NHL camps have been open since last week and one common saying that's come from each is that fans shouldn't put weight on any of the line combinations that they see during camp and during the preseason... It is just practice after all, and some of these arrangements might feature veterans with AHL bound talent or kids due to be returned to their junior teams in a matter of days.
Though we're not to hold much weight with it, there's difficulty trying to dismiss one of the line combinations in the Lightning's camp sessions: Steven Stamkos centering Jonathan Drouin and Ryan Callahan. Those big names bring big expectations while grouped together as a line combo and breeding excitement in the process, but it's not just the potential offensive production of the line that truly makes them something to focus on. In a way, it's overdue: team leaders working directly with one of the top prospects in the organization and top young talents in the sport.
I don't remember details from the 2013 preseason... Well, except some fans non-positive reactions to the bunch of AHL players pushed into the Tampa Bay lineup and the #3 overall draft selection from that summer getting demoted back to the Halifax Mooseheads in favor of them. Ah, those warm memories of general fans introduction to the player-development system.
It's easier to remember the 2014 training camp and preseason and the fact Jonathan Drouin was lost due to a broken finger. He mended and his preseason amounted to a few days with the Syracuse Crunch before being recalled by the Bolts and thrust into the lineup (that was being depleted by other injuries at the time).
Last season turned into an on-the-fly learning experience for Drouin that still netted him 4 goals and 28 assists in 70 games played, capped by limited playing time in the 2015 playoffs.
The current line combination may not last as it is composed of two right wings flanking a center that (rumor suggests) the club wants to shift to the right wing. The line's grandest weight comes from the team captain and assistant captain (who formerly captained the New York Rangers) working directly with the highly touted Drouin. It's their influence on ice, on the bench, and in the locker room that should influence Drouin's game in a constructive fashion.
The fan expectation would probably chalk this up as overdue. With Martin St. Louis' exit from the Lightning roster, the simple solution for filling the hole was to insert Drouin in the spot vacated. Yet that furthers a narrative we saw play out with Drouin: raised expectations (and harsh critiques for not living up to them). Expectations remain high, but a more honed and experienced player will be challenged by them and not the first-year pro.
The best subject matter to dream about here isn't the singular line aspect and what could be achieved, but the fact its potential to create a solid two-line scoring threat. Stamkos and his linemates in 2014-15 were potent but not consistent offensively: Stamkos had 43 goals and 29 assists while Alex Killorn, who often played on #91's left wing, had 15 goals and 23 assists in 71 games while the right wing was sometimes occupied by Callahan (24 goals, 30 assists) or Valtteri Filppula (12 goals, 36 assists) or even Stamkos himself (with Filppula centering). Meanwhile, the 2nd line (the vaulted Triplets/TKO Trio) had a pair of near-30 goal scorers (Tyler Johnson, 29, and Nikita Kucherov, 28) and all three had 35+ assists (Johnson, 43, Kucherov, 36, and Ondrej Palat with 47).
If clear chemistry develops between Stamkos and Drouin, that tandem could be one of the most formidable in the league. To have Callahan on the other wing gives a physical presence to the line to handle dirty work in front of the crease and taking on opposition antagonisms.
We won't know for sure the line combinations until opening night on October 8th against the Flyers, but it's hard not to let your imagination run wild on the possibilities that could come from Drouin, Stamkos and Cally sticking together.