Jon Cooper feels World Cup will be 'bonus' for Lightning
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is finally getting the chance to represent Team Canada, having not been part of the past two Olympics.
Wing Jonathan Drouin is playing on a line with Oilers superstar Connor McDavid for Team North America, an underdog 23-and-under team that nobody should count out.
Defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are paired together, as usual, for Team Sweden.
Twelve Lightning players are participating in this month's World Cup of Hockey, from Sept 17-Oct 1, meaning more than half the team's lineup will miss a good chunk of training camp, which opens Sept. 22. The World Cup camps began this week.
But coach Jon Cooper, who is also at the World Cup, thinks this will only help his team.
"You can look at it two ways," Cooper said. "You don't have a bunch of players at the beginnng of training camp, or you have all these players playing in the World Cup and when they come back they'll be in game mode playing at an elite level right away.
"For us, I think it's a bonus."
If this were a team that had several new faces, then it might be different. But for a Lightning core that's returning pretty much the same group it's had the past two seasons, the World Cup shouldn't be too much of an obstacle. It's not like the Lightning needs to implement a new system, integrate several free agents into the lineup.
Associate coach Rick Bowness, along with new assistant Todd Richards (both of whom are former NHL head coaches) are likely to run training camp in Tampa in Cooper's absence. Cooper notes both have more experience on the bench than he does. There will be several regulars still in Tampa, like Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn. Expect the Lightning to add a few more players on PTO's (tryout contracts for camp) to help fill out the roster. With both goalies, Ben Bishop (USA) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia) at the World Cup, Kristers Gudlevskis and Adam Wilcox should get more action in early exhibitions (which begin Sept 27).
Those battling to make the team, like defenseman Slater Koekkoek and veteran James Wisniewski (on a PTO), will be among the most-watched players early in camp.
Would it be ideal for Drouin, Stamkos & Co to be all together for the full camp? Absolutely. And there is always a risk for injury for players in a tournament like this.
But Cooper feels there will also be many benefits. Think about Drouin, coming off a monster postseason, playing with stars like McDavid on a world stage. Think about Stralman, who broke his left leg last March, testing it with some quality competition before this season starts (and paired with Hedman). Both Bishop and Vasilevskiy should be ready for the opener after competing for playing time on Team USA and Russia, respectively.
It provides another potential growth moment for the likes of Vladislav Namestnikov (Russia) and Andrej Sustr (Czech Republic). And Cooper could gain some perspective from being an assistant coach for the first time (on North America staff).
With the World Cup, Lightning training camp, and maybe Fan Fest (Sept 25), could lack some star power. But to Cooper, it could all be for the best.