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Southeast: Tampa's Wright earning his own praise

by Mike G. Morreale
It appears as though Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, taken with the second pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, isn't the only Tampa Bay rookie making noise this season.

Lightning coach Rick Tocchet has been impressed with 19-year-old forward James Wright, who was moved to the top offensive line Thursday, to play alongside Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. The move was made in an attempt to get Lecavalier's game going.

And while Tampa's captain did notch an assist in Thursday's 5-2 victory against San Jose, he's still seeking that elusive first goal of the 2009-10 season. He's second on the team with 7 assists in eight games so far.

"He's our leader; he's going to fight through it," center Steven Stamkos said. "It's not like he's playing bad hockey. He's all over the ice; he played great (against San Jose) with Marty. They really set the tone with that first goal. He's our leader, and when everyone sees him working, we're going to follow."

Meanwhile, Wright chipped in with his first NHL goal, in the first period, on assists from St. Louis and Lecavalier.

"I think he's surprised himself," Stamkos said of Wright. "He obviously has had the talent all the way. He just got here a lot quicker than he expected."

The native of Saskatoon was drafted in the fourth round (No. 117) in 2008.

"I'm not an overly skilled guy, obviously," Wright told the Tampa Tribune. "Those two players (Lecavalier and St. Louis) are. I think what I can do to help both of them and our line be successful is just keep doing what I'm doing."

While the move took St. Louis off the team's most productive line this season, with Stamkos and Ryan Malone, Tocchet has his fingers crossed that the change will help Lecavalier and off-season acquisition Alex Tanguay. Tanguay, who was signed to help fuel the offense, has just 2 assists and a minus-3 rating in eight games.

"(Wright) was a big surprise in training camp for everybody," St. Louis said. "I never heard of him, but he's a smart hockey player and very mature in his decision-making. He earned the right to be in the NHL, and now that he's here, anything can happen. I'm excited for him -- he provides energy and youth and we've all had an opportunity at one point. It's a diamond in his career and he earned it."

No worries -- Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer isn't overly concerned with the fact his top offensive unit, heading into the weekend, had combined for just 5 goals and a minus-16 rating.

In fact, DeBoer, whose team went into Friday's play last in the Southeast Division at 2-5-0, has no intention of splitting up his top trio of Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton -- at least not for now.

"I think they've played well," DeBoer said. "I know their stats don't reflect it, neither their plus-minus nor their points, but they're creating chances. David Booth has 26 shots in seven games. Stephen Weiss (17 shots) is shooting the puck. Nathan Horton (17 shots) has played some real good hockey for us despite the fact he hasn't been rewarded, either."

Booth signed a six-year contract with Florida on July 1 after establishing careers highs in goals (31), assists (29) and points (60) last season to become only the sixth player in franchise history to score at least 30 goals in a season. He also recorded a team-leading and career-high 246 shots on goal, as well as a career-best 11 power-play goals.

"We've had little breakdowns that have cost us games; we just need the mentality that we can win these games," said Booth following his team's 5-2 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday. "It's frustrating when things aren't going your way, but it's just a matter of playing a lot better. Everything starts with getting that forecheck going -- we need to do more of that."

There's no question DeBoer expects that to happen. Here's what the coach had to say about Booth as a guest on NHL Live! on Thursday.

"David is a pleasure to coach and one of the most dedicated athletes off the ice -- he's in the weight room always preparing to play," DeBoer said. "He wants to make himself better and has done so through his work ethic. He's worked on his speed and he's become a legitimate 30-goal scorer. He would make an attractive addition to the Team USA roster for the Olympics because of his versatility."

The Shot -- Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz might play another 20 years in the League and never again experience a game like the one he played in Atlanta on Thursday.

Schultz, the 27th choice in the 2004 draft, not only outscored teammate Alex Ovechkin but connected on a dump-in on Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec that he shot from just over his own goal line.

Schultz was trying to catch the Thrashers on a line change at the time and actually hit teammate Mike Knuble with a pass at the far blue line, but the puck skipped in on Pavelec, hit a rut in the ice and flew over the goalie's shoulder. The goal officially was credited to Schultz although he, Eric Fehr and Knuble told Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post that it hit Knuble on the way in. Schultz also notched 2 assists for a memorable three-point evening that sparked Washington to a 5-4 victory in a battle between the Southeast Division's top two teams.

"I saw it as them changing and I was just trying to move up the ice as quickly as possible," Schultz said. "I think it hit Knuble's stick and knuckle-balled on the goalie and went in -- so I'll take it."

It was Schultz's first goal since Jan. 14 -- an empty-netter against Pittsburgh. His last goal with a goalie in net was Dec. 17, 2007 in Detroit.

"It hit the ice and changed directions, then went over my head," Pavelec said. "It just happens sometimes, and it happened at a bad time."

The goal seemed to deflate the Thrashers and give the Capitals a huge boost as Matt Bradley and Chris Clark scored soon after to give the Caps a commanding 5-2 lead.

Kubina paying dividends -- Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Pavel Kubina certainly likes what he sees in his first season with the club.

"I never heard of him, but he's a smart hockey player and very mature in his decision-making. He earned the right to be in the NHL, and now that he's here, anything can happen."
-- Martin St. Louis, on teammate James Wright

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound 10-year veteran, acquired this offseason from Toronto in exchange defenseman Garnet Exelby and forward Colin Stuart, has produced 4 assists in Atlanta's first seven games. He leads the team with 17 blocked shots, ranks second in ice time per game (22:44) and sports a plus-3 rating.

"It's been good -- I came in here and saw all the talent up front," Kubina told "We have a lot of good forwards and a young team, and I'm in here to help the younger guys on the back end, especially.

"I've been impressed with Zach (Bogosian). He's one of the top young defensemen in the League and he's only 19. But he's logging a lot of ice time (21:41) every night and is playing well for us. We have 5-6 forwards on this team capable of scoring between 20-30 goals, so there's a lot of talent up front."

Atlanta coach John Anderson not only has been encouraged by Kubina's play on the ice, but his positive attitude off it.

"Pavel is not just a great defense player, but he's a real good person," Anderson said. "I think he brings a lot to our dressing room. He's big and strong down low and doesn't get pushed around. I don't know if you've ever seen him shoot a puck, but it's about 100 miles an hour. He has that little extra element, too. Quite honestly, I didn't know he was such a community guy. He's funny and everybody loves him. I had no idea he was like that when he came here."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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