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Point could return to Lightning lineup sooner than expected, coach says

Forward who had offseason hip surgery cleared for contact, will miss opener

by Corey Long / Independent Correspondent

BRANDON, Fla. -- Brayden Point was cleared for contact Monday and coach Jon Cooper said he could be ready to join the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup earlier than originally anticipated following offseason hip surgery.

Point, who signed a three-year, $20.25 million contract Sept. 23, had been expected to return near the end of October. Cooper, however, said he wouldn't be surprised if the forward is back sooner, though he will not play in the season opener against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SUN, FS-F, NHL.TV).

"I think he could've been [in a regular jersey] before," Cooper said. "This is just getting back in game shape and then we just need final doctors to clear him, but he's looking good out there. I'm hopeful it'll be sooner rather than later."

Forwards Cedric Paquette and Tyler Johnson missed practice after they were injured in the preseason finale against the Panthers on Saturday. Defenseman Victor Hedman also missed practice for undisclosed reasons. 

Cooper said Paquette will be out at least a few games and possibly longer with an undisclosed injury. Johnson and Hedman are day to day, also for unspecified reasons.

Video: Brayden Point signs three-year deal with Tampa Bay

If Johnson can't play, the Lightning would be missing three centers to open the season.

"It's not ideal," Cooper said. "We only had 12 forwards out there and Point was one of them and he's not playing Thursday. We're going to have to wait and see. We'll know more on Wednesday."

The Lightning made their final roster moves Monday, assigning forwards Alexander Volkov and Danick Martel to Syracuse of the American Hockey League and placing defenseman Luke Schenn on waivers. 

Schenn was expected to be on the roster after he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract July 1. Luke Witkowski, who signed a two-year, two-way contract with an average annual value of $700,000 on July 1, will make the opening-night roster. 

Witkowski gives the Lightning some versatility with his ability to play forward or defenseman. He primarily played forward in preseason games. 

"He's made an impact," Cooper said. "For us as a staff we knew this was a distinct possibility. He played his way on."

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