The good news for Cal Foote’s 2020-21 season is that he made his NHL debut and his name will appear (joining his dad’s) on the Stanley Cup. He also scored his first NHL goal as well.
Cal Foote's first career goal is a gorgeous clapper. pic.twitter.com/DebjjsLcdP— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) January 31, 2021
Other than that it was a bit of a mixed bag for the rookie. There were some good moments and some bad. A late season re-assignment to Syracuse for cap and confidence purposes dulled the shine a little bit, but any season that ends with you skating the Stanley Cup around on the ice is a good one.
After re-signing Foote to a two-year extension in the offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning expected him to be in contention for the sixth and final spot on the defense, likely paired with Mikhail Sergachev on the third line. Unfortunately, the young blueliner injured a tendon in his hand that required surgery. He’ll miss all of training camp and the first couple weeks of the regular season.
That’s a relatively big setback for him as he looks to earn a permanent spot in the Lightning’s line-up. He’s missing the reps needed to get in shape for the season as well as the opportunity to show the coaching staff he has improved over last season. When he is healthy and ready to rejoin the team, he’ll be battling a veteran in Zach Bogosian for those minutes.
Foote will be entering his fourth professional season in 2021-22 and we’re seeing the basic foundation of the type of player he is going to be. He’s a solid blueliner that has good instincts in both zones, remains calm under pressure, provides excellent breakout passes, and has a heavier-than-expected shot.
He still needs to work on his skating. It takes him a little while to get to top speed and his footwork in the defensive zone isn’t the swiftest. At 6’4”, 227 lbs. he should be a little stronger on the puck, especially in his own zone. Other than that, experience at the NHL level is going to be the biggest asset in helping his skills mature.
So far, his Lightning career has mirrored his Syracuse career. In his first season with the Crunch, Foote started off slowly. It appeared that he was playing not to make mistakes and didn’t play up to his full potential early on. As the season progressed, he started playing with more confidence and the results showed. There were signs of that in his first season with the Lightning as well. While he was an occasional healthy scratch, he did play fairly regularly throughout the season.
Unfortunately, on a Stanley Cup contending team there isn’t a lot of lee way for a player to learn his trade on the fly. At the deadline, the Lightning picked up David Savard to play on the right side and that pretty much signaled the end of Foote’s season. He only appeared in one game for the Lightning after that (with Savard out injured) as the Bolts went with Luke Schenn and Savard on the right side.
It was an okay debut for Foote. He showed signs of being able to excel in the NHL and now just has to work on the consistency. As fans we have to remember that he is only 22-years-old, with only 185 games of professional experience (150 for the Crunch, 35 for the Lightning). He is not a finished product yet and is still on a path that ends with him as a top-four defenseman in the NHL.
On a side note, the Lightning would like to see him succeed to show that they can develop defenseman through the system. For as well as they churn out forwards that can make an impact at the NHL level, the blueline has been a bit of a developmental hole for them. Erik Cernak is really the only young player that has made it through the system while the list of defenders that didn’t make it seemingly keeps growing: Ben Thomas, Dominik Masin, Slater Koekkoek, Matt Spencer, Tony DeAngelo, etc.
With a lot of young defenders dotting this Top 25 list (four including Foote) and a few more in the system like Alex Green, Dmitri Semykin, and Max Crozier, they need to be able to turn these prospects into pros. The top heavy salary cap only works when a team is able to fill the holes in with NHL-ready, low-cost players. If Foote can play at an above-replacement level pace for the next few seasons, it makes Julien BriseBois’ job a lot easier.