Few positon battles expected as Tampa Bay Lightning gets ready to open training camp
The Tampa Bay Lightning will open training camp Friday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon with a lineup that, on first glance, doesn't set up well for those looking for pitched position battles. In fact, in one scenario, there could be only one real competition for a spot with the big club.
Look at it this way: goaltending is set and with eight defensemen with one-way contracts the only movement off the blue line will be if someone is traded, though with coach Guy Boucher a fan of seven-man game rosters even that is not guaranteed. That leaves finding replacements for departed forwards Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim and finding a fourth-line grinder type.
That said, wing Ryan Shannon, who played last season with the Senators, likely will get a chance to fill Gagne's spot as a top-six player. And Tom Pyatt, who played last season for the Canadiens, seems to have the early inside track on one of the other two openings, though more likely the Bergenheim spot. The final spot, the one that really could be a battle, could be up for grabs between players such as Dana Tyrell, who held the job for most of last season, Mattias Ritola, Blair Jones, Alex Picard, James Wright, Michel Ouellet, Trevor Smith and James Wyman.
Some handicapping: Tyrell showed energy and willingness last season but was hurt in the playoffs and must re-establish himself. The Lightning loves Ritola's upside. The key for him is to concentrate in the short term on playing a responsible, puck-protection game before graduating to playing a more skill game. Jones, who has battled inconsistency and has been on a yo-yo the past few seasons with repeated call-ups from the minors, will be given every chance to finally make the big club.
And before you ask, Brett Connolly, the No. 6 overall draft pick of 2010, likely will start the season in juniors (he needs to prove he can stay healthy and dominate with WHL Prince George). Carter Ashton, drafted 29th overall in 2009, plays the type of game that would fit the bottom six (though the Lightning seems him eventually as a Ryan Malone type). But he also lacks experience, so some time with AHL Norfolk would do him good.
Of course, anything can happen once camp begins and we don't know yet how many players the team will carry. But as coach Guy Boucher said, "The B plan can become the A plan pretty quick."