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Steven Stamkos eager to be back with Lightning

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos didn't have to be at Monday's practice at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning captain was fresh off helping Canada win the World Cup on Thursday in Toronto, where he celebrated all weekend with friends and family. Tampa Bay gave him five days off before reporting.

But there was Stamkos on Monday morning, putting on his Lightning jersey for the first time since signing an eight-year, $68 million deal June 29. He skated on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Ondrej Palat, and ripped his trademark one-timer on power-play drills.

"I just wanted to stay in shape, to be honest," said the 26-year-old, smiling.

Defenseman Victor Hedman, who also arrived Monday with fellow Swede Anton Stralman, had another theory: "He's excited to play golf with the guys."

The Lightning took a bus to Estero on Monday afternoon for a four-day trip, which includes practice today, a day off (golfing) Wednesday and an exhibition Thursday in Sunrise. And Stamkos wanted to be part of it.

"You've got to take that as an awesome sign of your captain," coach Jon Cooper said. "We gave him the option not to come back and he came back. You can tell he's really excited to be here and around his teammates. We're glad to have him back."

Stamkos had a blast at the World Cup, a tournament that meant even more to him considering he missed the 2014 Sochi Olympics due to injury. Stamkos had one goal and 15 shots in six games before hoisting the trophy Thursday.

"It was pretty special," Stamkos said. "Not being able to play in Sochi, this is something I was nervously, anxiously awaiting. It was a lot of fun to be with those guys, how many captains are on that team with all the leadership and (I could) see what guys do and bring that mentality to this team hopefully."

Stamkos scored 36 goals last season before a late March blood clot sidelined him until Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. He's healthy, and now with contract questions out of the way, he said he will be mentally freed this season.

"It's just no distractions," Stamkos said. "You go out and have fun, play hockey. It's amazing how powerful the mind can be at certain times, where maybe your focus not being on what you have to do every night to go and help your team win. No excuses this year."

CUT LOOSE: Defenseman James Wisniewski was the biggest name of the team's 24 cuts Sunday. The veteran was released from his training camp tryout.

The Lightning saw some positives in Wisniewski, 32, from his vision and passing, which is why it was intrigued he could be an option for its power play. But he missed last season with a torn ACL (the fourth of his career) and skating was an issue. Cooper said Wisniewski was cut early so he could try to latch on with another team.

"He's a good pro, and you can tell the way he thinks about the game and the skills he possesses, is why he's been a good pro in this league," Cooper said. "For him, he's had some major injuries to both of his knees, and he slowed down a little bit. And we weren't unfortunately in a situation where we could wait."

NUTS AND BOLTS: There are 28 players left in camp, including prospect Brayden Point, who has a chance to make this team, Cooper said. Left wing Joel Vermin and Gabriel Dumont are also battling with Cory Conacher for that temporary roster spot left by Ryan Callahan, who is out until mid-November after hip surgery. All Lightning players put on waivers Sunday — forwards Tye McGinn, Tanner Richard, Mike Halmo, Jeremy Morin, Michael Bournvial and Pierre LeBlond, and defenseman Matt Taormina, — cleared Monday and can report to AHL Syracuse.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Steven Stamkos eager to be back with Lightning 10/03/16 [Last modified: Monday, October 3, 2016 8:08pm]
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