Unique Lightning camp provides opportunity
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman admitted it was a bit strange Thursday morning when training camp opened without 12 regulars, who were at the World Cup.
"You're looking around, 'Where's Stammer? Where's Heddy?" Yzerman said of captain Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. "From that sense, it's a little different."
But as the coaching staff held its first meeting with what's left of the team, they issued a challenge to others to take advantage of a rare opportunity.
"They're going to get looks that they normally wouldn't get," said associate coach Rick Bowness, who is running camp while Jon Cooper is at World Cup with Team North America. "Players make those decisions for you with their effort and their play on the ice."
The most notable beneficiaries are the likes of former Lightning forward Cory Conacher, re-signed over the summer, and veteran defenseman James Wisniewski, who is in on a camp tryout. Yzerman noted Wisniewski, 32 who fills a need as a right-shot on the power play, should get a lot of playing time in preseason with four defensemen at World Cup. "We're going to give him a very good chance to make this team," Yzerman said.
But there are many others, including forward Tanner Richard, Joel Vermin, Tye McGinn, who saw some action with the Lightning last season, to have a showcase. All of them are in the same practice group with the remaining regulars, like Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Brian Boyle and J.T. Brown. So are defensemen Slater Koekkoek and Luke Witkowski, expected to battle for one of the last spots on the blueline.
"Some young guys that have been up and down that are knocking on the door will get a chance to play as well," Yzerman said.
Other notes from media day:
*Wing Ryan Callahan (hip surgery) said he's progressing well, and "on schedule" for a mid-November return. Yzerman said Callahan is not cleared for contact, the only regular not ready to go "full bore" in Friday's first practice. It's unclear how much participation Callahan will have early on in camp.
Yzerman said prospects Mathieu Joseph, Jonne Tammela - who didn't participate in rookie tournament last weekend - were scheduled to be evaluated by doctors Thursday to determine their availability for camp. Defenseman David Henley has a minor hand injury.
*Center Tyler Johnson said his wrist, broken in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, wasn't 100-percent until July of this year. But he's ready to go, back to his old self.
*Several players emphasized the importance of a strong start this season, having suffered from a Stanley Cup Final "hangover" last year.