The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a one-year contract after he was bought out by the New York Rangers. It was a good buy-low deal for the Lightning to add a defenseman with his pedigree at a cheap price. Injuries hampered him in his two seasons with the New York Rangers. The Lightning are certainly hoping for a bounce back season from Shattenkirk at even strength, but could also utilize him on the power play in creative ways.
That signing was followed up by the addition of Pat Maroon to the roster on a one-year contract. Maroon is coming off of a Stanley Cup championship with the St. Louis Blues. While many will write him off as just a fourth line grinder, Maroon has been a minor contributor on the power play over the past few seasons. At 6’3” and 225 pounds, he could be well suited for a net front position on the power play.
So it begs the question of how the Lightning could utilize these two new additions with the players that have already established themselves for the Lightning on the power play. Before we dive into how they could be used, we should review the two power play units as they were through most of last season.
Steven Stamkos - Brayden Point- Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Miller/Ondrej Palat
The Lightning have been using one defenseman and four forwards on their first power play unit for most of the time that Jon Cooper has been the head coach. The Lightning have put their three best forwards with their best defenseman for the first unit. The fifth spot has generally been filled with a player with a bit more size that is good at board battles and is a better passer.
Hedman at the point presents a dual threat of shooting and passing. Hedman certainly has the shot to make it through screens and beat a goaltender even from long range. He’s also a sure passer to be able to move the puck to the wings for Stamkos or Kucherov.
Stamkos and Kucherov are the two most dangerous shooters the Lightning possess. They’re both capable of one-timers that have the accuracy to consistently beat goalies even when the goalie knows what’s coming next. Even when they aren’t taking one-timers, they both possess high end wrist shots. Combine that with the ability to pass to other options, with Kucherov being better in that area, and they can also keep a penalty kill guessing.
Point is a perfect slot player for the Lightning. His one-timer is neither as hard or as accurate as Stamkos and Kucherov’s, but he can get it off quickly enough. Being a right handed player, he is also in a better position to receive a pass for a one-timer from Kucherov. Since Kucherov more often controls the puck from the half wall than Stamkos, it’s much more advantageous having a right hander here.
The down low player position was most often Miller or Palat throughout last season. Alex Killorn also filled into that position. All three have similarities in that they have size and the ability to battle on the boards. This position gives an outlet pass for Kucherov if the other lanes are being blocked. They also are responsible for retrieving pucks behind the net, as well as supporting Kucherov or Stamkos if they are pressured with the puck. The down low player can also rotate to the front of the net and produce a screen or get to rebounds for a Hedman or Point shot from the up the middle.
Tyler Johnson - Yanni Gourde - Ondrej Palat
This unit sets up similarly to the first unit, but does things a little different. Johnson and Gourde both possess good shots, but they are better at using a wrist shot than a one-timer like Stamkos and Kucherov. They’re also well suited for crashing the net and creating chaos at the front. Palat can distribute the puck, and Killorn serves a similar role to what the down low player on the first unit does.
Sergachev possesses high end puck skills as we’ve often seen him deke around defenders that are pressuring him at the point. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but more often than not, he makes the defender look stupid. He has a big shot from the point like Hedman and can get it through traffic. He also has the vision to find the seams to get pucks through to the forwards.
How can Shattenkirk be utilized?
There’s not as clear of a path forward for Shattenkirk to be used on the power play. In a vacuum, the most logical spot for him is at the point of the first power play. He possesses both the shot and the passing skills to be a dual threat like Hedman. As a right hander, he’s also in a better position to feed Stamkos for one-timers. He would still have the same challenges as Hedman though since he also needs to feed one-timer passes to his off-side to Kucherov.
Hedman is also entrenched on the first power play unit, so it seems doubtful that he’ll be bumped from the power play. It’s possible that Shattenkirk could spell him at times if Hedman is slumping or if the team really wants to get Stamkos going. Or if there’s something in the analysis of the opponent’s penalty kill that might suggest Stamkos will have better one-timer opportunities than Kucherov.
Likewise with the second power play, Sergachev has earned his spot there. However, he did struggle last season as did most of the second unit. Shattenkirk could offer a different look here. But what he could also do is give the coaching staff enough of an incentive to run with two defensemen on the second unit, especially if the game is close and they want to avoid a potential short handed goal. It could also allow Sergachev to play a role more like a forward that lets him get down lower and really put all of his puck handling skills on display while Shattenkirk remains at the point to distribute the puck. I think this might be the most likely scenario.
One impediment to this is that it could mean bumping a forward that has gotten ample power play time in the past off of the power play all together. With J.T. Miller being traded to the Vancouver Canucks earlier this summer, it has opened up one spot. If Palat or Killorn moved up to the first unit for the down low spot, then Shattenkirk could easily slide in as the replacement player. Unless...
How can Maroon be utilized?
As mentioned, Miller is no longer with the team which opens up a spot for a forward on the first unit down low. Palat was the second most used player in that position last year with Killorn occasionally filling in. Either one can fulfill that role and have done well enough there in the past.
But Maroon seems like a player that would be an option to consider. He has the size to work down low and win pucks and has good enough hands to work in that spot. Other than the parts of three seasons he spent with the Edmonton Oilers, he’s always scored more assists than goals. In his four and half seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, he scored 53 assists to 26 goals. Since leaving Edmonton, he’s recorded 28 assists to 13 goals. On the power play, he’s recorded 30 of his 118 career assists. But has only scored 13 of his 88 career goals on the power play.
His size though begs for him to be used as a screen in front of the net. He’s 6’3” and 225 pounds. However, over the past few seasons, the Lightning have rarely utilized such a net front presence. The only time I can remember this specifically was the use of Brian Boyle during the 2016-17 season while Stamkos was recovering from his torn meniscus.
The most power play points he’s scored in a second is 13 in 2018-19 with two goals and nine assists; the nine assists also being a career high. He hasn’t produced power play points at a high level, but that could change if given the opportunity with the Lightning. The other consideration is that even Miller, Palat, and Killorn did not rack up many points on the first unit since the puck mostly moves through Hedman, Kucherov, Point, and Stamkos.
His style of play could be a better fit for the second unit. That unit’s strategy has been more about getting the puck to the front of the net, creating rebounds, and generally outworking the penalty kill. They like to cause havoc with their play, rather than the precise passing and puck movement of the first unit.
There’s definitely some interesting scenarios here to make use of these new pieces. If both make it onto the power play regularly, then it means that a player that has been a regular the past couple seasons could find themselves no longer on the power play. That could be Palat or Gourde or Killorn, each of which has earned their position there.
But this is a new year with a slightly different team. There will be ample time during training camp and the pre-season for Jon Cooper and his staff to experiment and figure out what works. If something isn’t working early in the season, they can also re-work the units until they find what works.
Alternatively, an injury here or there could completely change the calculus of the power play that allows both in seamlessly. It will be an interesting challenge to watch unfold over the next month as we get closer to opening night.