Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lecavalier comparisons dog new Lightning center Filppula

TAMPA — There is much we don't know yet about the Lightning.

Will Marty St. Louis or Steven Stamkos be the new captain? How many rookies will make the roster? Who eventually will emerge as the No. 1 goaltender?

But one thing we know for sure: Fair or unfair, comparisons will be made between Valtteri Filppula and Vinny Lecavalier.

"Oh, yeah," coach Jon Cooper said. "I don't go a week without people asking me three or four times. But my answer is still the same. There is no correlation, and there shouldn't be."

They're different players, Cooper said, who excel at different things.

But considering it took Tampa Bay just eight days after buying out Lecavalier to sign free agent Filppula to fill the No. 2 center spot previously occupied by the former captain, well, it's not going to be that easy.

"I'm not really thinking about it," said Filppula, 29, the former Red Wing who on July 5 signed a five-year, $25 million free-agent contract. "I can't control if people think I'm here to replace him. I'm just trying to play how I play and focus on myself and not try to control things I can't control."

More important to Filppula is bouncing back from a disappointing 2012-13 season in which he had just nine goals and 17 points in 41 games of the lockout-shortened year.

Filppula, 6 feet, 1, 193 pounds, had 23 goals and 66 points in 2011-12, so the belief is last season was an aberration.

Playing in his native Finland during the lockout, Filppula was out for two months because of a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He began skating one week before Detroit's training camp, but knee pain caused him to miss practice time. He also missed seven games with a shoulder injury.

"Hopefully, I have a healthy year this year," Filppula said. "But other than that, you're just trying to improve your game in every aspect. I thought I had a good year (in 2011-12), but I still feel I can play better."

After four days of training camp at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, reviews were positive.

"He can play the game at high speed," Cooper said. "You put him with skill guys, he can do it. You put him with checkers, he can check. And he's scored some pretty slick goals. It's practice, but it looks like we've got a good one in him."

Filppula, who had 100 goals and 251 points in eight seasons with the Red Wings, has skated between wings Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn.

Purcell extolled Filppula's ability to control the puck — it's worth noting he won 55.4 percent of faceoffs last season — and "think the game." Killorn talked up Filppula's creativity.

"He's got great vision on the ice, and he seems very relaxed with the puck," Killorn said. "He sees things that kind of surprise you, like, 'Wow, how did he see that?' It's like behind his head or something, so real impressive."

As impressive as Lecavalier, who in 14 seasons with Tampa Bay had 383 goals and 874 points?

"Different roles," Cooper said. "(Lecavalier is) bigger, stronger, maybe a bit more of a power forward down below the dots, where Val is more of a 200-foot player. Vinny, in my eyes, was a good low, power-play guy. I don't know if that's going to be Val's spot. Val's probably going to be a pretty good penalty killer for us."

"One centerman left, and we brought one in," Cooper added. "I guess in that sense there are comparisons. But I think when we watch Val play, he'll come into his niche. I think he's going to help us. I'm real excited to have him."

SCHEDULE: Scrimmages today and Tuesday at the Times Forum are open to the public free of charge. Enter Gate B at 11:30 a.m. Scrimmages also will be streamed live at tampabaylightning.com.

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