TAMPA — It may seem like just yesterday that the Lightning won their second straight Stanley Cup on home ice at Amalie Arena, but Thursday marks the first day of training camp as Tampa Bay begins to work toward another championship in the 2021-22 season.
There will be some new faces when the Lightning hold their first on-ice practice Thursday and while they’ve lost some key pieces, the core of their title team remains largely intact.
Still, there’s a lot to learn about the Lightning between now and opening night Oct. 12. Here are five burning questions we’re asking heading into training camp:
How will the Lightning replace their grind line?
This is the biggest reason to wonder whether the Lightning have the horses to win three straight. The line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are all wearing different sweaters this season. They were often referred to as the identity line. They started games, set the tone with their grit and relentlessness, and scored some huge goals along the way.
Second-year forward Ross Colton, who showed a lot of potential with his forechecking game, could be a part of the third-line rebuild, as well as veteran Corey Perry, a tenacious power forward who faced the Lightning in the Cup final the past two years as a member of the Stars and Canadiens, respectively.
Is this the year Mathieu Joseph breaks out?
There’s a lot to like about Joseph’s game going into this season. Last year, he had 12 goals and 19 points in all 56 regular-season games. He played mostly on the Lightning’s fourth line, and he adapted his speed game to fill in on a checking line.
The 24-year-old performed well when the Lightning needed more from him, like when he had a two-assist output in Game 4 of the Cup final while Alex Killorn was out. He has worked hard to become a more consistent player and is one of the fastest players. With some of the Lightning’s losses at forward, he should see his ice time increase significantly.
Who could be this year’s Ross Colton?
Before Colton scored the Cup-clinching goal in the Lightning’s Game 5 victory over the Canadiens, he made an impression in training camp. Colton didn’t make the team out of camp, but he reported in the best condition of his career. His ascent serves as an example for other up-and-coming players of what’s possible.
The Lightning will need more help from their farm system this season, and for players like Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh, the top two scorers in Syracuse last season, the opportunity to contribute will be theirs. If the reports from Syracuse are true, both have the same blue-collar mentality and commitment to improving that Colton showed.
What does the future hold for Cal Foote?
Foote’s first NHL season was an odd one. The former first-round pick averaged 13 minutes of ice time in his first 34 games, but played just once after April 10 as the Lightning leaned on veteran Luke Schenn as the team’s sixth defenseman. The Lightning then traded for veteran right-shot defenseman David Savard at the deadline for the stretch run and postseason.
With Savard and Schenn gone, general manager Julien BriseBois said early in the offseason that Foote would be in line for regular playing time, then Tampa Bay brought back Zach Bogosian and Andrej Sustr for added blue-line depth. Foote showed his potential and has a strong shot from the point, but likely will have to prove he can handle the physicality of the NHL to earn more ice time.
What can we expect from new backup goaltender Brian Elliott?
It’s not necessarily easy being Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup. Vasilevskiy sets a high bar every night, and last season, he carried Tampa Bay in several instances through the regular season and playoffs. In fact, the Lightning were a below-average team without Vasilevskiy in goal (5-7-2).
Elliott, who takes over the backup role from Curtis McElhinney, went 15-9-2 in 30 games last season with the Flyers, and his addition could allow the Lightning to give Vasilevskiy more games off in the return to an 82-game regular-season format. Vasilevskiy played 82 percent of the Lightning’s games last season, including all 23 in the postseason.
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