BRANDON — If one goal wasn’t enough, the one that followed surely made a statement for forward Carter Verhaeghe against the Predators in Saturday’s preseason game.
Though the Lightning lost 5-4 in overtime, the two-goal performance helped build more confidence for Verhaeghe, who survived the latest round of roster cuts Sunday.
Among the nine cuts were defenseman Cal Foote, 2017’s first-round draft pick, who was assigned to AHL Syracuse. Also sent to Syracuse were forwards Cory Conacher and Alex Barre-Boulet, last year’s AHL rookie of the year.
Forward Nolan Foote, this year’s first-round draft pick and Cal’s brother, was returned to his junior team, Kelowna of the Western League.
But Verhaeghe, 24, isn’t done yet. He still wants, and expects, more.
“It would have been nice if we’d won (Saturday),” he said. “But I can’t complain (about two goals), I guess.”
Verhaeghe said that after last year’s training camp, he put the Lightning’s advice to use, working on his speed and improving his game overall.
The work paid off for him last season. He won the AHL scoring title with 82 points and tied Barre-Boulet for the league goals lead with 34.
During camp this year, Verhaeghe’s focus has been on improving his game no matter the circumstances or distractions around him.
“That’s all I can really do,” he said, “and go have fun.”
The energy guy
Gemel Smith, a former Stars and Bruins forward, has impressed coach Jon Cooper with his intensity and skill set.
“I’m an energy guy,” said Smith, who also survived Sunday’s cuts as the camp roster was reduced to 33.
“I like to be the guy that brings the spark plugs. (It’s) something that I’ve always had. It’s just an Energizer Bunny kind of thing. Anything I do, I like to do with energy and do it hard, have some jump in my game.”
Smith, a 25-year-old free-agent signee, has tried to stand out from the crowd in camp. He felt comfortable right from the start, saying the organization as a whole has been welcoming.
“It made it easier for me to play my game,” he said. “My M.O. coming into the game and coming into camp is to work hard and just control what I can control and leave it all out there.”
He is focused on being responsible, trustworthy with the puck and playing with skill.
His speed and abilities compare well to those of forward Mathieu Joseph. The difference between them is that Joseph’s speed comes first.
“I just kind of try to play with a defensive mind-set first,” Smith said.
Verhaeghe’s and Smith’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by Steven Stamkos.
“I think they’ve been around for a couple of years now. … Those guys understand what it takes. They understand their roles,” Stamkos said. “They’ve worked hard to get a chance to be here and showcase the past couple of preseason games.”
Stamkos said Verhaeghe and Smith are among the players who know that if they don’t make the final roster, they’ll play with the Lightning at some point this season, with injuries a given.
“For them to get as comfortable as possible is going to be big because they’re going to be a part of this team ultimately,” Stamkos said. “They’ve earned that.”
The other cuts
Also cut Sunday: forwards Ross Colton, Chris Mueller, Otto Somppi and Mitchell Stephens, and goaltender Spencer Martin, all sent to Syracuse.
Defensemen Cameron Gaunce, Dominik Masin and Ben Thomas, and goalie Scott Wedgewood were placed on waivers.