When the Tampa Bay Lightning open the preseason slate tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, the lineup the Bolts put on the AMALIE Arena ice won't be exactly the same as the one they'll use for Opening Night.
But it'll be close.
Tampa Bay will go with a veteran-laden group versus Carolina. All five Lightning All-Stars from last season - Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy - are expected to play as well as regulars like Ryan McDonagh, Tyler Johnson, Anton Stralman, Ondrej Palat, Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn. Sprinkled among those vets are a handful of highly-touted prospects looking for a chance to claim one of the few open roster spots, players like Mathieu Joseph, Alexander Volkov and Alexey Lipanov, among others.
"Guys are excited to get playing some games," Stamkos, the Lightning captain, said. "It's been a pretty good pace in camp the first four days. Looking forward to getting into some game action to get the fans excited for hockey. It should be a good one."
Video: Point: "I know I can play at this level now"
While tonight's game is a good chance for fans to see some of their favorite Lightning players on the ice for the first time since Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, it's more important for the youngsters looking to make an impression with the team. The Lightning return pretty much the same squad from a season ago. The chances for a youngster to make the team out of camp are slim.
Not impossible, however.
At the 2016 training camp, Point was targeted for Syracuse but made such an impression he forced his way onto the Opening Night roster and has been a mainstay since. Last season, Anthony Cirelli recorded a goal and an assist in his NHL debut March 1 at Dallas and was in the lineup the remainder of the season, including for all 17 playoff games.
The preseason is the time to find out who's the next Point or Cirelli from this season's crop of prospects.
"Each and every year, it seems like there's guys that when their name is called can come up and step in right away," Stamkos said. "We saw Cirelli do that last year. Obviously, we've got guys like (Cal) Foote and Joseph and Volkov, just to name a few, those guys are guys that had great years last year, and that's been a big part of our success as a team throughout the course of this run the past five, six years is the stability that we have in the players and our prospects. Looking forward to see those guys in a game."
VOLKOV READY FOR OPPORTUNITY: During morning skate at the Ice Sports Forum, Russian forward Alexander Volkov skated on the Lightning's top line at left wing along with Stamkos and Kucherov.
Volkov, the Bolts' Second Round pick in the 2017 Draft, shined in his first pro season, leading AHL Syracuse for goals with 23.
Now with a chance to build off last season's success, Volkov is hoping to make an impression to stick with the team out of camp. A good showing tonight playing alongside Stamkos and Kucherov would certainly help his cause.
"I'm so excited to be on this line," said Volkov, who just started learning English last year while with Syracuse and already has a good handle on the language. "It's a big chance for me to show how I play, how I can play with superstars. I'm going to try to be on the team this year, and it's a chance for me."
Volkov was also skating on Tampa Bay's top power-play unit during morning skate, joining Hedman, Stamkos, Kucherov and Point.
"He's just so skilled," Stamkos said. "He's got a lot of poise with the puck. You can see the confidence that he has when he's handling the puck and he's making those skilled moves. It's a great fit. Looking forward to playing with him and Kuch tonight. We'll see him on the power play as well. He had a great year last year in Syracuse. He's a guy that could be a guy that's relied upon at this level and looking forward to seeing him build off last year's campaign. He had a good camp for us last year too. Looking forward to seeing him on the ice."
During those power-play drills, Kucherov could be seen guiding Volkov when play stopped, showing the 21 year old where to go and what he should be looking for in certain situations.
After the skate, Volkov said Kucherov has been almost like a mentor to him during this year's training camp.
"He helps me every time, on the ice, off the ice, before ice, with life," Volkov said. "It's so important for me to be with Kuch on this team, and he's really helped me out. I've got to try to show what I can."