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Mikhail Sergachev to debut for Lightning tonight

Touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev will make his exhibition debut tonight in Carolina.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev will make his exhibition debut tonight in Carolina.

For touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev, his audition to make the Lightning takes another big step tonight in his exhibition debut in Carolina.

Sergachev, 19, acquired from Montreal in June in the Jonathan Drouin blockbuster, will be given every chance to make the opening night roster. But Sergachev has to show during the preseason that he can handle the load. If Sergachev isn't on the Lightning roster, he'll have to return to juniors for another year in Windsor.

There are other intriguing names in tonight's lineup, including Brayden Point, Slater Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin. Koekkoek is in a fight for a spot on the deep blueline. Brett Howden, a former first round pick, is getting in his first game of the preseason, as are Erik Cernak and Mitchell Stephens.

Veteran backup goalie Peter Budaj is scheduled to be in net.

Several players are set to play for the second straight night, including veterans J.T. Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov, Gabriel Dumont and Cory Conacher. Prospects Boris Katchouk, Libor Hajek, Cal Foote, Anthony Cirelli will play again.

The game is at 7 p.m. in Carolina. Not on TV, but on radio at 970-AM. …

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Cooper on slashing crackdown: 'The game is no fun'

Adam Erne (73) checks Carolina Hurricanes Jake Chelios (76) into the boards.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Adam Erne (73) checks Carolina Hurricanes Jake Chelios (76) into the boards.

There's no question the NHL has made it an emphasis to crack down on slashing this season.

"What? I didn't notice," Lightning coach Jon Cooper joked.

You can't blame Cooper for his sarcasm, especially when it came after nine slashing penalties were called in Tampa Bay's 2-1 loss to Carolina in Tuesday's exhibition opener. It made for 25 minutes of special teams, nearly half the game.

Cooper understands what the league is trying to do, stemming from several incidents last year including Ottawa's Marc Methot's gruesome finger injury following a Sidney Crosby slash.

But it still makes for a tough adjustment, one that Cooper believes will change the game. …

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Lightning Strikes! podcast: Preseason storylines to watch

Will defenseman Mikhail Sergachev make the Lightning?

DIRK SHADD | Times

Will defenseman Mikhail Sergachev make the Lightning?

In this episode of our Lightning Strikes podcast, Joe Smith and columnist Tom Jones set up the preseason with storylines to watch, as well as expectations for the season. Will defenseman Mikhail Sergachev make the team? Are there any veterans who are in danger of losing a spot? How will Steven Stamkos look in exhibitions? Listen below:

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Cal Foote ready for Lightning exhibition debut

Adam Foote, left, said there have been a few eye-opening moments in his first NHL training camp, but is feeling more comfortable every day.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Adam Foote, left, said there have been a few eye-opening moments in his first NHL training camp, but is feeling more comfortable every day.

Just three months ago, defenseman Cal Foote was getting his name called in the first round of the NHL Draft.

And now Foote, 18, is preparing for another milestone, his first NHL exhibition tonight. The Lightning hosts Carolina at 7:30 p.m.

"Kind of a dream my whole life, my whole childhood," Foote said. "So it’s going to be a fun moment, that’s for sure."

Foote, son of long-time NHL defenseman Adam Foote, said both of his parents will be in town for the game. He's wearing No. 52, his dad's number.

"He pretty much taught me everything I know about the game," Foote said. "To be arond him, he's helped me a ton. I'm very fortunate."

 

Foote said there have been a few eye-opening moments in his first NHL training camp, but is feeling more comfortable every day. The key for the 6-foot-4 defenseman is improving his quickness.

"He looks good - you can see why he's a first-rounder," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "He moves laterally very well. He reads the play, moves the puck well. He seems to be very poised out there. He just needs to keep playing." …

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Oleg Sosunov brings intrigue to Lightning exhibition opener

Oleg Sosunov's ability to skate for his size, his reach, and his style have drawn comparisons to Zdeno Chara.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Oleg Sosunov's ability to skate for his size, his reach, and his style have drawn comparisons to Zdeno Chara.

When Hall of Famer Phil Esposito first saw Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov, he joked he thought the 6-foot-8 Russian would hit the ceiling at Amalie Arena.

But Esposito also felt Sosunov reminded him of a young Zdeno Chara, the long-time Bruins defenseman.

Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness, who coached Chara with the Islanders at the beginning of his career, could see that.

"(Sosunov) can move quicker than (Chara) did," Bowness said. "(Chara) is a great player, a Hall of Famer, so I'm not knocking him. But (Sosunov) can move quick for his size. The rest? We'll see."

Sosunov is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Lightning lineup for tonight's exhibition opener against Carolina (7:30 p.m., Amalie Arena). Bowness said they want to see how he adapts to the smaller ice surfaces, having just come from Russia to North America.

While it's way too early - and unfair - to compare Sosunov to Chara, the similarities don't just end at their size. …

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Lightning's Slater Koekkoek: 'I've got something to prove'

Slater Koekkoek faces extensive competition on the blueline, which is at least eight-deep.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Slater Koekkoek faces extensive competition on the blueline, which is at least eight-deep.

This time last year, it was Slater Koekkoek's job to lose.

Koekkoek, 23, the former Lightning first-round pick, was coming off an impressive performance in the run to the Eastern Conference Final. The smooth-skating defenseman did make his first opening night roster - "a dream come true" - but it didn't last long. After a so-so camp, Koekkoek was scratched the first week, then sent to AHL Syracuse, where he spent the second half of the season.

Now, Koekkoek enters a make-or-break season, at least with the Lightning. He signed a "show-me," one-year, $800,000 deal this summer, and faces extensive competition on the blueline, which is at least eight-deep. Touted defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev, 19, acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade, will be given every chance to make the team.

Koekkoek, who overcame three shoulder surgeries to make the NHL, knows he's in another fight.

"I've got something to prove," Koekkoek said. "I was in Syracuse last year, that's not where I wanted to be. I thought I did that in the (AHL) playoffs, I showed that I had something to prove." …

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Anton Stralman remains sidelined in Lightning camp

Anton Stralman was back on the ice Sunday but did not participate in practice.

JOE SMITH | Times

Anton Stralman was back on the ice Sunday but did not participate in practice.

Lightning veteran defenseman Anton Stralman did not participate in team practice for the third straight day.

But at least Stralman was back on the ice.

Stralman lightly skated and stickhandled on his own Sunday in a red non-contact jersey while his group practiced on the other sheet of ice at the Ice Sports Forum. Stralman had not skated in the first two days of practice, with the team calling him day-to-day. The Lightning hasn't' disclosed what ails the Swede.

But coach Jon Cooper said Stralman should be rejoining team practice in a couple days.

"The encouraging part is he's back on the ice," Cooper said.

 

It's still early in camp, so there shouldn't be too much of a concern, as long as Stralman's absence isn't extended. Stralman joined veterans in Nashville last week on the evacuation trip, where there were informal skates.

More notes from Sunday's practice: …

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Esposito on Drouin: 'I didn't think he wanted to be here'

"(Jonathan) Drouin is a fabulous player," Phil Esposito said. "Personally I didn't think he wanted to be here. I saw it in his eyes, the way he played."

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP

"(Jonathan) Drouin is a fabulous player," Phil Esposito said. "Personally I didn't think he wanted to be here. I saw it in his eyes, the way he played."

Many Lightning fans got their first up-close look at touted defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev during Saturday's Fan Fest at Amalie Arena.

There are likely some fans that still lament losing dynamic wing Jonathan Drouin, dealt to Montreal for Sergachev in late June.

But Lightning founder Phil Esposito reassured fans they're going to end up liking this trade on Tampa Bay's side.

"Drouin is a fabulous player," Esposito said Saturday in a Q&A in front of fans between practice at Amalie Arena. "Personally I didn't think he wanted to be here. I saw it in his eyes, the way he played. I thought (GM Steve Yzerman) made the right move. (Drouin) is going to love being in Montreal, that's where he's from. But he has no idea the pressure that's going to be on him if he doesn't produce. He has no idea.

"I wish him well. But I think in the long run, people will be very, very pleased with Sergachev." …

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Jeff Vinik likes Lightning's chances for outdoor game

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik told NHL commissioner Gary Bettman the first time they met that every time they saw each other, he'd ask about Tampa hosting an All-Star Game.

It worked, with Tampa hosting the 2018 All-Star Game in January at Amalie Arena. So now Vinik's focus is on bringing an outdoor hockey game to the area, which would likely involve Raymond James Stadium.

And Vinik said he likes their chances.

"We're having a lot of conversations about it," Vinik said at Fan Fest Saturday. "Some people's immediate reaction is the climate is not good for an (outdoor) game. If you look at some of the conditions in Denver where they had some games, the weather in Tampa Bay is really close to that in February that time of year.

"We're going to keep pushing hard for it, I feel pretty good about our chances. Every time I see Gary I'll be asking."

NHL executive VP Steve Mayer has told the Tampa Bay Times that Tampa is a candidate for a future outdoor game, and the logistics could work. "Without saying what we would consider, I think there's nothing that they couldn't do in Tampa," Mayer said.

The Lightning has studied the subject, and Vinik agrees. …

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Lightning top line with Stamkos and Kucherov reunites

Dirk Shadd | Times

When Lightning captain Steven Stamkos saw the training practice groups Thursday, he hoped it meant he'd get reunited on a line with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov.

And Stamkos, 27, got his wish on Friday's first full day of practice at the Ice Sports Forum.

The trio felt the same chemistry that made them one of the hottest lines in hockey in the beginning of last seasos. Stamkos (nine goals, 11 assists) and Kucherov (eight goals, 13 assists) were among the league's top scorers through 17 games until Stamkos got hurt Nov. 15 in Detroit.

Keep in mind, it's way early, and lines can change like the weather. But the top line will be one to watch as camp continues, especially since it involves two of the team's best players.

"I think we are just able to read off each other," Stamkos said. "We're pretty smart hockey players and have some speed, skill. And with the amount of success we had earlier in the year, it just felt like there was no guessing on the ice. We knew if one guuy was in trouble, the other guy was going to be close for support and the other guy would be on the other side of the ice. …

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Lightning enter camp with 'something to prove'(w/video)

"The guys are anxious to get back and prove to ourselves and everyone we're not gonna let what happened last year happen again," Steven Stamkos said.

DIRK SHADD | Times

"The guys are anxious to get back and prove to ourselves and everyone we're not gonna let what happened last year happen again," Steven Stamkos said.

You could sense a determined, motivated group of Lightning players as they reported Thursday for the start of training camp.

The long summer - a result of missing the playoffs for the first time in four years - gave them a lot to think about.

And they vowed that it won't happen again.

"Guys are hungry," veteran wing Ryan Callahan said. "I think we've got something to prove."

This same group went on back-to-back lengthy playoff runs, making it to the Stanley Cup Final just three years ago, and the Eastern Conference Final two years ago. Having the extended break allowed many players to get healthier, especially captain Steven Stamkos and Callahan.

"The guys are anxious to get back and prove to ourselves and everyone we're not gonna let what happened last year happen again," Stamkos said. "Last year was unacceptable."

 

The talk is the easy part, the Lightning knows it has to prove it on the ice. A focus is getting off to a better start, something that's plagued them the past two seasons. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy notes the Lightning was one of the best teams in the league down the stretch, but an 18-6-5 run to end the season fell a point short of a playoff spot. …

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Hedman proud of Lightning's donations to hurricane relief efforts

"I’m very proud to wear the bolt on my chest," Victor Hedman said.

DIRK SHADD | Times

"I’m very proud to wear the bolt on my chest," Victor Hedman said.

When you think of all the money donated from Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, and from some of the former Lightning, well, D Victor Hedman said, “I’m very proud to wear the bolt on my chest.”

After donating $1 million to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort in Southeast Texas, the Vinik’s partnered with the Florida Panthers, the NHL and the NHL Players Association for a $2.7 million donation of the Hurricane Irma relief effort.

What’s more, former Lightning Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Dave Andreychuk donated $10,000 each to the Hurricane Irma relief effort.

“You’re really proud as a member of this organization to see that,” Hedman said this morning during his pre-camp press conference.

The Lightning skate Friday in Brandon during the first workout of training camp.

Hedman arrived in Tampa on Tuesday night from his home in Sweden, his trip delayed several days by the storm. He said he followed the storm closely from afar, wondering like most of us, which path it would eventually take after it turned north.

“The only thing I was worried about was all the people in the path of a very strong hurricane,” Hedman said.  …

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Lightning 'dodged a bullet' with Irma as camp opens

"For us, it was getting the guys out of town, everyone trying to figure out what they're doing," Steve Yzerman said. "All of our guys were in the same situation as every other Floridian."

DIRK SHADD | Times

"For us, it was getting the guys out of town, everyone trying to figure out what they're doing," Steve Yzerman said. "All of our guys were in the same situation as every other Floridian."

The Lightning staff and players may have been a few states away when Hurricane Irma hit the Tampa Bay area over the weekend.

But their minds weren't far away.

"Everyone was paying attention," GM Steve Yzerman said. "The entire country was focused on it. For the good part of the week you're consumed with the hurricane and planning on making plans. For us, it was getting the guys out of town, everyone trying to figure out what they're doing, all of our guys were in the same situation as every other Floridian. Should I stay, should I go? Where do I go? What do I do with my home, my car, dog, cat?"

The Lightning contingent flew late last week to Nashville, where the rookies were scrimmaging Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday against the Predators. The scheduled four-team tournament was supposed to be in Estero at Germain Arena, which ended up being an evacuation shelter.

Yzerman headed back to Michigan, where his family is, Tuesday night before planning to return to Tampa for Thursday's opening of training camp. The rest of the team arrived Tuesday night, getting a chance to check on their homes. …

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Key storylines to watch in Lightning training camp

Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev knows there will be plenty of eyes on him during training camp, which opens Thursday at Amalie Arena.

Sergachev, 19, the touted  prospect acquired from Montreal in the Jonathan Drouin trade, will be given every chance to make the Lightning roster.

And Sergachev - who dropped 10 pounds this summer in an efffort to be quicker - is determined to start the season in the NHL. Otherwise, he goes back to juniors another year. For what it's worth, Windsor (OHL) coach Trevor Letowski believes he's ready.

Now Sergachev just has to prove it.

"I think I'm at that level that I can make the team and play my game at the NHL level," Sergachev said. "I think I can do that. For me, going back to juniors is not even an option."

GM Steve Yzerman said Sergachev will have to earn it, noting he doesn't want the rookie to play just 7-8 minutes a game. With a glut of eight NHL defensemen, Sergachev will have a lot of competition. Yzerman said Sergachev showed well at last weekend's rookie scrimmages in Nashville (goal, two assists in two games. …

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Lightning, Panthers, NHL and NHLPA donate $2.7 million to Florida hurricane relief

Owner Jeff Vinik and the Lightning joined the Panthers, NHL and NHLPA in donating $2.7 million to Hurricane Irma relief efforts in Florida.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Owner Jeff Vinik and the Lightning joined the Panthers, NHL and NHLPA in donating $2.7 million to Hurricane Irma relief efforts in Florida.

The Lightning, Panthers, NHL and NHLPA joined to donate $2.7 million to Hurricane Irma relief efforts in Florida.

Fans and members of the community who wish to support these efforts can donate through the Lightning Foundation, Panthers Foundation. You can also donate at the Lightning preseason games, which begin Sept. 19.

For more information, go to NHL.com or tampabaylightning.com.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik previously donated $1 million to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Texas.

 

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