TAMPA — Mathieu Joseph knew he had something to prove from the beginning as one of the Lightning’s four true rookies this season.
His speed and skill put him in competition with veteran forward Ryan Callahan for a spot in the lineup. The two right wingers danced around each other at the start of the season before Joseph finally earned his way into a consistent role on the various lines.
Is it a coincidence the two have their stalls right next to each other in the main locker room? Or was it part of the plan all along to have Callahan mentor Joseph into this kind of role?
Joseph’s faster, but is Joseph better? His constant appearances in the lineup say yes, but his overall experience says no.
For as fast as Joseph started out in his rookie season — including a memorable goal against Detroit where he flashed across the ice to tip in a rolling puck — his offensive performance flatten in the last part of the season. After the All-Star break, Joseph logged only eight assists and one goal. He went silent in his first Stanley Cup playoffs, finishing the four-game series sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets with a plus-minus of -2 and zeros across the board in other regards.
Jon Cooper and Joseph’s teammates have said time and time again that there is a deep level of parity in the league. It’s not an easy one to adjust to.
Yet, Joseph did it.
The 22-year-old winger had a solid season for his first year in the league, overall. He tallied 13 goals (one was a game-winner) and 13 assists for a combined 26 points, second for rookies on this season’s roster behind fellow forward Anthony Cirelli (39), who started 2018-19 with more experience.
Joseph even came back from a lower-body injury he sustained in the beginning of December, sitting out 19 days (with minimal participation in practices and morning skates) and missing seven games.
He’ll enter next season on his entry-level contract going, one that has him making $728,333 per season, the same as fellow rookie forward Anthony Cirelli. He’ll enter restricted free agency before the 2020-21 season begins.
While the Lighting need to find room in this year’s salary cap to resign Brayden Point, the Lightning’s No. 2 center behind Steven Stamkos, Joseph’s spot should not be threatened.
His speed and skill helped him into the Lightning’s lineup this season. He needed them to stand out on his team and against others in the league. They certainly helped his quick adaptation.
And arguably, those traits will be enough to keep him there for a little while longer.
High: Joseph logged a three-point game on the road against the Red Wings, registering two goals (in the same period) and an assist on Dec. 4. He also logged another three-point game in the same fashion (two goals and an assist) at home against Ottawa on Nov. 10. Joseph was the Lightning’s only rookie to notch at least one three-point game.
Low: After his goal against the Golden Knights on Feb. 5, Joseph had a quiet stint on the offensive front for the remainder of the season only recording seven assists.
By the numbers:
70 games played this season, after missing six games with a lower-body injury
13 goals this season, one was a game-winner
26 points, second-highest among rookies on the roster
11:22 average time on ice
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.