Tag: Jonathan Drouin

Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat

Tampa Bay Lightning ’15-16 Outlook


Tampa Bay’s mantra going into this summer might as well have been “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It certainly seems that was Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s philosophy as a trip to the Stanley Cup Final has led to a quiet offseason. At the same time, there is still the potential for organic, internal changes.

Forward Jonathan Drouin might find himself playing a bigger role next season after getting limited minutes in 2014-15 and barely participating in the playoffs. He has a ton of offensive upside as illustrated by his back-to-back 100-plus point seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads. If the 20-year-old forward can build off of his 32-point rookie campaign, then he will be complimenting an already deep offensive core.

At the same time, netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy’s rise last season has changed the dynamic of Tampa Bay’s goaltending. While Ben Bishop is still the team’s starter, Vasilevskiy should start pushing him for ice time. The potential is also there for a goaltending controversy should Bishop endure a sustained cold streak.

We might also see defenseman Slater Koekkoek earn a regular spot with the Lightning after playing in three contests with Tampa Bay in 2014-15. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and might become a significant threat with the puck and factor with the man advantage.

For the most part though, the status quo is expected to remain. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Jason Garrison should once again lead Tampa Bay’s blueline. Stamkos remains the centerpiece of the offense while the hope is that the Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat has another strong campaign.

The Lightning got a lot out of that core last season, which has earned them another chance to pursue a championship together.

Looking to make the leap: Slater Koekkoek

Slater Koekkoek; Dion Phaneuf

Depending upon how you define “making the leap,” plenty of Tampa Bay Lightning youngsters could qualify for this post.

That’s part of what makes the group GM Steve Yzerman assembled so scary: there are a ton of quality prime-age players who broke through recently or may break through soon.

Even beyond the very-young Triplets, you have Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Vasilevskiy expecting bigger things, possibly as soon as 2015-16.

There are plenty of almost-there guys who can make the jump, too, from Adam Erne to Anthony DeAngelo.

Here’s a vote for Slater Koekkoek.

As the 10th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old seems like he’s primed for an arrival sooner rather than later.

He got his feet wet at the NHL level, playing in three games with the Bolts in 2014-15. While his AHL numbers won’t blow you away, the Lightning have every reason to give Koekkoek a chance to prove himself, as the likes of Nesterov, Andrej Sustr and even Matt Carle seemed to move in and out of Jon Cooper’s doghouse during the playoffs.

Speaking of Carle, he seemed impressed with the young blueliner’s skill when he debuted in April, as the Tampa Tribune reports.

“He skates really well, skated with the puck a lot and created a couple of chances on his own,” Carle said. “He was jumping up in plays. But I don’t think I played well enough to help him out. I kind of hung him out to dry on a couple of odd-man rushes. But he’s a talented kid who can skate well.”

Adding more mobility to a defense corps that includes Victor Hedman? That could leave Lightning fans leaping for joy.

It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos

The Tampa Bay Lightning fell two wins short of the summit. At least they boast the sort of young legs that can hoist them back to similar heights, though, right?

Jonathan Toews was impressed with the push-back from Tampa Bay in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, even if he delivered that message in the form of a backhanded compliment. Negative types would say 2014-15 was a year of almost – nearly winning the division, coming that close to a Cup win – but most would agree that last year a big success.

The question is: will the Lightning look back at that run as the time they learned how to win the big game?

Time hasn’t always been kind to teams who fall in Stanley Cup Final rounds, although the Lightning have the makings of a team that could be here to say, perhaps running parallel to the Penguins (who lost in 2008 before winning it all in 2009).

Most obviously, the Lightning have the same coach and the same core players.

Off-season recap

Of course, one can look at that bounty of prime-age assets and think that the Lightning can make this last for ages.

Unless you’re a huge Brenden Morrow fan, the main cast members from the 2014-15 Bolts are returning for the sequel. The biggest changes are expected to be from internal growth: Jonathan Drouin may take a bigger role, Andrei Vasilevskiy could push Ben Bishop for starts and others hope to become full-time NHL players.

The biggest consideration comes when you ponder contracts that end after 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Most obviously, Steven Stamkos is in the last year of his contract, a fact that will likely make for distracting headlines.

One piece of “The Triplets” – Nikita Kucherov – will be an RFA after 2015-16. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will carry that same RFA status after 2017-18, and one would expect big upgrades from their matching $3.33 million cap hits. Even the goalie duo of Bishop and Vasilevskiy only hold two-year deals.

A quiet summer makes sense for the Lightning, yet it’s a bit foreboding, as many would prefer to see “Stamkos signs seven-year mega-deal” in this slot. Yzerman still has time to swing deals like those both before, during and after 2015-16, but looming cap challenges are the elephant in the room.

That’s a bummer for the future, yet the Lightning seem well-stocked for the shorter term.

Drouin: ‘Nobody wants to go to the AHL’

Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin admits he has “a little chip” on his shoulder.

The 20-year-old Tampa Bay forward — a healthy scratch for most of the Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup Final — told NHL.com on Tuesday that he’s determined not to spend any time in the AHL next season.

Drouin was not eligible to play in the minors this past season.

“Nobody wants to go to the AHL,” Drouin said. “That’s not what I’m thinking about right now. I’m thinking about making the team and making more of an impact. Last year a lot of people said it wasn’t my greatest year, but I gained a lot, I learned a lot, and I’m definitely more ready going into the season, into training camp.”

The third overall pick in the 2013 draft, Drouin’s absence from the Lightning lineup was a popular topic of discussion during the postseason. More than once, he had to deny there was a rift with coach Jon Cooper. He denied it again Tuesday, calling Cooper a “good guy” and “a great player’s coach.”

Back in May, Cooper explained the decision to limit Drouin’s role by saying, “There is more than one net in a rink. There’s two. You have to be able to play in front of both.”

Based on that, it seems Drouin’s ability to play a complete game will determine much of his fate next season.

Related: Johnson learned ‘there were two nets’ in the AHL; will Drouin be taught the same thing?

Kucherov, Bishop and Drouin in for Lightning

Nikita Kucherov

On the brink of elimination, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going all hands on deck, even if some of their big guns are limping into Game 6.

The biggest question revolved around whether Nikita Kucherov would be able to face off against the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s anyone’s guess how healthy he is, but he’s suiting up in this elimination situation. He’ll suit up to complete “The Triplets” trio, even as many wonder if Tyler Johnson is also banged up.

From the “just in case you’re wondering” file: Ben Bishop is indeed playing tonight.

Finally, the Lightning are sticking with Jonathan Drouin in the lineup instead of Nikita Nesterov for another contest. Perhaps Jon Cooper acknowledges that the Lightning need that added scoring punch with some addled go-to point producers?

Ultimately, both the Lightning and Blackhawks are rolling with their Game 5 groups in Game 6, even if the Bolts’ roster looks a little less healthy.