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Lightning’s opening night roster rounds into shape

Could the Lightning carry 14 forwards into the season? Coach Jon Cooper likes having that depth.
Lightning right wing Taylor Raddysh and Panthers center Eetu Luostarinen (27) compete for a puck during Thursday's preseason game in Tampa.
Lightning right wing Taylor Raddysh and Panthers center Eetu Luostarinen (27) compete for a puck during Thursday's preseason game in Tampa. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Associated Press ]
Published Oct. 8
Updated Oct. 9

TAMPA — The Lightning’s opening-night roster is coming into focus, and at this point, the mystery might be more in how the team wants to structure the lineup than what players are fighting for the final spots.

Tampa Bay reassigned forward Simon Ryfors to AHL Syracuse on Friday, and coach Jon Cooper indicated that the three remaining forwards in the mix for roster spots — Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and Alex Barre-Boulet — could be on the roster when the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions open their season Tuesday at home against Pittsburgh.

The Lightning finish their preseason schedule tonight against the Panthers at Sunrise.

Each of Katchouk, Raddysh and Barre-Boulet has made a strong case for the roster, and the Lightning might not have to choose among them if they’re okay with keeping 14 forwards. That would mean they’d be limited to seven defensemen to go along with two goaltenders if they fill all 23 available roster spots.

Last year the Lightning had to play shorthanded, with just 11 forwards on some game nights, in order to comply with the salary cap. But Cooper likes the idea of having extra forwards.

“We are in a little bit better breathing room this year in terms of the cap,” Cooper said. “And the other thing is, it helps practice. Now you don’t want to get in the way of your guys’ development, so you want to make sure you’re getting them in. But having a couple guys, at least two extras, it just helps with everything … day to day.”

In the cases of Katchouk, Raddysh and Barre-Boulet, keeping all three would mean that in the eyes of the organization, they have little to prove going back to Syracuse and their development would be better served practicing at the NHL level though it would be difficult getting playing time for all of them.

Ryfors, who signed a two-way, free-agent contract in the offseason, was the most seasoned of those competing for the final forward spots, having played five years professionally in Sweden. But the Lightning believes he needs to work on adjusting to the smaller rink and faster pace of the North American game.

The Lightning are carrying eight healthy defensemen (Cal Foote is injured), with Andrej Sustr and Fredrick Claesson fighting for a potential spot. Forward Gemel Smith is on the roster but out indefinitely with an injury.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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