Callahan knows he is not a replacement for St. Louis
The main aspect of the first conversation Lightning coach Jon Cooper had with newly acquired right wing Ryan Callahan basically came down to this:
"Don't come in here and be Marty St. Louis."
The comparisons are inevitable, just as they were when Valtteri Filppula was brought in as a free agent after Vinny Lecavalier was bought out. And Cooper didn't want that thought anywhere near Callahan's thought process.
"That's not what you're here for," Cooper said he told Callahan. "You're here because we really like you as a player, and we feel we need that type of dynamic in the lineup. Not dynamic in the sense of we expect you to score every night, but dynamic in the sense we expect you to be at the net, we expect you to elevate our penalty kill. We expect you to play as hard as you did for the Rangers. If he gives us that kind of effort, he's a home run for us."
Callahan, acquired from the Rangers in the Marty St. Louis deal, appreciated the message.
"Definitely," he said. "It's good to hear that from the coach."
At Thursday's morning skate, Callahan was on right wing with Filppula at center and Nikita Kucherov, though Cooper said he would be surprised if that line -- or any of the lines, in fact -- were intact by the end of the game with the Sabres as he tries to find the right combinations.
And there will be a lot of tinkering as Cooper figures out who plays best with whom considering the additions of Callahan and Steven Stamkos, who is playing after missing 45 games with a broken right tibia, and the absence of St. Louis.
The constant will be Callahan's effort and what he brings to the team.
"Marty's play speaks for itself as one of the top players in the league," Callahan said. "By no means am I coming in and trying to replace what he did here. I'm coming in and trying to insert my energy, be hard on the forecheck, good penalty killer, score when I have the opportunity. I'm not trying to change what I am as a player or how I approach the game."
"I like to be hard on the forecheck and work hard," Callahan added. "That's something I take pride in.
Callahan, 5-feet-11, 190 pounds, approaches the game without fear. He plays a gritty game in front of the net and is not afraid to block shots, which has led to various broken bones, including a broken thumb this season. He was also sidelined with a knee sprain that kept him out a month.
Because of that his numbers have suffered. A three-time 20-goal scorer -- he had 29 in 2011-12 -- Callahan has just 11 goals, 25 points in 45 games this season.
"It was a tough start to the year for me," said Callahan, who also was coming off May shoulder surgery. "A couple of injuries, and in and out of the lineup, it was hard for me to get traction. But as of late my game has come back around. My numbers aren't where they've been in previous years, but I'm excited for the fresh start."
Callahan, as a Ranger, certainly had left an impression on his new teammates.
"On the power play, he slides face first to block shots," Stamkos said. "He gets under your skin, for sure."
Asked if he recalled anything about Callahan, Cooper said, "It was usually running into our goalies and me saying, 'Is someone going to address that?' The kid plays hard. he's what you're looking for. We want him to go to the dirty areas. You can't have enough of those guys. The fact he has a skill set to him, that's what makes him so valuable."
Other stuff from the morning skate: No official word on who is starting in net tonight vs. the Sabres, but Anders Lindback was first off the ice at the morning skate. ... More line juggling included Stamkos between Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn. Tyler Johnson was between Ondrej Palat and Ryan Malone. ... Speaking of Malone, he is on a career-worst 12-game streak without a point. ... Most believe Stamkos will be the team's next captain, but Cooper did not seem to be in a rush to name anyone. "Whether that happens in the next five minutes, five days, five weeks, when we feel comfortable to name our captain, we will." And as Stamkos said, "You don't need a letter on your sweater to be a leader. It's cliche but we have a lot of guys without a letter who are part of our leadership core."