TAMPA — One of the season's feel-good stories ended Thursday, when F James Wright was assigned to Vancouver of the junior Western Hockey League.
The move makes room for Nate Thompson, claimed off waivers from the Islanders. The center, with a goal and six points in 39 games and minus-14, could play Saturday against Atlanta.
"Disappointed," Wright said of the decision. "I wanted to be here all year. I have to take it in stride. I'm also excited to play more."
Wright, 19, who made the team out of juniors, had two goals and five points in 47 games and was minus-6. But his play fell off lately, and he had zero points in his past 33 games while averaging 11:38 of ice time.
GM Brian Lawton said the 20 minutes a night Wright will play with Vancouver "will be best for his long-term growth."
The Lightning no longer pays Wright's $570,000 salary; Thompson makes $550,000. But because Wright played more than nine games, the first year of his three-year deal counts toward his service time. Still, the experience was good, Wright said:
"I have an advantage next year in that I know what to expect in training camp. I know how professional guys are at this level. I know what is expected of me and what I need to improve on."
As for returning to Vancouver, he said, "I have to … have a positive attitude and not be the cocky guy who used to be in the NHL."
HEDMAN BENCHED: As expected, rookie D Victor Hedman was a healthy scratch.
"He just needs to catch his breath," said coach Rick Tocchet, adding the benching would likely be for one game.
Hedman, 19, who played so well early, has struggled with decision making. He is minus-6 in his past seven games and has just two shots in his past two.
"It might be good for me to sit," Hedman said. "It's not like I've been happy about my performance."
Tocchet stressed Hedman "has not hit a wall. Physically … he's still a stud out there. It's more of a mental break. He's made a couple of mistakes at crucial times. You get to where you're overthinking, and he's not as aggressive because he's scared to make a mistake."
SMITH UPDATE: G Mike Smith (neck strain) had a spirited on-ice workout and said he should be ready "sooner rather than later."
"The main thing is not to rush back," added Smith, who has missed five games. "It's an important part of your body when you deal with your neck and head. Last year I played with an injury a lot longer than I should have and missed a lot of games. I wasn't going to let that happen."
RANGER UPDATE: It appears the scuttlebutt the past two weeks that Paul Ranger was to return was a bit of wishful thinking. The defenseman has been away from the team since Oct. 23 because of a personal matter.
"We have nothing new to report on Paul Ranger's status," Lawton said. "We will offer an update when available but feel it is best to let Paul inform us when he is ready to return."
ODDS AND ENDS: D Kurtis Foster played wing. That allowed defensemen Matt Walker and David Hale to get back in the lineup. … RW Brandon Bochenski was scratched.