TAMPA — Coming off their longest offseason in four years, the Lightning will open training camp this week with several new faces.
Players will report to Amalie Arena for physicals, testing and meetings on Wednesday and take the ice for the first time as a team Thursday morning at TGH IcePlex in Brandon.
After retooling their roster, particularly at the forward spots, the Lightning will bring 60 players into camp — 35 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goaltenders. Their seven-game preseason schedule opens next week with back-to-back road games in Carolina and Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Despite some key offseason departures, the team’s vaunted veteran core remains intact. Coming off a first-round playoff loss to the Maple Leafs, players had time to recover physically and mentally from their three straight runs to the Stanley Cup Final.
In the offseason, general manager Julien BriseBois focused on making his roster better defensively and getting back to the stinginess that characterized the Lightning’s back-to-back Cup wins in 2020 and ‘21.
There will be plenty of things to watch as camp progresses. Here are three that stand out heading into the first workouts.
How will the revamped forward lines take shape?
The Lightning’s forward lines will look significantly different on opening night, especially in the bottom-six spots.
The “School Bus” line of Pat Maroon, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Corey Perry is gone, and newcomers Luke Glendening and Tyler Motte will likely slot into fourth-line roles. BriseBois brought them in to add a defensive-minded punch and help limit the number of high-danger scoring chances the Lightning allow.
The team gave Conor Sheary a three-year deal this summer, and he can play in a top-six role. There’s a hole to fill there with Alex Killorn’s departure via free agency. Can Tanner Jeannot or Mikey Eyssimont, a pair of late-season additions, potentially fill a top-six spot?
Because the lines will be jumbled early on with so many forwards in camp, we won’t get a true sign of the opening-night lines until the final few preseason games. But we will start to get a glimpse as camp progresses.
Can Johansson be a better backup goaltender?
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We probably won’t see much of Andrei Vasilevskiy in game action until late in the preseason, but we’ll probably see a lot of Johansson, whom the Lightning have all but anointed as their No. 2 goaltender (replacing Brian Elliott) with a two-year NHL deal.
BriseBois already has placed the “untapped potential” tag on Johansson, who is with his fourth organization in as many seasons. Johansson is 28, so he’s just one year younger than Vasilevskiy. He doesn’t have much of an NHL track record, but he seemed to have a breakthrough last season in the Colorado organization, posting a 2.33 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 26 AHL games.
The hope is that he can be an upgrade over Elliott, who struggled last season (3.44 GAA, .891 save percentage), and carry more of the regular-season load for Vasilevskiy, who has played more hockey than any goaltender over the past four seasons.
Will prospects carry momentum from showcase into camp?
Get used to hearing about Maxim Groshev and Waltteri Merela, a pair of forwards who are making their North American debuts and stood out in the just-completed prospect showcase in Estero.
Both players have dynamic offensive skill, as well as speed and a nose for the net. They will get long looks during the preseason, though it will be difficult to crack the roster because there’s a line of experienced forwards ahead of them. Still, if they can make a quick transition to the smaller rink and quicker pace of the North American game, they could be knocking on the door with a strong start in the AHL.
Drawing the notice of the NHL coaching staff in camp is important. In recent years, players like Ross Colton and Nick Perbix raised eyebrows in camp, and though they didn’t make the opening0night roster they worked their way onto the short list of call-up candidates and found themselves in Lightning sweaters earlier than anticipated.
While both Groshev and Merela have offensive promise, they’ll win kudos by playing well on the forecheck and in the defensive end.
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