Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nolan Foote will make his National Hockey League preseason debut tonight when the Lightning travel to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes in exhibition game No. 2 for the Bolts.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper has a simple message for the Bolts' 2019 first-round draft pick tonight.
"Talk to your brother."
The brother Cooper references is Nolan's older sibling Cal, himself a first-round draft pick of the Lightning in 2017. Cal played in his first NHL preseason contest two years ago and made his professional hockey debut last season with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, giving him some idea of what the younger Foote will be experiencing before tonight's game.
Nolan Foote has plenty of guidance to draw from too. In addition to his brother, his father Adam played 19 years and over 1,100 games in the NHL.
"That's the big thing is it's the game you've played all your life, and it's a pretty exciting time to put on a professional hockey team's jersey. Now you're family," Cooper said, expanding on his message to Nolan before tonight's debut. "We know what he's about and make sure you go out and have fun with it. Biggest thing is compete your tail off, and usually when that happens it all works out."
Nolan Foote will have a bit of a support system too, aside from his Lightning family, in Raleigh as Cal is a late addition to the Bolts' game group, replacing Pat Maroon in the lineup. Cal let his younger brother know what the NHL game experience is like but also didn't overwhelm him with too much information.
The key is to play a simple game and continue to do what you do best.
"I think just going in and doing your pregame ritual, keeping it the same and just trying to have fun and learn as much as you can and take all of the advice from your coaches and from the team to get better every game," Nolan said of the advice he got from Cal. "I think that's the biggest thing."
At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, Nolan Foote plays a heavy game and relishes hitting the opposition. During the Lightning's three games at the Prospects Showcase in Nashville last week, he sought out contact, displaying a physicality that has been in short supply in Tampa Bay over the last couple seasons.
Combine that willingness to dish out punishment with his cannon of a shot and improving skating and Nolan has all tools to be successful eventually at the NHL level.
"I think just using my body to my advantage and trying to put that out there and get on the forecheck or whatever it is, being 6-foot-3," Nolan said about the physical game he plays. "I think it's important to play the body."
Nolan is expected to return to his junior team in Kelowna for one final season in the Western Hockey League before making his professional debut with the Syracuse Crunch, or the Lightning should his play warrant, in 2020-21. Tonight's game against Carolina will give him a good opportunity to see how his game stacks up against a NHL-heavy Hurricanes roster and what areas he needs to improve to take his game to the next level.
The Canes are expected to start stalwarts like Sebastian Aho, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo Teravainen among other NHL regulars for the rematch against the Bolts after shutting out Tampa Bay 3-0 in the preseason opener for both Tuesday at AMALIE Arena.
"They had a great team last year, and I haven't seen who's in the lineup tonight but I'm excited," Nolan said. "It's going to be challenging for me in regards to the strength and speed of this level. I've got to continue to work on my speed, so it's going to be good for me."