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Season Preview

Season Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Bounce-back season for Tyler Johnson, continued emergence of Jonathan Drouin keys to success

by Corey Long / NHL.com Correspondent
At a glance

2015-16 record: 46-31-5, 97 points, 2nd in Atlantic Division, 6th in Eastern Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Defeated Detroit Red Wings in five games in Eastern Conference First Round; defeated New York Islanders in five games in second round; lost to Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in conference final

Additions: F: Cory Conacher, Brayden Point

Subtractions: F: Mike Angelidis, Mike Blunden, Jonathan Marchessault; D: Matt Carle

 

 
Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Jonathan Drouin -- Steven Stamkos -- Alex Killorn

Ondrej Palat -- Tyler Johnson -- Nikita Kucherov (restricted free agent)

Vladislav Namestnikov -- Valtteri Filppula -- Cedric Paquette

J.T. Brown -- Brian Boyle -- Cory Conacher

Erik Condra

 

Defensemen

Anton Stralman -- Victor Hedman

Jason Garrison -- Andrej Sustr

Slater Koekkoek -- Braydon Coburn

Nikita Nesterov

 

Goalies

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Kristers Gudlevskis

 

Video: E.J. Hradek breaks down Stamkos deal with Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning got within one win of returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive year last season and will have much of the same lineup to try and get over the hump this season.

General manager Steve Yzerman was successful in retaining the Lightning core with long-term contracts for forwards Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn, and defenseman Victor Hedman.

That core has gained valuable Stanley Cup Playoff experience in the past two years but much of it is fairly young, including Stamkos, 26, Hedman, 25, forwards Nikita Kucherov 23, and Tyler Johnson, 26, and goalies Ben Bishop, 29, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, 22.

Vasilevskiy took over the Tampa Bay net after Bishop was injured in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final and is primed to become the No. 1 goalie sooner than later after signing a three-year contract extension July 1. Bishop, however, is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist and remains one of the top goaltenders in the NHL when healthy.

"I feel good, I rehabbed everything all summer," Bishop said. "Spending the last month with (Team USA at) the World Cup [of Hockey 2016], I feel like I'm ready to go."

Two former first-round draft picks made an impact in the playoffs and enter this season with high expectations. Jonathan Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, is expected to be the primary playmaker on the top line with Stamkos, and defenseman Slater Koekkoek, the No. 10 pick in 2012, will have a full-time role in the NHL for the first time.

Koekkoek, who played nine regular-season games last season before playing 10 in the playoffs, earned the trust of coach Jon Cooper during the conference final, allowing the Lightning to buy out the final three years of veteran defenseman Matt Carle's contract.

Yzerman said he expects more scoring and better power-play production out of the Lightning this season. Stamkos (36) and Kucherov (30) each reached 30 goals last season, but no other player had more than Ondrej Palat's 16. Johnson needs to find his form from two seasons ago when he scored 29 goals.

Johnson said he's healthy after dealing with a lingering wrist injury that affected him last season.

"I know I can be better than what I was last year," Johnson said. "I never had a season like that, never had to worry about injuries that linger. I'm excited about this season and I can't wait until it gets going."

Vladislav Namestnikov, 23, scored 14 goals last season and will be asked to produce more playing on the bottom two lines. Veteran playmaker Valtteri Filppula and two-way forwards Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan also will be asked to do more offensively. Callahan is recovering from offseason hip surgery on June 21 and is scheduled to rejoin the Lightning in November.

Tampa Bay was 28th in the League on the power play (15.8 percent) last season. Yzerman brought in former Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards to assist Cooper with the struggling unit. The Blue Jackets had the fifth-best power play in the NHL under Richards in the 2014-15 season.

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Few teams possess the talent, speed, skill and depth of the Lightning. Stamkos and Kucherov give them two elite goal-scorers. Hedman and Stralman are a strong pair on defense, and Bishop remains one of the top goalies in the League.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm5: Kucherov tallies two goals in Game 5

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Lightning appear likely for a postseason berth unless they have to deal with a lot of major injuries that would challenge their depth.

 

Breakout candidate

Koekkoek. The 22-year-old will be in the lineup to open the season and is expected to expand on his impressive performance in the 2016 playoffs, when he had an assist, nine shots on goal and a minus-1 rating in 10 games, including six of seven in the conference final against Pittsburgh. Koekkoek isn't necessarily a physical defenseman, but he's big enough (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) to provide toughness when necessary. He is a smooth skater, and his 21 assists and 26 points in 2014-15 led defensemen with Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

 

On the hot seat

Johnson. Cooper said that even he didn't know how much pain Johnson dealt with last season with his wrist injury. Johnson said he's healthy and excited for the season to start so he can prove that his 29 goals and 43 assists in 2014-15 were not a fluke. He can become a restricted free agent at the end of the season and will be motivated to put himself in a position to receive a long-term contract.

 

Trophy candidates

Bishop (Vezina); Hedman (Norris); Kucherov (Richard); Stamkos (Hart, Richard)

 

Quotable

"I think last year was good practice for this year. Going into last year, we had a big target on our backs, and that hasn't changed this year. I think you look around our division, and you see every team added a lot, every team got better, and I think our division is going to be a lough tougher. It seemed like every free agent that was picked up came into our division. So the division is going to be tougher, and that target is still going to be on our backs." -- goalie Ben Bishop 

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