The Tampa Bay Lightning open their pre-season schedule tonight at Amalie Arena. They’ll take on the Carolina Hurricanes and then some of the team will be traveling to Raleigh tomorrow night to play against the Hurricanes in their home arena. It’s always a guess of who will play in pre-season games, especially right at the beginning. Everyone is still at camp, with no one having been released back to their teams yet.
We can get an idea though from the Lightning’s Monday practice groups of who might be in play for the first game as well as what the Lightning have done in the past. Generally, the first game or two will see just the bare minimum of veterans to meet the requirements of the NHL for exhibition games. We’ll go over those requirements again shortly. The other thing we see in these early games are players that will be headed back to juniors to start their season in the days following the first game or two of pre-season. We can also expect to see some definite AHLers and probably more than one player that is competing for a opening night roster spot.
Group A for Monday’s practices include the following players: Connor Ingram, Dan Girardi, Tyler Johnson, J.T. Miller, Alex Killorn, Ryan McDonagh, Yanni Gourde, Gabriel Dumont, Montana Onyebuchi, Mitchell Stephens, Radim Salda, Adam Erne, Dominik Masin, Daniel Walcott, Alexander Volkov, Erik Cernak, Gabriel Fortier, Andrei Vasilevksiy, Cory Conacher, Steven Stamkos, and Mikhail Sergachev.
Group B is made up of these players: Anton Stralman, Mathieu Joseph, Cedric Paquette, Andy Andreoff, Ondrej Palat, Braydon Point, Slater Koekkoek, Hubert Labrie, Dennis Yan, Boris Katchouk, Otto Somppi, Cal Foote, Carter Verhaeghe, Braydon Coburn, Louis Domingue, Anthony Cirelli, Victor Hedman, Eddie Pasquale, Walter Flower, Nikita Kucherov, and Ross Colton.
Group C is mostly made up of invites with a few AHLers mixed in: Ryan Callahan, Corbin Boes, Martin Oullette, Cameron Gaunce, Brady Brassart, Alexei Lipanov, Taylor Raddysh, Jonne Tammela, Jackson Leppard, Chase Wouters, Kevin Lynch, Alex Barre-Boulet, Troy Bourke, Matthew Spencer, Oleg Sosunov, Mathew MacDougall.
The last group are the players that are either unlikely to play in the pre-season games or won’t play until later in the pre-season. Many of them are invitees and ECHLers, which usually do not see pre-season action. Plus there’s injured Ryan Callahan who won’t play in the pre-season. Also not listed are Michael Bournival, Ben Thomas, and Olivier Archambault who are all recovering from surgeries and will miss time to start the season.
That leaves us looking at Group A and Group B as the most likely rosters for the two opening pre-season games.
First in figuring out the potential rosters, every NHL team must dress a minimum of eight “veteran” players in every game. For a skater to count as a veteran, they must have played in 30 NHL games during the previous season. For a goaltender, they must have either dressed in 50 NHL games or played in 30 NHL games in the previous season. Any player that has played 100 of more NHL career games is also considered a veteran. In addition, a first round draft pick from the most recent NHL entry draft is also considered a veteran for these purposes. However, the Lightning did not have a first round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
In Group A, there are 11 veterans and in Group B, there are 10 veterans. Either group has enough veterans to satisfy the requirements of the NHL and could leave 2-3 players off the playing roster as well. Teams also tend to rest higher profile veterans early in the pre-season. So Group B could easily leave Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov at home and send the rest to play against the Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
So here’s my guess at potential line-ups for both games based on these groups.
Tonight vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The only player from Group A left off is Onyebuchi. As an invitee, he’s unlikely to play in the pre-season. Taking him out, this group has 20 players exactly for a roster. This also gets two of the Lightning’s 2018 draft picks in for pre-season games in Fortier and Salda. They would then likely head back to their CHL teams to get their seasons underway in juniors.
This line-up keeps a lot of pairs of player together that are likely to be having some time together during this season. Miller and Stamkos are likely to remain on a line with Kucherov to open the season, and Volkov would get an opportunity to show off next to two highly skilled players. Killorn, Johnson, and Gourde are also likely to spend time together in some combination. Erne and Conacher are both fighting for roster spots. Stephens and Walcott may not play together in the regular season, but will be in Syracuse together.
On the defensive side, McDonagh and Sergachev are a possible pairing to start the season and this would give the team an idea of if their chemistry works together. I’ve put Masin and Cernak together here as they are a possible top pairing for Syracuse this season. Girardi gives Salda a good veteran to team up with and learn from in this game.
On the goalie side, it’s also possible that Vasilevskiy only plays half the game or the first two periods with Ingram getting the rest of the game.
Tomorrow at Carolina Hurricanes
Like with Group A, Group B has one invitee in Flower and he is unlikely to play. Also keeping with the theme of getting some possible linemates together, I’ve done the same here. Palat and Point are likely to team up on the second line going into the season. But there is a possibility that Palat and Kucherov start off with Stamkos. Andreoff and Joseph, like Erne and Conacher in Group A, are both competing for spots on the bottom of the line-up. If they make the team and play, they likely would be on a fourth line with Paquette so getting them some chemistry is good.
Cirelli is pretty much guaranteed to make the NHL team, but Yan and Katchouk could be paired up in Syracuse. Likewise, Colton, Verhaeghe, and Somppi are likely to be somewhere in the bottom half of the Crunch lineup and could find themselves together. Interestingly, all three have played center in the past so you could jumble this line up however you want.
On the backend, Hedman and Foote have been playing together a lot during training camp ,which is invaluable experience for Foote. Especially considering that in a few years he could be Hedman’s partner in Tampa Bay. Koekkoek and Stralman are also a natural pairing and Coburn slides over to the right side as this group has four left-handed defensemen and plays with Crunch bound Labrie.
Domingue should get the start here, but like with the previous group, I wouldn’t be surprised if he only plays half of the game or the first two periods with Pasquale picking up the balance.
These are just my guesses written out Monday morning. Later this morning, we’ll know for sure what the Lightning plan to do when they have morning skate and we see who is out on the ice getting ready for the first pre-season game.