Steven Stamkos making exhibition debut for Lightning
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is curious how he'll feel - and play - in tonight's exhibition game against Nashville.
"I think everybody is," assistant coach Todd Richards said.
Stamkos, 27, hasn't played in a game since tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee Nov. 15 against Detroit. He has said his knee feels the best it has since surgery, and has had no restrictions since training camp started last week.
But the true test will be a game, something you can't replicate.
"Obviously it's been a while since I've played in a game - I'm anxious and excited to get this one going tonight," Stamkos said. "Training camp has gone extremely well, team has worked hard. I feel better than I thought I would coming in. It's all been positive, and this is just another step in getting prepared for Oct. 6."
Stamkos is one of many big names in the Lightning lineup, as Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are making their exhibition debuts. So are Chris Kunitz and Alex Killorn. Touted defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev - who was impressive with a plus-3 and a goal in his debut Wednesday - is back in the lineup.
While Stamkos feels good in practices and scrimmages, there's no way to replicate a real game scenario, and so he's curious to see how he responds, especially mentally.
"It's just getting in the flow of things where you're reacting out there, not thinking," Stamkos said. "When you get injured the tendency is your mind is telling your body to protect that certain area that's injured. It's a natural reaction to an injured area. And really when you're over it is when you're not thinking about it. You're just going out there responding to the play, you're letting the game come to you. That's what I'm hoping for tonight."
Stamkos said his previous experience with significant injuries, like his broken leg in 2013-14, helps give him a gauge on what it's like to get back to normal. And it doesn't sound like Stamkos is worried that he won't return to the form that had him playing the best hockey of his life early last season.
"Listen, I snapped my leg in half and came back and was playing the best hockey of my career," Stamkos said. "So this is another hurdle. I'm confident that when you put in the work, you're going to find ways. It may be different ways. You may have to adjust certain parts of your game. But we'll handle that when I see how it feels in a game situation. We'll know more tonight."
For Callahan, this will also be his first game since a February follow-up procedure on his surgically-repaired hip. He's said he feels 100-percent and ready to get back to his game.
Several other prospects will have a nice showcase, with Mathieu Joseph - a darkhorse to make the team - Erik Cernak, Ben Thomas and Matt Spencer getting an exhibition with most of the starting lineup. Matt Peca is playing in his third straight game, a sign he's impressing coaches.
The game is not on TV, but will be live streamed on tampabaylightning.com. It's also on 970-AM.
Lightning lineup: Joseph, Johnson, Kunitz, Killorn, Palat, Point, Callahan, Gourde, Yan, Thomas, Peca, Spencer, Walcott, Hedman, Cernak, Kucherov, Stamkos, Sergachev, Ingram, Vasileskiy