It has been a disappointing two seasons since the Tampa Bay Lightning came within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.
Jon Cooper will run an NHL training camp for the first time in 2013-14 after being named coach in March, and he could use many of the players who excelled for him at his old post with the franchise's American Hockey League affiliate with the big club.
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: LIGHTNING
Under-valued: Victor Hedman --
This projects to be Hedman's offensive breakout year. After posting a career-best 0.45 points-per-game last season, he will see a continued increase in power-play time (career-high 1:44 per game last year) and will put up about 40-45 points with solid penalty minutes, making him a top-15-caliber fantasy defenseman.
Over-valued: Valtteri Filppula --
Though centering a line with potential goal-scoring machine Jonathan Drouin (see below) is definitely a good thing, the fact Filppula doesn't shoot, score or take penalties hurts his value. Coming off a season with 17 points in 41 games, we'd let someone else overpay for the former Detroit Red Wings forward.
Sleeper: Jonathan Drouin --
Alex Killorn was a close second for this spot, but Drouin is all but guaranteed second-line duties (Killorn likely will be on the third line). Drouin will be a Calder Trophy candidate and could lead rookies in goals and points this season. Don't wait on him.
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The Lightning have collected a bushel of young talent, but being patient and waiting for those players to be ready to help Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis is easier said than done.
Another part of the transition happening for Tampa Bay was finalized this summer. This has become Stamkos' team, and the former face of the franchise, Vincent Lecavalier, was bought out to shed his long, expensive contract.
Valtteri Filppula was added on a slightly shorter, slightly less-expensive contract, and he'll be expected to anchor the second line. Jonathan Drouin, the No. 3 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, will get every opportunity to prove he's ready for big minutes.
Any other changes likely will come from within as some of the team's prospects push for regular roles. Filppula and Drouin could help balance the offense, though plenty of questions remain about the defense and the talented but relatively unproven goaltenders.
Tampa Bay could have one of the most talented rosters in the Atlantic Division in coming seasons, but there could be more patience needed.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Lightning:
Jonathan Drouin - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Valtteri Filppula - Teddy Purcell
Alex Killorn - Nate Thompson - Richard Panik
Tom Pyatt - Tyler Johnson - B.J. Crombeen
Victor Hedman - Sami Salo
Matthew Carle - Radko Gudas
Eric Brewer - Andrej Sustr
NOTES: Drouin likely will start the season in the top six, and a healthy Malone could offer size the other forwards can't. The competition for bottom-six slots could be wide-ranging during camp.
Besides Killorn, Johnson and Panik, there are several others who could force their way into the lineup. A couple of first-round picks, Brett Connolly and Vladislav Namestnikov, are at the top of that list.
A full season for Gudas and Sustr could lead to increased minutes for them and improved depth on the blue line for the Lightning. Better play from the defense also would help the goaltenders, Bishop and Lindback, who will compete for playing time.
Bishop might have a slight edge after playing well for Tampa Bay after arriving in a trade from the Ottawa Senators, but Lindback could end up being the player the Lightning expected last season after a year to get more comfortable.
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