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Roster spots prove to be at a premium at this year’s training camp

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Even with training camp still in its early stages, it appears that Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher may already have a bit of a problem on his hands.

Thing is, it’s a good problem to have.

It stems from the organization having a surplus of depth at the forward position, where at camp, six players are competing for what will most likely be two open spots on the club’s opening day roster.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, in fact, has said all along that he has a desire to fill those spots from within the organization, so while camp this year is being held with an abbreviated schedule, it is also creating a short window for those on the bubble to make an impression.

Among those in contention are Cory Conacher, Mike Angelidis, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Tyler Johnson, Kyle Wilson and JT Wyman. All of them, with the exception of Wilson, have been playing with the team’s top minor-league affiliate in Syracuse of the American Hockey League. Generally speaking, that experience alone has helped each hone in on their skills and pose as a legitimate candidate to make a deep run through camp.

“There are probably a lot of guys back in Syracuse now who could have been in my spot, so I’m trying to represent the organization as best as I can this week,” Conacher said. “It’s a dream to be here, but my goal is to work hard and prove to the management here that I’m willing to take the next step.”

For Conacher though, the hope is that the dream soon becomes more of a reality.

He was among the players given the most attention at the first day of camp on Monday in Estero, where he played on a line with Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell.

Conacher spent the last four months playing with the Lightning's AHL-affiliate Syracuse Crunch before coming to camp.

“It was awesome,” Conacher added. “But there is still a lot of work I have to put in to get to the same level as those guys.”

Still, the onus is just as much on the Lightning management team, who ultimately chooses the fate of those who can most help the Bolts through the course of the regular season, as the club aims to raise the bar a bit higher following a disappointing 2011-12 campaign in which it did not qualify for the playoffs.

Making the right decision, of course, is the one puzzle this week at camp that Boucher, in all his cerebral aptitude, hopes to crack.

“Right now, every player is getting a real look,” Boucher said. “We’re looking at what every player can do, and there are holes that we need to plug, definitely, so it’s going to be a fight.”

With the field crowded, each player is fully aware of how important each day is at training camp. And with a short camp, the sense of urgency is more heightened than usual, as players and the coaching staff alike have fewer opportunities to assess where each individual stands.

“It’s going to be a fight,” Boucher added.

And if the first two days of camp provide any indication, a good one at that.

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