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Lightning draftees, prospects take in first day of development camp

First-round pick Isaac Howard, others picked in last week’s NHL draft receive their introduction to the organization.
Lightning forward Isaac Howard goes through drills during development camp Monday at TGH Ice Plex in Brandon.
Lightning forward Isaac Howard goes through drills during development camp Monday at TGH Ice Plex in Brandon. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 11|Updated Jul. 11

BRANDON — Having arrived in Tampa for this week’s Lightning development camp directly from the NHL draft in Montreal, first-round pick Isaac Howard didn’t have any of his own equipment.

So the team offered up one of Nikita Kucherov’s custom Bauer Supreme sticks Monday at TGH Ice Plex.

“He had the closest specs to mine, so it was fun,” Howard said. “It’s got a lot of points, a lot of goals in that stick. ... It’s just fun to see what all the pros are using and all that. I like gear a lot, so it was fascinating for me. … Kucherov is my favorite (Lightning player) to watch. He’s just so smart, he can score, he can set guys up.”

This week’s camp, which includes 32 players, provides the Lightning an opportunity to gauge where some of their top prospects and recent draftees are heading into the offseason, and a chance to evaluate a crop of select unsigned free-agent invitees.

This is the first development camp since 2019, as the pandemic prevented it from being held the past two summers.

The first two days of the four-day camp are dedicated exclusively to small-group skills and power skating sessions before three-on-three tournament play Wednesday and Thursday.

“That’s why we like small groups, a lot of one-on-one time and we feel just with the smaller cap that you get more attention,” Lightning assistant general manager and AHL Syracuse GM Stacy Roest said. “And then if they have questions or concerns or need to address certain areas, we can, and I think the players appreciate it and we enjoy doing it as well.”

Lightning assistant GM/AHL Syracuse GM Stacy Roest talks with reporters during camp Monday.
Lightning assistant GM/AHL Syracuse GM Stacy Roest talks with reporters during camp Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“It’s always fun as the week goes to get to know them all a little bit better,” Roest added.

Lightning sixth-round pick Connor Kurth, coming off an 81-point season with Dubuque in the USHL that netted him the USA Hockey Dave Tyler Award for the top American-born player in junior hockey, said he already learned some valuable skills Monday.

“You just work on some skills that you don’t see a lot,” said the University of Minnesota commit who turns 19 this month. “I already learned a bunch of different stuff that I didn’t expect to learn.”

Kurth pointed specifically to the power skating drills sessions with skating coaches Barb Underhill and Tracy Tutton.

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“It’s unreal,” he said. “I don’t know how many teams have that. Never have I had that, so it’s great. Everyone needs to work on their skating. It’s a huge part of hockey. So it’s amazing we have that here.”

Roest said the goal of the camp is to teach, evaluate and meet with players to give them individually-tailored training plans to take into the offseason.

“Come in here, get comfortable and get the strength and get the proper diet, proper workouts and then just enjoy the process, be part of the process, and obviously right now, don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” he said. “Just have fun and enjoy it.”

Lightning forwards McKade Webster (90), left, Connor Kurth (68) and Isaac Howard (72) on the ice during drills.
Lightning forwards McKade Webster (90), left, Connor Kurth (68) and Isaac Howard (72) on the ice during drills. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“They all look skilled,” he added. “We were talking about how they can all shoot the puck. Obviously the sticks and the technology (are advanced), but the way these players can shoot the puck nowadays, it’s incredible. I feel bad for the goalies, but they look good as well.”

Howard had packed up the scene-stealing white suit he wore at the draft and sent it back home to Wisconsin with his parents. “It kind of blew up. I didn’t expect that. But like I said, I was the best dressed so people just brought traction to it.”

It’s a good thing. It’s definitely too hot for turtlenecks in Tampa in July.

Asked whether he feels any added pressure being the first-round pick, Howard said, “if there’s pressure on you, that’s kind of a privilege. It’s a good thing.”

“I don’t really feel too much pressure,” added Howard, who is headed to play college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth. “I just like to enjoy the moment. It’s pretty surreal what I get to do out here and stuff, so there’s no reason to kind of crumble. Just have fun with it. It’s a great organization, so I couldn’t be happier.”

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