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Hedman, Johnson expected to play in Lightning season opener

Defenseman, forward each sustained undisclosed injury, returned to practice

by Corey Long / Independent Correspondent

TAMPA -- Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson are expected to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their season opener against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SUN, FS-F, NHL.TV).

Hedman, a defenseman, did not play in the Lightning's final preseason game against the Panthers on Saturday and did not practice Monday because of an undisclosed injury.

"No hesitation on my part," Hedman said after practicing Wednesday. "A few days [recovery] I needed. I felt good out there today and I'm very excited about [Thursday]. Training camp is pretty long, but at the same time it's good to get through that. I think everyone is super excited that the games start to count now and we've got to be ready from the start."

Johnson sustained an undisclosed injury in the first period Saturday and did not return. He practiced Wednesday after not practicing Monday. His return will give the Lightning more depth at center with Brayden Point (hip surgery) and Cedric Paquette (undisclosed) not expected to play until later in the month. 

Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde and Gemel Smith, who signed with the Lightning on July 7, could be the other three centers for Tampa Bay on Thursday. The Lightning planned to move captain Steven Stamkos from center to the wing this season but might have to rethink that plan until Point and Paquette return to the lineup. 

In the preseason, Stamkos played left wing, right wing and center at times, almost always with forward Nikita Kucherov, the NHL's leading scorer last season with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) and Hart Trophy winner voted as the most valuable player in the NHL. 

"I don't know, there's a couple of ways to look at it, one way I can say, 'Hey, I guess I'm so good at all those positions that they keep putting me there right?'" Stamkos said. "For me it's just … I've played the wing a little bit in the past. If I'm on a line with [Kucherov] I'll never complain what position I'm playing. I think that's how I'm looking at it right now."

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