ORLANDO — Mathieu Joseph is making it really hard for the Lightning to send him back to the minors.
The 21-year-old forward popped in two more goals in a 6-2 victory against the Panthers on Thursday night. That gives him three for the preseason.
"He's definitely putting his best foot forward,'' coach Jon Cooper said. "His speed is his biggest asset. He has been using it. He's finding himself around the net and putting those goals home, so he definitely has made a positive impression on the coaching staff so far.
"You're looking for guys to step up, and he has continued to do it through this camp.''
Joseph, a 2015 fourth-round draft pick who spent last season at AHL Syracuse, is pleased with what he has done.
"I think I get more comfortable every game,'' Joseph said.
But not so comfortable that he thinks he has anything made yet.
"It's out of my control,'' Joseph said about his prospects of sticking with Tampa Bay to start the season. "I've been fortunate to have a pretty good preseason so far, but nothing is done. I have to keep going.''
Here's what it comes down to: Will Joseph see significant playing time if he stays with the Lightning or would he better served to go back to the minors, where he can play major minutes until the time is right to come up to the big club?
The same goes for other young players such as F Alex Volkov, who had a goal Thursday; F Danik Martel; and D Erik Cernak. Cutting the roster to 23 by early next week will not be easy. The current roster is at 27.
"There's a lot of good hockey players out there, and you know how much it means to them to make the team,'' Cooper said. "That's everybody's goal, to represent the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, and you want to do it in Tampa.
"You get to know these players and have a personal relationship with them, and that's what makes it even more difficult. … We have some difficult decisions ahead.''
Forwards Nikita Kucherov (lower body) and Tyler Johnson (upper body) remain out with injuries. Neither practiced Friday, and neither was expected to play in the preseason finale Saturday in Sunrise against the Panthers.
Will they be ready for the season opener Oct. 6? That is unknown, though neither injury is considered long term, and them not playing the final few preseason games shows the team smartly being cautious.
After Thursday night's game, G Martin Ouellette was assigned to Orlando, the Lightning's affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League. … Speaking of Orlando, the Lightning has had a nice visit to O-Town. It has been at a resort hotel since late Tuesday and wasn't scheduled to head to Sunrise until Saturday morning. Besides its game against the Panthers, the Lightning had a hard practice Friday, but there was playtime, too, including golf and relaxing by the pool.