TAMPA — Jon Cooper called Cedric Paquette one of those players you don’t know how much you’ll miss until he’s gone.
The center demonstrated just what he can do for the Lightning on Wednesday. Making his debut in the ninth game of the year, Paquette sparked the team’s comeback in the third period.
His forecheck started the play in the offensive zone. Then Luke Witkowski dug the puck of the corner and fired off a centering pass. Ryan McDonagh one-timed the puck and Paquette tipped it in.
“He is an extremely important player for us," Cooper said after the Lightning 3-2 win over Pittsburgh. “He just brings an identity to his line, and I thought they spent a lot of the night in the offensive zone, and they were banging and he was the one leading the charge.”
That goal didn’t exactly shift the whole momentum of the game, but it did give the Lightning a boost. And that’s not even where the team expected Paquette to have an impact (he called it a bonus). The anticipated impact was the physicality. He came out with a couple of big hits right off the bat.
“I wanted to get that out of the way right away, see how the body feels,” Paquette said. “And it felt great.”
Last year, Paquette played a big role on the penalty kill (when he wasn’t in the box himself) and proved that the fourth line could be trusted in defensive zone faceoff opportunities against good lines.
Paquette missed time during training camp and then was hurt again in the preseason finale. He was upended and came down shoulder first. Paquette threw down his gloves and held his arm as he skated off.
It was especially hard for Paquette to watch games he couldn’t play in to start the season. He got back on the ice after only about 10 days, but not consistently at first. He has been practicing for two weeks now and got back on a line this week.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.