BRANDON — The early Lightning preseason lineup featured veterans like Ryan McDonagh and fan-favorite Steven Stamkos, but coach Jon Cooper wants to focus on some of the younger organizational talent in the first exhibition games of the year.
When looking at young prospects, even those not necessarily up for a spot on the NHL roster, the Lightning coach evaluates players on a case-by-case basis. From the most recent class of draftees, the group selected in June, Cooper wants to see what kind of talent the Lightning have.
“You’re kind of getting your first look at them,” Cooper said of the Lightning’s 2019 draft class. “Now you have a baseline for them.”
The Lightning selected seven players in the June draft, including first-round pick Nolan Foote, but none of those newcomers appeared in Tuesday night’s preseason opener against Carolina. They are likely to appear at some point in the Lightning’s three remaining preseason games this week.
When it comes to older prospects or players pushing for a roster spot, Cooper hopes to see growth on the ice.
“We’re looking for progress,” Cooper said. “So far in practices, we’ve seen that."
Rarely has Cooper seen a whole team come into camp in as good of shape as this year’s Lightning.
One player looking for a more secure spot is Danick Martel. The 24-year-old forward made his Lightning debut a season ago, but as the 14th forward on the roster, he only appeared in nine NHL games.
“He had every opportunity to sulk and not like the situation he was in, and all he did was work,” Cooper said. “He’s had a full year with us, and now we’re going to get to see him with a little bit of playing time in the preseason.”
Martel lined up with forwards Ross Colton and Alex Barre-Boulet in Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Carolina, and Cooper said he was one of the players who “had his legs” on Tuesday.
“I think my role this year will be to skate hard, finish my hits, play good on the (penalty kill),” Martel said.