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Thoughts and observations on Tampa Bay Lightning bubble players so far in preseason

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We’re halfway through the 2019-2020 preseason, who has impressed so far?

NHL: Preseason-Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the Tampa Bay Lightning cutting another 13 players and waiving an additional three, the camp roster now stands at 33. There weren’t many surprises on the cut list, but some interesting ones of note. After watching the first four preseason games, I felt it was best to pen my thoughts on some players who I felt stood out from the rest (even if they were sent back to Syracuse or junior hockey). I won’t be commenting on the style of play the Lightning has displayed this preseason because it’s irrelevant in gauging how the team will play once the regular season opens on October 3rd.

The following thoughts will be centered around the players I felt stood out, in no particular order. Also, it will be strictly about the prospects/borderline roster players.

Mitchell Stephens

After struggling with injuries for a few years, Stephens appears to have found some form of health and it was noticeable on the ice for Tampa Bay. His forecheck was tenacious and the game didn’t look too fast for him. He generated chances for himself and his teammates while on the ice even though he only registered one point during the preseason. His play on the penalty kill was strong, which isn’t surprising, but always pleasant to see something like that backed up on the ice against NHL level talent.

It wasn’t surprising that Stephens was sent back to Syracuse, only because his only way onto the roster was to vastly outplay Cedric Paquette for the fourth line center role or one of the other players looking to secure a winger position. His cut isn’t indicative of his play. He was good for the Lightning but if he isn’t going to get consistent minutes with the big club, then having him in Syracuse to play a bigger role is the best place for him to be. Be ready to have him on your short list for any call ups if injuries hit the Lightning.

Alex Barre-Boulet

I’ll be blunt about Barre-Boulet—he didn’t look especially strong for most of this preseason. His speed and creativity is evident, but he generated little at 5v5 for Tampa Bay. Whether it was nerves or he just couldn’t find a groove is unclear, but sending Barre-Boulet back to Syracuse was the right move. This was just his second camp so it isn’t a death knell to his possible NHL career, but it’s clear he still has some growing to do. The biggest play of note that I have for Barre-Boulet is a defensive clearing attempt where he read a pass coming to the slot and intercepted it to neutralize a scoring chance for Carolina. Which leads to another big positive for him, he never stopped skating when on the ice. He might not have been as effective as we would’ve hoped, but he battled on every shift, so the effort is there. He just has to work on some of the finer points of his game. I’m not worried about him moving forward.

Taylor Raddysh

Raddysh was fine. He didn’t do anything especially jaw dropping, but he didn’t do anything to hurt himself either. I will say, his first period of the opening preseason game against Carolina was pretty terrible, but his second and third periods were some of his strongest. He’s a deceptively precise passer and his shot didn’t look out of place, but there were moments where it felt like he was a little lost on the ice. It was clear after his two preseason outings that he was better off playing a bigger role in Syracuse.

Gabriel Fortier

I really liked what I saw out of Fortier. He’s tenacious, aggressive, and showed a lot more quickness than I initially expected. He was fantastic on the penalty kill, which isn’t a surprise. He didn’t generate a lot of offense, but that should come in time at this level. I felt as though the team was mostly looking at how he would handle himself at this level of play, and he acquitted himself well, but cutting him was the right move. Keep an eye out for Fortier next camp.

Callan Foote

The elder Foote looked lost at times in the opening preseason game, but bounced back extremely well in his following appearances. In the opening game, he looked timid, almost as if he was unsure what to do. He was routinely out battled along the boards by Carolina forwards and struggled with their forecheck throughout the night. His next appearance though? Much better. This leads me to believe it was mostly nerves getting to him in the first game, because the Foote we saw for the second Carolina game and the overtime game against Nashville was far more confident in himself. His gap play was solid, he was reading plays well, and his passes were far more precise than before.

A lot is riding on Tampa Bay developing Foote properly moving forward. The team has not been especially adept at developing their own drafted defensive talent. I’m well aware there are some who want Foote to be thrust into the lineup as soon as possible, but there’s still some growing to do for the young defender. He played well after a rough first game. However, it’s clear the Lightning want Foote to get big minutes in Syracuse rather than bottom pairing time in Tampa Bay.

Nolan Foote

The younger Foote didn’t look too out of place in his two preseason outings. Strong on the puck, aggressive, and willing to shoot (five total shot attempts in two games). A few misreads here and there, but it never felt as though the moment was too big for him, which is good for someone as young as he is. He was never going to make the roster this year, but the Lightning wanted to gauge how he would react to this type of game. There isn’t as much worry with the younger Foote since the Lightning have consistently churned out NHL caliber forwards from all over the draft board (and even outside of it). He’ll will be one to keep an eye out for moving forward.

Alexander Volkov

Volkov looks taller than 6’1’’, especially when he’s skating. Maybe it’s because he has such long legs, but it’s like watching a gazelle run when he’s on the ice. As for his play, Volkov’s been as advertised—a legitimate NHL caliber player who is going to be one of the last cuts of the preseason. He’s been strong just about everywhere for Tampa Bay this preseason, but I still feel as though he will be sent back to Syracuse.

Not due to his inability to play, but because it’s probably best for him to play top line minutes in the AHL rather than fourth line minutes with Cedric Paquette. Volkov is best suited for a top six/nine role and it’s unclear if he is better than any of the nine best forwards on the roster. He’s clearly better than the bottom three, but that doesn’t mean he should make the roster and average 11-12 minutes a night—that does little for him. Give the young Russian a big role in Syracuse and keep him at the top of the call up list when an impact forward goes down.

Carter Verhaeghe

Verhaeghe had a similar start to Barre-Boulet to start the preseason—rough. However, like Callan Foote, he bounced back very well in his next outings. The speed and forechecking ability is apparent with Verhaeghe and it felt as though he got stronger in each game he was in.

This was especially apparent in the overtime loss to Nashville over the weekend where Verhaeghe registered two goals and was one of Tampa Bay’s best forwards of the night. If Volkov is sent back to Syracuse for my previously annotated reasons, then Verhaeghe should be one of the players to stick with the NHL roster. His style is more suited to a bottom six role and is versatile. He strikes me as a less chaotic version of Mathieu Joseph, but with more vision.

Gemel Smith

I love Smith’s style of play. The man doesn’t give a damn who’s on the ice, he’s going to harass them until he forces an errant pass or a turnover. Smith has NHL experience from his time with Dallas so to see him be effective isn’t surprising. It’s also another reason for Volkov to be sent back to the AHL. Smith already fits the mold for the bottom portion of the roster. He’s tenacious on the forecheck, solid defensively, and should mesh with Paquette’s fourth line rather well.

Boris Katchouk

I like the bite to Katchouk’s style, but he just wasn’t doing much in his games. He was fine on the forecheck, but he did seem a bit lost at moments. He doesn’t quit on a play though, which is good to see. He was penalized (weakly, I might add) for a trip while back-checking, but that’s a penalty I can live with. He was actively in the play and was a victim of poor officiating (apparently, the officials need a preseason too) in that instance.

Hopefully, Katchouk can find some more offensive consistency with another year in Syracuse, but he was always a longshot for a roster spot this season.

Danick Martel

I’ve been a fan of Martel since seeing his first game with Tampa Bay last season. It’s just unfortunate for him that the forward corps was so healthy last year (he only played in nine games). However, the Lightning kept him on the roster all season, clearly sending a message that they wanted him around. He’s quick, aggressive on the forecheck, and hasn’t really made any glaring mistakes. He hasn’t played himself out of a starting spot, but he’s got plenty of competition nipping at his heels this camp for that spot.

Ross Colton

For a player like Colton to go from a fringe prospect to what he’s displayed this preseason is impressive. Colton was lauded by the coaching staff for how much he has improved from last season. He’s clearly improved his skating, which has only amplified his ability to pressure opposing skaters with his forechecking ability. He’s got good vision and doesn’t tunnel in on one avenue with the puck. I’m excited to see what Colton can do with another year in Syracuse this season.