happened. We were playing well. Our goaltender was playing well. All things were clicking, and the game becomes fun again. When you’re winning, everyone’s having fun.”
DROUIN FEELING COMFORTABLE: Jonathan Drouin, beginning his second pro season, said he had a good, productive offseason and comes into 2015-16 with more confidence.
“I know how to handle a lot of stuff better, and I’m definitely more ready,” he said.
Drouin missed all of training camp as a rookie in 2014 with a fractured thumb and didn’t make his first start with Tampa Bay until the Bolts’ sixth game of the season.
The third overall pick in the 2013 draft, Drouin played in 70 games during the regular season, tallying four goals and 28 assists. He didn’t record a point in six playoff games.
“I’m definitely going to be in the game more and more in rhythm than last year just showing up after an injury, after six weeks,” Drouin said. “Hopefully nothing happens, and I’m happy to be out there at the start of this camp.”
Cooper pointed out Drouin was one of a handful of guys who stood out during the first day of camp.
“He had a really good jump in his step, and he was showing his skill,” Cooper said.