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Lightning Round: Friday Ponderings

How tough will the Atlantic be this season? Big seasons from Stamkos and Kucherov?

2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays are winning again (six in a row), Tom Brady is back in training camp for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and we only have five hockey-less Fridays left in the summer. Sure, that first Friday game is a preseason tilt against the Nashville Predators, but on September 30th we’ll have Tampa Bay Lightning back on the T.V., or the Bally’s Sports App, or the radio, or the laptop through a questionably legal streaming site.

This is the part of the summer where we start seeing the players trickle back into town and clips of them working out start popping up. Based on his Instagram, Mikhail Sergachev is in town working out, shooting hoops and checking out museums (might want to tighten those laces, Sergy, we don’t need you to roll an ankle on the court). Next month we’ll get training camp and exhibitions and the next thing you know the 2022-23 NHL season will be under way. Hockey thoughts are starting to wander back into my brain.

  • The Top 25 Under 25. We’ll start revealing the list on Monday, but as I finalize things I was struck at how similar the rankings between the writers and the readers were. Not to spoil anything but the top three players were the same (and in the same order), the top ten of both lists were comprised of the same players (albeit in slightly different order), and there were only a handful of players that didn’t appear on both lists. I’m not sure if that speaks to the lack of depth in the system or the fact that we all just think alike.
  • What kind of season can we expect from Steven Stamkos this year? He was absolutely phenomenal last year, posting 106 points (42 goals, 64 assists) and, most importantly, appearing in 81 games. He was healthy and lethal for a team that needed his consistency all year long as some of his other teammates were out with injuries. With another off-season void of surgical rehab, hopefully he is healthy and able to put up similar numbers in his age-32 season.
  • Speaking of injuries, will we see a full season out of Nikita Kucherov, and if we do, what kind of season will it be? In one of those quirky stats that we’re hopefully not likely to see again in the future Kucherov has played 47 regular season games over the last two seasons (with 69 points), but 46 playoff games (59 points) over that same span. In the 47 games he played in last season he did post the second highest points-per-game ration of his career at 1.47 (just behind the 1.56 he posted in his MVP year of 2018-19). If he plays at that pace in 2022-23, and stays healthy, he could have another 120 point season. Fun!
  • Which rookies are going to make an impact this year? There are some spots to fill on the roster. Can Cole Koepke or Gabriel Fortier grab them and become regulars? There was a similar opportunity last season with Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh and while they had their moments, it wasn’t enough to keep them around. The Lightning need some young players to step up and fill minutes productively if they are going to keep pace in the Atlantic Division.
  • As for the division, it feels like the Big Three (Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Florida) should still be the favorites, but some of the teams that have struggled over recent seasons might be a little frisky. Regardless of what you think of the Ben Chariot signing, the Detroit Red Wings had a solid off-season and are littered with young talent. If they get decent goaltending they should see a drastic improvement in their record. The same goes for the Ottawa Senators. Adding two-time 40-goal guy Alex DeBrincat to their already impressive roster of young players will make them fun to watch (as long as they aren’t playing the Lightning).

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