TAMPA — As a first-period power play expired and Lightning forward Alex Killorn fired a shot from the left circle during an Oct. 29 game against the Sharks, forward Ross Colton faded toward the San Jose net. Colton’s role on the Lightning’s second power-play unit — to perch in the right circle and wait for a one-timer — positioned him to wind up and blast a puck that had bounced off the post in front of Sharks goalie James Reimer.
Colton’s heavy shot always has made him a threat from the circle, forward Steven Stamkos said.
Coach Jon Cooper has wanted to see the third-line wing add physicality and energy to shifts, saying that “opens up his offensive game.” After a start in which he scored just one goal in his first eight games, Colton has scored twice in his past five while also becoming a focal point of the second power-play unit.
Colton needed time to find a rhythm in the 2021-22 season, too, with two goals in the first 30 games but 20 over his final 49. As he gradually progresses this season, his shot continues to serve as his anchor.
“You know what spots he likes and where he likes to score his goals,” forward Nick Paul said. “He likes the hash mark, so it’s kind of easy as a player, for me, because it’s predictable and I kind of know when I go to corners or when I have open space, I kind of know what spots he likes and where he’s going to be.”
Colton’s strides in the physical portion of his game started at AHL Syracuse before he reached the NHL for the first time in February 2021. After practice, he repeated 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 battles in the corner, which Colton said taught him a lot.
“There’s a lot of skilled guys,” he said, “but you got to be able to play in all situations and different roles.”
Mastering the mechanics of a shot has “a kind of art to it,” Stamkos said. Colton continued fine-tuning that after entering the NHL. Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern noticed Colton’s shooting potential in his first NHL season, and the two developed the shot.
They spent time together after practice. They changed locations on the ice. Minutes on the power play became the laboratory where Colton tested his progress, though goals didn’t follow. His first tally with the man advantage came in 2021-22, and Colton has scored just two in 122 games with the Lightning.
But he still blossomed into a 20-goal scorer last season. He also has produced goals in key moments, including the series clincher in the 2021 Stanley Cup final and a last-second tally that clinched Game 2 in the 2022 second round against the Panthers. Both involved Colton crashing the net and chipping in short-range shots.
During the offseason, Colton trained with Chris Barcless near his hometown, Robbinsville, New Jersey, where Colton’s youth coach helped him ramp up for the following year. Shortened offseasons followed the Lightning’s two straight runs to the Stanley Cup final, which made the balance between recovery and preparation important. Barcless helped with that, Colton said.
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
On the power play, Colton always has used the same shooting motion. But over time, he has learned to adapt to in-game situations that might require flinging the puck on the fly or not cocking his stick back as high. Those improvements made Colton someone linemates started scanning for.
“All I got to do is try and draw one player and put it over to him,” Paul said. “So it’s nice playing with someone like that who’s predictable.”
Predictability hasn’t translated into goals, or even ice time. Through 13 games, Colton has averaged 11:11, down from 12:48 last year, for the third-fewest minutes among Lightning forwards, though Cooper wants to get him more ice time. There’s a “little bit more to his role now,” Cooper said, with big minutes and the big moments blending together for Colton.
Colton’s first goal of the season came against the Blue Jackets on Oct. 14, Tampa Bay’s second game. He added his first power-play goal Nov. 3 against the Hurricanes, deflecting a shot from the point, and rocketed a shot off the post later in the game.
Cooper feels that Colton has gotten closer to finding a rhythm. The “big bomb,” as Paul called Colton’s shot, is close to breaking through, this time with well-rounded contributions starting to complement it.
“If you’re really elite at one thing in this game, you can stay around a long time,” Stamkos said. “If it’s skating, if it’s a shot, you’re always going to get an opportunity if you’re really elite at something.”
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.