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With Pat Maroon and Luke Witkowski, the Lightning strikes fear

Tampa Bay’s two biggest offseason acquisitions may be its most important, too.
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pat Maroon jostled with two Florida Panthers players.
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pat Maroon jostled with two Florida Panthers players. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Sep. 29, 2019
Updated Sep. 29, 2019

TAMPA — Pat Maroon quipped when training camp started that he’s not what people are used to seeing from the Lightning.

Well, Luke Witkowski isn’t either.

After trading its two biggest forwards in the offseason — J.T. Miller and Adam Erne — Tampa Bay added two big guys in free agency. And they already have demonstrated a physicality that can come with their size.

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Maroon is listed at 6 feet 2 and 236 pound, making him the heaviest forward on the roster.

Witkowski is listed as a defenseman. But he played more forward during the preseason, and that’s where the Lightning has an opening on the roster. At 6-2, 217, he is about the same weight as Miller and has more than 10 pounds on the next-biggest forward, Cedric Paquette (210).

Size doesn’t always equal physicality, but it does for Maroon and Witkowski.

Just ask the two Panthers whom Maroon fended off by himself during a preseason scrum in front of the net Saturday night. Or the players Witkowski fought in games Tuesday and Thursday.

“Everybody’s so afraid of them,” defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. “Nobody wants to go in a corner with them. It’s just huge for us.”

They form a different kind of fourth line for the Lightning. Paquette has always been a high-energy, disruptive player. Ryan Callahan didn’t hesitate to throw his body around. But neither has the size of Maroon or Witkowski.

Neither Maroon nor Witkowski is a heavyweight in the world of NHL fights, but both have shown a willingness to drop the gloves. Both did it in the preseason.

Maroon fought the Predators’ Austin Watson, and Witkowski fought the Panthers’ MacKenzie Weegar and Josh Brown as the Lightning racked up five preseason fights.

MORE LIGHTNING: Tampa Bay fell short of coach Jon Cooper’s goal of getting through Saturday’s preseason finale without injuries

The Lightning totaled 15 fights last season, and Yanni Gourde led the way with four. Gourde spent some of the year on the third and fourth lines but has also shown the skill of a top-six player.

“They’re a big help,” Sergachev said. “Our top guys don’t have to do the dirty work.”

Witkowski said he doesn’t look to fight but will defend himself when someone comes after him. Even clean hits bring someone looking to challenge, he said.

He describes his role at forward as skating as hard as he can and delivering big hits. Witkowski doesn’t seem to put Maroon in that category.

“I always knew he was pretty skilled,” Witkowski said. “He has good hands. He has a good shot. He has a big body and protects the puck well.”

Maroon might be the right mix of size and skill to be the power forward planted in front of the net on the power play. He played that spot with the top power-play unit in the preseason.

It’s not a new role for Maroon, who had the sixth-most power-play time on ice among the Stanley Cup champion Blues last season. Coach Jon Cooper compared him in that role to Miller last year. Cooper cited Maroon’s size, good hands, courage to stand in front of the net and puck-retrieval skills.

But Maroon is a more physical player than Miller. That’s something the Lightning didn’t have before.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos