BRANDON — While most of the Lightning’s core from their third consecutive run to the Stanley Cup final remained intact, offseason departures and surgeries created opening-night roster spots.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh was sent to Nashville to help navigate the salary cap. Left wing Ondrej Palat signed with the Devils. Defenseman Jan Rutta left, too. Defenseman Zach Bogosian and center Anthony Cirelli both had shoulder surgeries following the 2022 postseason and embarked on similar recovery timelines, keeping them out until late November or early December.
Here are players new to the lineup this season that could earn a role — short-term or long-term — with Tampa Bay.
Vladislav Namestnikov (free agent)
Experience: 10th season
Contract: 1 year, $2.5 million average annual value through 2022-23 (via CapFriendly)
Where he fits: While new to the Lightning’s 2022-23 lineup, Namestnikov is a familiar name within the organization. Tampa Bay selected him with its first-round pick (27th overall) in 2011, and he spent four-plus seasons with the Lightning before a February 2018 trade.
In between his stints with the franchise, Namestnikov said his game has matured — especially defensively, as he spent time killing penalties or skating with the shutdown line. He played for Jeff Blashill, now a Tampa Bay assistant coach, in Detroit, and Blashill said Namestnikov grew to understand that better defense “usually means more ice time.”
Namestnikov scored at least 16 goals in three of the last five seasons, and this preseason, he occasionally practiced on a line with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Both were part of the Lightning lineup during Namestnikov’s early years with the team.
Ian Cole (free agent)
Experience: 13th season
Contract: 1 year, $3 million average annual value through 2022-23 (via CapFriendly)
Where he fits: Lightning players and coaches repeated throughout the preseason that it’s impossible to replace McDonagh. But Cole gives them an experienced option. He worked on the third defensive pairing throughout training camp, and he can also help kill penalties like McDonagh.
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Cole won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. He spent the 2021-22 season with Carolina, filling a role that reflected the “nice bit of a niche” Cole has created for himself in the NHL. He finished with 19 points, 104 blocked shots, 110 hits and 29 takeaways — three away from his career high of 32, set with Pittsburgh in 2016-17.
“(Cole) has been around the block, has played for a bunch of winning teams and some great coaches,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Philippe Myers (trade)
Experience: 5th season
Contract: 1 year, $2.55 million average annual value on deal from Flyers; 1 year, $1.4 million average annual value extension through 2023-24 (via CapFriendly)
Where he fits: Early in his NHL career, Myers was a top-four defenseman with the Flyers. He went from an undrafted prospect to one averaging between 17 and 18 minutes of ice time. That trajectory changed after a trade to Nashville, where he stumbled out of the lineup before getting loaned to the Toronto Marlies — the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate — for 16 games last year.
But as part of the Lightning’s return in the McDonagh deal, Myers has another chance to crack an NHL lineup, though likely on the third defensive pairing for now. His 6-foot-5 frame has impressed the staff, with assistant coach Jeff Halpern calling him a “monster of a man.” The team also signed him to a one-year extension following the trade.
“I think that he has the ability to be a fantastically good hockey player,” said Cole, his blueline partner through most of the preseason.
Cole Koepke (promoted)
Position: Left wing
Contract: 1 year, $925,000 average annual value remaining on 2-year deal through 2022-23 (via CapFriendly)
Where he fits: Koepke was close to his NHL debut last year. He spent time with the Lightning’s Black Aces (extra players added to a playoff roster who can practice with the team) — experience that was “invaluable,” Cooper said — after playing 74 regular-season and playoff games for AHL Syracuse. He compiled 42 points with the Crunch last year (22 goals, 20 assists).
Koepke emerged as a favorite to crack the Lightning’s lineup, especially with Tampa Bay needing to fill a forward spot after Cirelli’s injury. How the former sixth-round pick from Minnesota-Duluth performs during that window will likely determine his role once Cirelli returns.
“There’s nothing like that experience,” Halpern said about Koepke’s time with the Black Aces. “When you’re sitting there watching, I think you do learn things. You learn from watching the guys. But I’m sure he’s excited just to get in those situations.”
Haydn Fleury (free agent)
Experience: 6th season
Contract: 2 years, $1.525 million through 2023-24 ($762,500 average annual value, via CapFriendly)
Where he fits: Fleury might not make the three sets of blueliners that dress for games — with Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Cole likely serving as the top three left-handed defensemen — but he has positioned himself for a reserve role.
Fleury said he was a bit overwhelmed the first few days of training camp. The Lightning are his fourth team in three years, and the former first-round pick (No. 7 overall) hasn’t logged more than 47 games in a season since 2017-18. Skating has always been a strength, Fleury said, but his physicality has gradually developed. If he’s battling with a forward in the corner, Fleury now trusts he can “end a play” and start a rush in the other direction.
“I know what I am and I know what I do well,” Fleury said, “and that’s kinda what I try and stick to.”
Nick Perbix (promoted)
Contract: 1 year, $925,000 average annual value through 2022-23 (via CapFriendly)
Where he fits: Perbix sits in a similar position to Fleury. He’s likely not positioned for a top-six role on defense, at least based on pairings in recent practices. But with Bogosian out, a reserve opportunity might emerge depending on how many defensemen the Lightning keep.
Perbix has worked on his presence in the defensive zone, an effort to understand the structure of the system, spacing of his teammates and timing of puck touches — different from “just playing hockey” at the offensive end.
Tampa Bay made him a sixth-round selection in 2017. After completing his collegiate career at St. Cloud State in March, he played 17 games for AHL Syracuse and tallied nine points.
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