Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Steve Yzerman says young players will get chance to stick with Lightning

TAMPA — Whether you're using GM Steve Yzerman's analytics or everyone else's, how recently acquired D Dan Girardi plays this season could go a long way for the Lightning.

But Girardi, 33, is going to play, likely good minutes. You wouldn't commit $6 million (over two seasons) to a sixth or seventh defenseman.

That begs the question on what that means for young defensemen such as Jake Dotchin, Slater Koekkoek and Mikhail Sergachev, the prized prospect acquired in the Jonathan Drouin blockbuster?

Yzerman has said all three will have a chance to make the team out of training camp; Sergachev either stays or goes back to junior for a season. But if they all do, that gives Tampa Bay eight defensemen.

Something has got to give, right? The Lightning won't carry eight, meaning likely two scratched each night?

"Why not?" Yzerman said. "I could have 10 defensemen if I want. No rules say you can't. A lot of teams carry eight. We want to see how our young guys do. It will all sort itself out."

Just because you can carry eight doesn't mean you should, especially when that would mean prospects such as Koekkoek, Dotchin or Sergachev sitting. They need to play. And I'm sure that'll come up in negotiations for Koekkoek/Dotchin, both of whom are restricted free agents.

The Lightning paid a heavy price — prospect Nikita Gusev, and second- and fourth-round picks — to ensure Vegas took Jason Garrison as opposed to Koekkoek and Dotchin in the expansion draft. Yzerman said, at that time, Koekkoek and Dotchin would have the chance to replace Garrison. Now Girardi does.

A lot can happen between now and the Oct. 6 season opener against Detroit. Everyone has to stay healthy. Someone could get traded, maybe Andrej Sustr (and his low commitment, one-year, $1.95 million deal). And we still have to see how Sergachev, 19, performs in training camp, though he lived up to the hype at last week's development camp.

"He is as advertised," Lightning director of scouting Al Murray said. "He's NHL size, NHL strength, NHL skills.

Will Sergachev have an NHL spot? How about Koekkoek, Dotchin?

Said Yzerman: "It'll all sort itself out."

Slap shots

• Nothing new to report on negotiations with restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, though Yzerman said he expects to focus more on them now that the draft and free agency are over.

• RW Ryan Callahan said he believes his hip issues are "completely behind me," ready for camp. "I feel great, no limitations at all," Callahan said. "I think this is going to be the hungriest I've ever been,

• Congrats to captain Steven Stamkos, who got married Friday. D Victor Hedman is also getting hitched this summer.

• The Lightning bolstered its depth in AHL Syracuse on Saturday, signing G Michael Leighton (to be veteran partner with prospect Connor Ingram), adding veteran defensemen Jamie McBain and Mat Bodie to one-year, two-way contracts. Tampa Bay also acquired F Carter Verhaeghe from the Islanders for G Kristers Gudlevskis.

• Former Lightning C Brian Boyle got a two-year, $5 million deal with the Devils. Tampa Bay, not needing a center, didn't reach out. Good for D Luke Witkowski to return home to Michigan on a two-year deal with the Red Wings.

Prospect watch

• The Lightning's defensive depth is as good as it has been in recent memory. Not just Sergachev but first-round pick Cal Foote, Erik Cernak (acquired from the Kings in the Ben Bishop deal) and Libor Hajek add to a pool that includes Ben Thomas, Matt Spencer and Dominik Masin. Yzerman thinks they all have a chance to play in the NHL. Then there's 6-foot-8, 230-pound Russian D Oleg Sosunov, who signed a three-year entry level deal. He will play for Moose Jaw. Sosunov's skating is strong for his size. "We hope he's going be another (Zdeno) Chara," quipped Moose Jaw coach Tim Hunter.

• Speaking of NHL chances, Howden, Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph and Taylor Raddysh should get a good look during training camp, the prospects hoping to make a Brayden Point-like jump from juniors to the Lightning. Said Yzerman: "If any of them are really good enough to play on our team — and they're big, strong boys with skill — if any of them are good enough to play on our team and we have a roster spot, they could be on the team."

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