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  1. Lightning

Lightning hopes Richard Panik clears waivers

TAMPA — With RW Richard Panik, it's always been a struggle to find consistency.

"Sometimes you're watching Richard and he's a man-child; he can be the best player on the ice," coach Jon Cooper said. "And sometimes you don't notice him."

Panik's up-and-down career continued Wednesday when the Lightning placed him on waivers. Though Panik, 23, had his best camp in Tampa Bay, he found himself the odd man out on the 23-man roster for tonight's season opener against the Panthers. The Lightning will know at noon today if he clears waivers and can be reassigned to AHL Syracuse.

"The skill set is there; the tool box is great," assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said. "Other guys beat him out for a job. It's that simple. We're keeping 23 guys that we believe give us the best chance of winning games this year, and right now he's 24."

Panik entered camp with something to prove, having racked up three goals and 10 assists in 50 games last season, when he was sometimes a healthy scratch. But with RW Brett Connolly, RW Nikita Kucherov and C Vladislav Namestnikov shining in the preseason and earning spots, there was no room for Panik.

What is working in the Lightning's favor is that by putting Panik on waivers a day after teams had to file their rosters with the league, he could sneak through and stay in the organization.

DROUIN WATCH: Cooper said if the Lightning needed touted LW prospect Jonathan Drouin tonight, he could play.

But though Drouin, 19, out with right thumb fracture since Sept. 18, continues to progress, Tampa Bay wants to make sure he's put in the best position to succeed, especially because he's making the jump from juniors. Drouin was expected to miss 3-4 weeks, and tonight marks three weeks.

"It's no point in rushing," Drouin said. "Maybe I can play, but it's not Game 7 of the playoffs or something. It's disappointing, but you've got to look at the big picture."

Drouin said the thumb feels better every day in practice. But BriseBois said the team may want him to get his conditioning up to NHL standards and is weighing whether to have him play a few games for Syracuse first. Drouin hopes to play for Tampa Bay during the opening four-game homestand.

"We're going to be patient," BriseBois said.

CAP TALK: Though G Andrei Vasilevskiy and D Slater Koekkoek were on the Lightning's roster filed Tuesday with the league, it was merely to create salary cap relief, BriseBois said. Kucherov and D Andrej Sustr will replace those two on the roster today. With D Mattias Ohlund (knee), who hasn't played since 2011, once again put on long-term injured reserve, the Lightning is under the cap but without a lot of cushion for AHL callups, BriseBois said. "This is the tightest we'll have been," he said.

MISCELLANY: Cooper expects LW Brenden Morrow (back spasms) to be off injured reserve and ready to play tonight. Morrow, 39, missed the final three preseason games because of back spasms but has skated the past few days and practiced Wednesday. … Cooper said he didn't plan to make permanent decisions on alternate captains until after the first road trip.

Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report. Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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