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31 in 31

Three questions facing Tampa Bay Lightning

Play of Johnson, veteran defensemen among concerns

by Corey Long / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 

[Lightning 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

1. Can Steven Stamkos continue to evolve in a playmaking role on a line with Nikita Kucherov?

The days of Stamkos being a perennial threat to score 40 goals a season may be behind him, but the 28-year-old center and Lightning captain showed the ability to adjust and excel as a passer for Kucherov on the top line. 

With Kucherov getting the first 100-point season (39 goals, 61 assists) of his NHL career, Stamkos had an NHL career-high 59 assists. That could increase with the addition of forward J.T. Miller to the top line for a full season after the NHL Trade Deadline acquisition had 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in 19 games with Tampa Bay last season. 

Stamkos will enter training camp with a full offseason of training for the first time in several seasons and could exceed 60 assists if he stays healthy.

Video: 31 in 31: Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 season preview

 

2. Will the veteran defensemen hold up?

Victor Hedman, 27, Ryan McDonagh, 29, and Mikhail Sergachev, 20, are positioned to be the core of the Lightning defensemen for years to come. Veterans Anton Stralman, 32, Dan Girardi, 34, and Braydon Coburn, 33, each enters the final season of his contract and must show he can help a group that struggled in the second half of last season.

Stralman had 14 assists and was plus-29 last season and is a leader in the locker room, including for Sergachev in his rookie season. Girardi and Coburn are likely to see a reduction in ice time with Sergachev gaining more responsibility, but they will be asked to improve a penalty kill that was 28th in the NHL last season (76.1 percent). 

 

3. Can Tyler Johnson have a bounce-back season?

After signing a seven-year, $35 million contract last offseason, Johnson had 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) and struggled to produce offense after the All-Star break. The 28-year-old center had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in his final 33 games and lost ice time to Yanni Gourde and Anthony Cirelli. After scoring two goals in the first two Stanley Cup Playoff games, Johnson scored once in his final 15 games.

Video: BOS@TBL, Gm2: Point, Johnson combine for pretty goal

He likely will begin this season on a line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat in hopes of getting off to a good start. If Johnson's slump carries over, it wouldn't be surprising to see him bumped from the second line permanently.

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