News came out this morning that the Tampa Bay Lightning reduced their camp roster to 44 names. Gone are forwards Shane Conacher, Alex Gallant, Kevin Lynch, Otto Somppi, and Carter Verhaeghe, as well as defenders Mat Bodie, Reid McNeil, and Matt Spencer.
Out of the remaining players in camp, who has the best chance at the Lightning? Writers JustinG and GeoFitz4 had a chat about who they thought would make the team this season.
Who do we think has a chance of making the team out of camp?
GeoFitz4: Mikhail Sergachev obviously is the first name that comes to mind. With how he played in Carolina on Wednesday night, I think he's got a good start towards making the team and giving the coaching staff a difficult decision especially if Slater Koekkoek continues to play the way he did in Carolina. They're both competing to be the third left-handed defenseman.
Andrej Sustr and Jake Dotchin are also fighting for playing time behind Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi. As much as we've not been happy with the signing of Girardi, every indication points to him being in the line up and we have to accept that as being the likely outcome.
If Jon Cooper doesn't go with an 11 forward/7 defenseman line-up, then Sustr and Dotchin are also competing with Sergachev and Koekkoek for ice time. With Braydon Coburn's ability to shift over to the right side, Cooper and Rick Bowness could play Hedman, Sergachev, and Koekkoek on the left side and Stralman, Girardi, and Coburn on the right side. It could also come down to being a meritocracy during the season with all four of the bottom defensemen rotating in and out of the line-up depending on how well they play.
I've written on the forward spots and what's in play already this off-season. With how Vladislav Namestnikov has been used in the two pre-season games on the wing, I think it's a pretty sure thing he's going to start the season playing on the first line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. That leaves three spots that are being fought over; third line center, third line right wing, and 13th forward.
I think Yanni Gourde has the inside track for one of the two third line spots with his ability to play up into the top six on either wing in a pinch. His flexibility to play center or wing means there are more players in the hunt for that other spot than if he was locked in to center or right wing. I think the competitors for that spot in no particular order are Matthew Peca, Cory Conacher, Adam Erne, Anthony Cirelli, Brett Howden, Mitchell Stephens, and Mathieu Joseph.
Stephens and Joseph are on the bottom end of the list as they could use some seasoning in the AHL to round out their overall games and become more adjusted to pro speed and size. Peca is an intriguing option to put between Alex Killorn and Gourde on the third line as a playmaker that can set his wings up as well as being able to pitch in on the second power play unit.
Howden is in a similar position as Peca, but he brings more size to pair with Gourde and is a solid two-way center. Howden though has another year before he can be sent to the AHL so he's looking at NHL or WHL as his two options. They could also try Howden for 9 games without burning a year of his entry level contract and give him a regular season try-out.
Conacher is in the race simply because of his experience and offensive skills, but I feel like he is also on the lower end unless he starts lighting it up in the pre-season which he hasn't done so far. I think Erne has taken an early lead in the race with two goals in his first two games. He's playing like we saw him in his call-up late last season being aggressive on the puck, physical, and going to the dirty areas. Right now, I'd guess Gourde and Erne on the third line, but the competition is still wide open.
JustinG: I don't know about you, but I think that Stamkos kid has a good chance of making the team. In all seriousness through two games in the preseason, Sergachev and Adam Erne are doing everything they need to make the team. If Sergachev keeps playing like he did against Carolina, and still gets sent down, I want Mr. Yzerman to come out and flatly say, "Look, I really, really want that second round pick" and then glare at everyone until they avoid eye contact and move onto the next question.
GeoFitz4: The last spots that I think are up for grabs is the fourth line center and 13th forward spot. J.T. Brown currently slots in as my 13th forward, but I don't think he's a lock at this point to keep his spot and needs to have a good pre-season to keep it. Cedric Paquette also has the inside track for the fourth line center spot.
But Gabriel Dumont is battling for those two spots. He's come out with a lot of jump in the first two pre-season games and looks like a player that is fighting for a roster spot. Even if he doesn't earn it, he'll be on the top of the injury recall list as long as he continues to show that game in the AHL.
JustinG: As much as I want Howden to make the team, he didn't really impress me last night. If the question is, what veteran do you think doesn't make the team in place of a rookie/youngster I would be drawing hearts around Cedric Paquette's name.
Which Lightning veteran do you think is the most likely to not be on the opening night roster?
JustinG: I would say the two most vulnerable veterans are JT Brown and Andrej Sustr.
Personally if I was picking the team, Cedric Paquette's name would be on that list, but it seems Coach Cooper really, really likes what Paquette brings to the table. In the second game against Carolina, Brown played like he knew his job was on the line as he was extremely strong on the penalty kill, not only in the defensive zone, but also creating a couple of short-handed chances.
Still even with his strong play, he's got his hands full fending off Gabriel Dumont and Adam Erne for that 12th/13th forward spot on the roster. Both those players can bring the same hard-nosed tenacity that Brown plays with, but also have an offensive component that Brown hasn't been able to find throughout his career.
As for Sustr, well a lot of that might depend on what type of line-up coach cooper wants to roll with. The Lightning aren't adverse to keeping 8 defensemen on the roster this season and if Cooper rolls with an 11/7 line-up Sustr could stay on the roster in a rotation with Sergachev and Koekkoek. He could also find himself on the trading block as well.