Pre-Game Notebook: Lightning Rookies Begin To Break Away
It’s another day and another game for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have already endured three-straight games, with the last of the stretch coming tonight. The training camp of 58 has been quite up to the task however, coming out on the winning side of two matches against the St. Louis Blues and one versus the Nashville Predators.
Just as head coach Jon Cooper has said, players would slowly, but surely, start to separate themselves from the pack. In 180 minutes of exhibition play we’ve see just that with shootout heroics to go along with a two-goal game from draftee Adam Erne and multiple goals from Syracuse Crunch teammates Brett Connolly and Ondrej Palat in Thursday and Friday’s back-to-backs. With Erne reassigned to junior hockey, that leaves two obvious standouts left on the docket, but what about the rest?
Impending cuts could come as early as today and there are still a lot of talented Lightning camp-goers who have to rise to the occasion under the possibility of just one game left on their resume.
ON THE BUBBLE
One of those players is winger J.T. Brown. A player much acknowledged during the weeks leading up to Bolts camp, yet the buzz around the college standout seems to have calmed down.
“You just got to keep playing your game and the goals will come,” Brown said about his performance leading up to tonight. “I’m happy for those guys, Connolly and Palat, I’ve played with them and they’re good buddies of mine, so it’s nice to see them do well.”
First-overall draft pick Jonathan Drouin has had to get acquainted with playing center again, but he understands it’s about finding the right fit for him on Tampa Bay’s roster. During Saturday’s morning skate, coaches were seen working with Drouin on draws.
“I haven’t played center in a long time, so I’m just working on getting the quickness of it,” Drouin said. “Players are stronger in faceoffs in the NHL and working on that during practice has helped a lot already.”
The two shared what areas they’d like to improve upon for Saturday’s game.
“Be a little more physical,” Brown said. “Last game I didn’t have a lot of physical play, so just try to get into the corners and play my game.”
“My defensive zone coverage,” Drouin added. “Be a little bit more focused on there, before going to the offensive zone. Coaches have been talking to me a lot about that and it should be better tonight.”
For players like Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone who will be reunited Saturday night, coach Cooper said it was nice to see that the group of veteran guys were “quite frankly, acting like rookies,” and had no sense of entitlement about their position on the team.
And while the spotlight isn’t necessarily on Stamkos and his line’s production Saturday night, he’s had a chance to work on his ability to lead.
“I’m just trying to make them feel comfortable, whether it’s going for lunch or going for dinner, it’s been a fun process.”
During Cooper’s post-practice scrum he shared the importance of not pushing prospects too fast.
“We’re not in a position to rush guys and ruin guys’ careers,” he said. “They’re drafted in this organization and we’re going to look after you; we’re going to develop you. We have major investment in Brown and Drouin, so we want to make sure we put them into a spot where they’re ready and they can excel.”
Cooper also weighed-in on the how Drouin and Brown’s circumstances are not quite the same.
“Drouin’s 18-years-old and this is his first pro-hockey experience,” Cooper said. “With Brown it’s a little bit different. He’s played a year pro and he’s a little bit older, so he’s probably sniffing to be in the NHL a little bit more. He’s competing with a lot of guys he’s been playing with before.”
ODDS ‘N ENDS
After a mid-day scratch Friday, forward Teddy Purcell finds himself back in the lineup tonight. Cooper assured the media that he’s fine and it was just a precautionary measure of the preseason.
Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis and Sami Salo will skate for the first time this season in exhibition play.
The Lightning will be looking for their fourth straight exhibition win Saturday. The club hasn’t won four consecutive games in the preseason since the 2008-09 campaign when the Lightning defeated the New York Rangers twice and two international teams (Eisbaren, HC Slovan).