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Lightning brings high expectations into this season

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Published Sep. 15, 2014

TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman spent a couple of days last week in New York getting peppered with questions during the NHL's media tour.

There were hours of interviews, spanning all kinds of national outlets and television stations, but Hedman found a common theme.

"A lot of people are noticing us right now," Hedman said. "They think we've got a lot of good talent on the team. There were a lot of questions about the upcoming season and what we'll be like."

There will be some large expectations for the Lightning as it opens training camp Thursday at Amalie Arena. The Hockey News even predicts Tampa Bay will reach the Stanley Cup final. The Lightning is a natural, popular pick, having surprised many last season by finishing third in the Eastern Conference before getting swept by the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

Returning a strong, young core and buoyed by some veteran additions, players have expressed excitement as they've trickled in for informal workouts over the past couple of weeks.

But they've hit the pause button on planning a parade route in downtown Tampa.

"It looks good on paper right now," captain Steven Stamkos said. "But we've got to do the work on the ice."

Most of the regulars have already arrived and skated together. The new faces, including veteran forwards Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle along with defensemen Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman, have started what will likely be a camp-long process of meshing with the existing core.

"We have the parts to do it," said Boyle, who spent the past five seasons with the Rangers. "There's a lot of talent, lots of speed. The skill is pretty impressive."

Boyle talked about "unfinished business," having lost June's Stanley Cup final to the Kings, and that's an appropriate term for the Lightning, too. The sweep by Montreal in April fueled the fire.

"Everyone thought about that all summer," said center Tyler Johnson, a finalist for last season's Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. "We had such a great season, but in the end, that's all people really remember."

The Lightning won't surprise anyone this season, not with Jack Adams (coach of the year) finalist Jon Cooper, Vezina (top goalie) finalist Ben Bishop, and Calder finalists Johnson and Ondrej Palat, not to mention a healthy Stamkos.

And believe it or not, the Lightning might have actually gotten younger up front with Morrow, 35, and Valteri Filppula, 30, the only forwards 30 or older. Some of the young wings haven't established themselves in the league, and touted prospect Jonathan Drouin, expected to make the team, hasn't played an NHL game.

As Cooper has said, "You just don't throw your sticks in the middle of the ice and become a playoff team."

"There's a lot of teams who want our spot," veteran defenseman Eric Brewer said. "And there's no guarantees of anything. We've got to worry about getting into the playoffs and playing well from there. If you're focused on beyond, you'll have a good seat to watch."

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PROSPECT CAMP: Defenseman Kodie Curran scored in overtime as the Lightning beat the Bruins 3-2 Sunday in its second game of the prospects tournament in Nashville. "It was definitely one of the cooler experiences of my life," Curran said. Forwards Jonathan Drouin and Brayden Point assisted on the goal. Nikita Nesterov and Michael Aviani also scored for Tampa Bay. Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 23 of 25 shots.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.