Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-18 early line predictions: a step further
It’s never too early to start!
Our reader BoltFever21 wrote a lineup prediction for the 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning. If you want to read his check it out here. I want to take the lineup a step further and look at specific roles and how to best optimize each one.
Putting together a team is more than just establishing 4 lines and 3 pairs. It’s about giving players match-ups and zone starts that let them excel.
Players up the middle
Steven Stamkos is Steven Stamkos, #1 center, no questions there. Tyler Johnson took the most face-offs per game among all Lightning skaters, and he’ll be relied on heavily. Valtteri Filppula was very valuable for the Bolts throughout his tenure, but is no longer on the team. Brayden Point is the most likely replacement for the 3rd line center position. After a breakout stint at center with the Lightning, 21-year-old Brayden Point should be ready to be in the NHL full time and hopefully will be able to take on more responsibility.
What about the fourth line? Currently it’s down to a training camp fight between Yanni Gourde, Cedric Paquette, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Gabriel Dumont. All four played in more than 10 games and took more than 6 face-offs a game. I wanted to include players like Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens in this depth chart but both players would likely need to be sheltered, meaning tougher minutes for Brayden Point. I don’t think Brayden is ready for that jump in play yet.
Both Paquette and Dumont have shown the ability to play 4C, so they’re my front runners for fourth-line center. Namestnikov’s skill will be needed higher in the lineup on the wing. Gourde had a great AHL season last year, so in order to build on that I think he should start on the wing. Between Paquette and Dumont, Cedric is clearly the more skilled and NHL ready so he wins the fourth-line center position. If you look at their numbers head to head in face-offs alone Dumont has a better winning percentage but on average Paquette takes more per game and has a lot more experience at it. Let’s write in the progress we have so far:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
On the left side, we have Ondrej Palat, Chris Kunitz, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov, Yanni Gourde, and maybe Adam Erne who have a shot at the opening night roster.
The right side is a little less crowded with Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Callahan, J.T. Brown, and Eric Condra.
The left side is much deeper than the right, so in order to balance out the lines I took Namestnikov, who has a very good shot, and flipped him to the right side. He will most likely play with a right-shooting center like Johnson or Point to help balance out the handedness of the line.
With this list in hand, I tried my best to match the wingers with the centers that will play a role that the winger can thrive in.
Putting the pieces together
Let’s start off with the first line because it’s going to be the most obvious: Steven Stamkos centering Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. I love this line for many reasons: first, you have the incredible play making ability of both Stamkos and Kucherov with the simple play of Palat. Palat protects the line from letting the opponent get too much zone time and can cover for any defenseman that jumps in the rush (Heddy I’m looking at you).
I’m going to skip the second line for now because I want to talk about Brayden Point for a second. Third lines nowadays aren’t your normal checking lines, they tend to be the hard match-up line or a sheltered line. I don’t see Point going up against Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, or Connor McDavid (not yet, at least). I want to see him getting sheltered minutes against lesser competition all season so he can rack up the “Points” for the Bolts.
That means Points’ line mates should be players that also benefit from lesser competition. I chose Yanni Gourde and Ryan Callahan. Now, you’re probably thinking “RYAN CALLAHAN!? What’s he doing on a kid line??” My thinking is that both Gourde and Point are relatively inexperienced in the NHL and probably need a babysitter to help reduce their number of defensive errors.
Callahan is a great mentor and someone who can keep his line mates focused on a 200-foot game. Also, let’s not forget that Callahan’s production has dropped significantly from his 54-point year three seasons ago due to injury, and I think playing with some bright, young, exciting players can rejuvenate his game a little bit.
Back to the second line, Tyler Johnson might be the most competent face-off man the Bolts have, so he might end up getting the majority of the defensive zone starts late in games. This means that his line won’t be able to be the same secondary scoring line like they were in the past—that role might shift to the Point line. Therefore, I gave him Alex Killorn and Valddy Namestnikov, two players that can keep up with Johnson as well as be competent enough to play against the opponents’ top six. I don’t expect this line to have 100% defensive zone starts but they should be able to take on responsibility.
On to the fourth line. I’ve been harping for a long time for teams to make their bottom group into more than a bunch of bruisers. Tampa Bay has the ability to make a fourth line that can go up against top competition and be successful at it. Cedric Paquette in the 2015 playoffs showed that he can shut down the best line in the league at the time: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Paquette’s line (with J.T. Brown and Brian Boyle) were able to keep the two superstars to a combined 2 goals and 4 assists in the 6 games of the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals.
I’m going to stick with what worked and keep J.T. Brown on Paquette’s right side, and on the left, newly signed winger Chris Kunitz. I expect this line to be fast and energetic in the offensive zone and tough to score against in the defensive zone. Let’s hope Paquette’s up to the task, he has some good wingers with him so that should definitely help him.
Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Eric Condra to be able to fit him with a line so he’s going to be my thirteenth forward (and current Syracuse Crunch captain, so we know where he fits in with the AHL). Condra’s health to start the season is also in question due to offseason back surgery. Gabriel Dumont or Adam Erne who both spent time with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season are possible picks for the thirteenth forward. Depending on how well certain role-players do this coming season, Condra, Dumont, or Erne might be able to win the fourth-line right wing position.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Ondrej Palat||Steven Stamkos||Nikita Kucherov|
|Alex Killorn||Tyler Johnson||Vlad Namestnikov|
|Yanni Gourde||Brayden Point||Ryan Callahan|
|Chris Kunitz||Cedric Paquette||JT Brown|
To begin, I sorted the Lightning’s defensemen into their handedness. As far as I know none of the defensemen in this group play predominantly on their weak-hand side.
Left side: Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn, Slater Koekkoek, Mikhail Sergachev
Right side: Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, Andrej Sustr, Jake Dotchin
Best on best
The defense pairings are a little bit trickier to get a good definition for because each coach uses them differently. Usually, teams have a top pair that plays the most, goes up against the top competition, and gets a good chunk of both special teams. That is clearly Victor Hedman. But we need someone else who can also fit that job really well because Hedman needs a partner.
Last year, Hedman split time with Anton Stralman and Jake Dotchin. For a team that was not in a playoff spot, and that had a boatload of injuries, it was a great opportunity to see what a young defenseman like Jake Dotchin could do at the NHL level. However, this season the Lightning are expecting to go on a deep Cup run, so I think they should protect Dotchin a little bit and give that first pair role to someone who has made a living doing it. That player is Anton Stralman.
The Shutdown Pair
Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi will be given a lot of tough assignments and none of the offensive zone starts. Ideally, I would like to have Girardi in the pressbox and put someone a little more dymanic with Coburn that can help push the play forward, but this is the card we’ve been dealt. During 5v5 play this pair will be asked to play against tougher competition in order to let the third pair (who I will get to) be a little more sheltered.
New Kids on the Block
The third pairing going into this season is centered around the three young defensemen the Lightning have: Slater Koekkoek, Mikhail Sergachev, and Jake Dotchin. I expect Dotchin to be the first choice for the right side of this pairing for a full season and it’s on him if he loses it. As for the left side, I would like to see Sergachev and Koekkoek to splitting time at that position. Both play similar styles so they can be a safety net for each other. Another benefit for splitting games is that Sergachev won’t play 41 games, meaning the Lightning will be able to keep the second round pick they recieved from Montreal. A win-win.
And voila, here are the defense pairings:
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Victor Hedman||Anton Stralman|
|Braydon Coburn||Dan Girardi|
|Mikhail Sergachev||Jake Dotchin|
|Slater Koekkoek||Andrej Sustr|
Andrei Vasilevskiy will be the starting goalie and Peter Budaj will back him up. I think that’s pretty obvious.
There you have it, my fully fleshed out plan for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s opening night roster.
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Vlad Namestnikov
Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Ryan Callahan
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - JT Brown
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi
Mikhail Sergachev - Jake Dotchin
What do you think? Did I miss anything? What would you do? Let me know in the comments!