TAMPA — Practice had just ended for most of the Lightning’s prospects Sunday morning, but that didn’t deter some from staying on the ice a bit longer.
While some players practiced one-timers at one end of the ice, defenseman Cal Foote worked with assistant coach Rob Zettler on passing and puck control on the other.
Standing 15 feet apart, Zettler passed the puck to Foote. The rubber disk hit the toe of his stick with every pass and never rebounded into the open ice. Foote was among the last off the ice, along with goalies Spencer Martin and Christopher Gibson, who were working with goaltending coach Frantz Jean.
This isn’t the first time Foote has stood out from the crowd.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman has spent the past two seasons with AHL Syracuse.
After getting drafted as a first-round pick in 2017, Foote has consistently participated in Lightning training camps, including the camp before last year’s postseason restart.
Having previous opportunities to make the team, and making good impressions during those sessions, only helps him facing this coronavirus-affected season.
With the departures of defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian and Braydon Coburn, there’s a good chance Foote could make the roster. If the 22-year-old doesn’t make the opening-night cut, he could be one of the four to six players on the taxi squad, an addition this year to make callups easier for coronavirus reasons. Taxi squad players are permitted to travel and practice with the team.
“Every year (Foote has) come in, he’s a little bit more mature, he’s a little bit more poised, and that’s a good thing,” coach Jon Cooper said. “You’ve been able to do it at the AHL level, and now you have to do it at the NHL level.”
Cooper said this year’s camp is a little different just because half of the players haven’t played since March. Judging everyone is difficult.
“What I can say is nobody has disappointed us so far,” Cooper said. “And I think that’s a good sign moving forward. And now, it’s just going to see who can play at the NHL level and sustain it.”
In his two years in the AHL, Foote has 16 goals and 43 assists.
“It’s a little bit of a bigger camp this time around,” Foote said. “We have two full teams, which is awesome. It’s very competitive.”
Foote has been pleased with his play, taking notes from veteran defensemen such as Luke Schenn, Ryan McDonagh and Victor Hedman.
“Just try to ask them (questions) and watch them on the ice in practices and scrimmages,” Foote said. “Just try to learn as much as I can and be like them.”
Mikhail Sergachev, 22 and entering his fourth full NHL season, remembers what it was like to be in Foote’s spot. It’s easy for a young player to feel intimidated skating next to the likes of Hedman, Steven Stamkos and McDonagh.
“You’re trying to make room for yourself,” Sergachev said. “It’s tough, but you just have to build up confidence every practice, every scrimmage.”
Sergachev, who came to the Lightning from the Canadiens in a June 2017 trade, recalled how much of a help the veteran players were when he was a prospect. They made sure he was in the right spot mentally and taught him along the way.
“I’m just really happy to see (Foote) grow,” Sergachev said.
In July, just before the team flew to Canada for the postseason, general manager Julien BriseBois reflected that the smaller group at that camp was a good time to get a look at prospects like Foote since they’re typically thrown in with a group of 60-plus players made up of NHL veterans, junior players and minor-leaguers.
BriseBois liked how Foote looked in those scrimmages, having good scoring chances and breaking up 2-on-1 opportunities.
“He’s a really smart player,” BriseBois said then. “He’s physically gotten a lot stronger. He took advantage of the (coronavirus shutdown) here to come back a stronger athlete than he was on March 12 when we pressed pause (on the season). … I thought it was a really good chance for him to make a good impression, and he did.”
And he hasn’t stopped.
Blue & White scrimmage, at Amalie Arena, 6:30 tonight
TV: Stream live at tampabaylightning.com