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Examining the Tampa Bay Lightning forwards

by John McGourty / NHL.com

 
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Lining Up

The Lightning rarely play their Big Three -- Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards -- on the same line, but coach John Tortorella is likely to use any two of the three on a line.

Tortorella rarely sticks with his lines for any length of time, using ice time to challenge his players. That said, look for Lecavalier to center St. Louis on his right wing and Vinnie Prospal on the left side. Richards will pair with free agents Jan Hlavac on the left wing and Michel Ouellet on the right. After that, the next two lines are essentially shut-down lines whose offensive contributions will often make the difference between winning and losing. Chris Gratton will center a line that might see him with Andreas Karlsson on the left side and Jason Ward on the right. Rugged Ryan Craig is back to center tough guys Andre Roy and Nick Tarnasky.

Feeling Special

The Lightning use defenseman Dan Boyle and four forwards on the first power-play unit, Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and either Vinnie Prospal or Michel Ouellet. Boyle is one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the League and the man-advantage situation allows coach John Tortorella to use his top three forwards on the same line. Chris Gratton was acquired to provide added strength in the middle, to win faceoffs and center the second power-play unit. He'll have either Ouellet or Prospal on one side and Andreas Karlsson or Jason Ward. Filip Kuba will play the point on the second unit, paired with either Paul Ranger or Shane O'Brien.

Gratton is an excellent penalty killer and will see plenty of action there. Lecavalier, once a one-dimensional offensive threat, has added greatly to his skill set under the tutelage of Tortorella. He's now a capable penalty killer with the ability to turn the puck up ice to create short-handed situations. Richards came to the NHL as a very competent two-way player and penalty killing is one of his strengths. Ryan Craig is also skilled in shorthanded situations. Lukowich was re-acquired, in part, to kill penalties and he'll be joined by Kuba and O'Brien.

Up and Coming

Blair Jones -- Jones, 20, was Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick, 102nd overall, in 2005. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound center had 35 goals and 85 points while going plus-26 in his final junior season with the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2005-06. He played 45 games with AHL Springfield last year and was promoted to the Lightning for 20 games. The Lightning are very strong through their first three centers -- Lecavalier, Richards and Gratton -- but fourth-line center and captain Tim Taylor will miss most or all of this season after surgery this summer. Jones could win the fourth-line job at training camp.

X Factor

Jan Hlavac -- He had a 28-goal season seven years ago for the New York Rangers, then bounced around with three other NHL clubs before returning to the Rangers in 2003-04. He never returned after the work stoppage, playing for his hometown Sparta Praha team in the Czech league. Hlavac, 30, has nice skills and was sought to provide chemistry on the top two lines.

Penner
Lightning GM Jay Feaster on Jan Hlavac:

"Jan Hlavac is a highly skilled player who we believe will fit in well within our group of top six forwards and a player we hope will develop some chemistry with Brad Richards."
FAST FACTS

1. The Lightning finished eighth last season in power-play efficiency with an 18.6 percent success rated, but 28th in penalty killing, stopping only 78.4 percent of man-down situations.

Lecavalier
2. Tampa Bay was the only team in the NHL with two players who scored more than 100 points, Lecavalier with 108 and St. Louis with 102.

3. Only four Lightning players had plus ratings last season. St. Louis led with plus-7.


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