With Hurricane Irma past and clean-up efforts well under way, we can turn to more fun matters in the Tampa Bay area: NHL training camp! After many players and their families evacuated, the Tampa Bay Lightning are back in town and ready to get going.
Yesterday was check in, physicals, and media day for the players. Today, we’ll have the first on-ice practice in Brandon. We also already have the training camp roster. With so many names on it, let’s take some time to go through the roster and do some analysis. What players are heading back to juniors? What players are in the hunt for roster spots? What other interesting tidbits can we find in the players invited to camp?
You can see the full schedule for training camp and the camp roster here.
Prospects looking to impress
The early games in pre-season usually feature a good number of prospects before they are sent to their junior teams to get prepared for their season. Most of them have little chance to make the NHL this season, but if they do have a chance, they tend to stick around a little longer.
Mikhail Sergachev is an obvious pick here to be watching. He has the opportunity to make the Lightning roster out of training camp instead of heading back to the OHL for another year of juniors. The most important thing will be for him to show he can be responsible in his own end. Putting up big points on offense is not as imperative, and we know that that will come with time.
2016 first rounder Brett Howden is another prospect to keep your eye on. Depending on how the top six positions shake out among forwards, the Lightning could be looking for someone to fill the third line center role. Howden would have to be a consideration here. He has NHL size and plays a sound two-way game. He had a great offensive season for the Moose Jaw Warriors and he has the skills to contribute sooner or later.
Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, and Mitchell Stephens are the big professional rookie names to look at that should be going to the Syracuse Crunch but have a chance to make it with the Lightning. With the aforementioned third line center or potentially the fourth line left wing spot open, any one of these three could sneak onto the roster. Even if they are sent to the AHL, look for these three to be possibilities for injury replacement recalls if they are playing well for the Crunch.
Adam Erne and Matthew Peca will be the more experienced names to watch for the last forward spots. Both spent time in the NHL last season and have a leg up on the competition. They would need strong training camp and pre-season performances to give them a shot at earning one of those potential openings. Veteran Gabriel Dumont, who played well in a fourth line role last season, should also be in the mix to earn a spot on the fourth line or as the 13th forward.
Veterans looking over their shoulders
On the other end of the spectrum are the veterans that will be looking over their shoulders at the youngsters behind them. The two main names that come up for me are J.T. Brown and Andrej Sustr.
Brown had a down year last season and struggled with injuries through different stretches. We learned last season that the Lightning are not afraid to put a veteran on waivers and send him to the AHL. That happened with Erik Condra and Cory Conacher, who were both expected to have a good chance at making the Lightning. Brown could be the surprise player going down this season if he is outperformed by some of the prospects.
Sustr is another player that has a target on his back. He’s been an up-and-down performer on the blue line through his career. Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek are both waiver eligible, and younger than Sustr. Sergachev is also in the mix for a roster spot. Combine those two factors and Sustr could be looking at spending significant time in the press box or maybe even being moved at the end of training camp.
Cedric Paquette and Yanni Gourde are also two players that shouldn’t be complacent during training camp. Both have shown they have what it takes to play in the NHL. However, that doesn’t mean their spots are locked in. Both players have a low enough salary that if they were sent to the AHL, there would be no impact on the salary cap. The possibility of them being claimed on waivers is likely higher than it was for Condra and Conacher last season. A poor training camp could lead to them losing their spot to a younger player that looks exceptional.
Every year, each NHL team brings in a certain number of invitees to training camp. Occasionally they are NHL-caliber players that struggled to find a home and are there on a professional try-out looking to earn a roster spot. But many times they’re also players that have no chance at the NHL but could earn a spot in the AHL. At a minimum, those players competing for AHL spots can also serve as depth options in the ECHL, so their invite gives the front office an opportunity to evaluate them.
Here’s the list of guys and their stories for this season’s camp:
Shane Conacher - Younger brother of Cory Conacher, the 23-year-old followed in his older brothers footsteps, attending Canisius College and putting up solid offensive numbers. Following his junior season at Canisius, he decided to turn pro and signed a try-out agreement with the Toronto Marlies. He had a goal and two assists in seven games but was bumped from the line-up during the playoffs on a very deep Marlies team. He didn’t pop up again until mid-way through last season as he played three games for the Marlies and 25 games for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. He had two goals and 11 points with the Solar Bears. He’s unlikely to break into the Syracuse Crunch line-up, but an AHL deal to play in the ECHL and provide depth wouldn’t be out of the question.
Kevin Hancock - Hancock was invited by the Lightning to the prospect tournament. The 19-year-old scored 30 goals and 85 points in 68 games for the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL last season. According to HockeyProspect.com’s 2017 NHL Draft Black Book, much of his performance last season could have been contributed to playing with highly regarded draft eligible players. He is a defensively responsible forward with good senses, which is likely what attracted the Lightning to him. Undrafted, Hancock could walk out of training camp with an entry level contract if he performs well. He’s slated for another season in the OHL, but could join the Syracuse Crunch in 2018-19 if he was signed.
Kevin Lynch - Acquired by the Lightning from the Vancouver Canucks as a part of the Jason Garrison trade, Lynch was never signed to an entry-level contract. However, he has played in 90 games for the Crunch. Signed to an AHL contract this season, he will have a chance to be a lower line center for the Crunch or provide depth from the ECHL.
Reid McNeil - Another player on an AHL contract, McNeil provides depth for the Crunch on the blue line. The organization is a little short on left-handers, so McNeil is expected to pitch in when injuries and call-ups happen if he doesn’t make the Crunch out of their camp.
Joseph Raaymakers - Raaymakers was invited to both the Lightning’s development camp and their rookie tournament. The junior goaltender is not much of a prospect and his chances of getting signed are quite low. He still has another year or two to play in the OHL, but he’s here to provide a body in net.
Nicola Riopel - Riopel has served as the Lightning’s 5th goaltender for the past season and a half, and will return in that role for another season. He’ll hang out in the ECHL and be ready to backup the Syracuse Crunch if a spot opens up due to injuries.
One of the interesting things around training camp is to check out what jersey numbers player’s have picked (or in some cases, been assigned). Your regulars probably aren’t changing numbers unless they are going from a “camp number”-one of those assigned numbers-to a more appropriate number of their choosing.
- Yanni Gourde has gone from #65 to #37. #37 is the number he’s been wearing with the Syracuse Crunch and it looks like he’ll make that change permanent for this coming season in Tampa Bay. Six players have worn #37 for the Lightning, the last being Kristers Gudlevskis in 2013-14. The most prominent was Brad Lukowich who wore it from 2002-03 to 2003-04 and again in 2007-08 when he returned for a season.
- Shane Conacher is wearing #92. One of the invitees to training camp, the younger Conacher is taking Joel Vermin’s number. Vermin left the organization this past summer.
- Mathieu Joseph is wearing #7. It’s definitely interesting to see that Joseph doesn’t have one of the typically higher “camp” numbers that prospects typically get assigned. Joseph wore #21 in Juniors, but Brayden Point has already claimed that number. Having a lower number could mean that the Lightning expect him to have an impact in Tampa this season. He would be the 9th player in Lightning history to wear #7, a number that has mostly been a defenseman’s number. The last player to wear it was Radko Gudas.
- Chris Kunitz is wearing #14. Newcomer Kunitz retains the #14 that he’s worn for the majority of his NHL career. He’ll become the 10th player to wear it for the Lightning. The two most notable players to wear it were Andrej Meszaros and Brett Connolly.
- Dan Girardi is wearing #5. With the departure of Jason Garrison, Girardi is able to continue wearing his normal #5. He becomes the 11th player to wear it for the Lightning joining some big names like Jassen Cullimore, Darryl Sydor, and Mattias Ohlund.
- Jamie McBain is wearing #2. Signed as depth on defense and bound for Syracuse, it’s probably a sign of him being a veteran that he was able to take #2. It’s also possible that he could end up spending time in the NHL this season in the event of injuries. If he dresses for a game this season with that number, he would be the 12th player to wear it for the Lightning and the 2nd McBain, following Mike McBain who wore it in the late 90s. Eric Brewer was the last player to wear it for the Lightning.
- Reid McNeil is wearing #3. Another depth signing on defense, he doesn’t have any NHL experience. If he were to suit up for the Lightning this season, he’d be the 12th player to do so wearing #3, but that seems highly unlikely to happen.
- Mikhail Sergachev wearing #98. Most camp numbers fall in the 40s, 50s, or 60s, so this isn’t a camp number. He wore #31 with the Windsor Spitfires and #22 for the Montreal Canadiens. He was born in 1998, though, so perhaps that was how he came to that number. He would be the first player to wear #98 for the Lightning and it would be the highest number ever, beating out Matt Gilroy wearing #97 in 2011-12.