The Tampa Bay Lightning fans may feel like their current team is a far cry from the Stanley Cup winning club of 2003-2004, but in reality the club may be closer to another cup run than many think. The true question is: can their coaching and veterans lead their highly skilled, and highly offensive prospects down the right road; the road that will bring the most recognizable trophy in sports back to Tampa?
Although the Tampa Bay Lightning may have lost their captain Vincent Lecavalier, they have a ton of veterans on their roster who can fill that void this coming season and beyond. Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, BJ Crombeen, and Nate Thompson all have at least 5 rugged years in the NHL under their belts, with St. Louis being a team leader for the past decade and Stamkos rising to the top of almost every scoring category since his debut in 2008 (as shown in the HockeyDB stat sheet below). This gives the Bolts amazing leadership for their young gun prospects up front, and gives hope to their questionable defense at this point. That is, if they play a full 200 feet and implement a very aggressive backchecking style.
|2008-09||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||79||23||23||46||39||-13||—||—||—||—||—|
|2009-10||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||82||51||44||95||38||-2||—||—||—||—||—|
|2010-11||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||82||45||46||91||74||3||18||6||7||13||6|
|2011-12||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||82||60||37||97||66||7||—||—||—||—||—|
|2012-13||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||48||29||28||57||32||-4||—||—||—||—||—|
When you mix in the likes of NHL veteran blue-liners Sami Salo, Mattias Ohlund, Matt Carle, and Eric Brewer you can begin to see the Lightning at the end of the tunnel. While this core of d-men may not be the final answer, they will give invaluable advise and guidance to the younger defensemen such as Victor Hedman, Radko Gudas, and Mark Barberio. This could very well be the reason the Bolts organization chose to ignore top defensive prospects in the year’s draft, and it will hopefully lead to an unwavering team defense for years to come.
Prospects Look Eager to Prove
When you look into the crystal ball at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s future you can see a plethora of talent bursting at the seams, and ready to take on all the NHL has to offer. With many players getting a taste of the show last season, the young gun prospects of the Lightning are hungry to show they have lots left to give night in and night out. Look for Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, and Pierre-Cedric Labrie to lead the rest of the rookies and prospects down a long road of success under the previously mentioned guidance of Tampa’s current veteran leadership.
Here’s the most exciting part of the Lightning’s future; the part that can make or break their Stanley Cup hopes for years to come: The previous (and current) year’s draft picks and rookie signings. As shown below in Tampa prospects Adam Erne’s Tweet, these up-and-comers are excited to play for such a quality organization, and are looking forward to proving themselves to the club and the league.
What an exciting day, really happy to have played my first game in a Lightning jersey! #Bolts ⚡
— Adam Erne (@Adamerne73) September 6, 2013
Adam Erne is one of the top prospects for the club moving forward, and may have a large impact on the ice as early as the 2013-2014 season. He has proved himself to be everything the Tampa Bay Lightning had hoped for to this point, leading most rookie categories through the Prospects Camp and the Prospects Tournament held in Coral Springs, FL last week. He was joined at the tournament by fellow Bolts rookies JT Brown (who just signed a 2-year, 2-way deal with the club) and Nikita Kucherov (the 58th overall draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft), both who have shown they are ready to make the jump to the show when called upon.
JT Brown, Nikita Kucherov, and of Course Jonathan Drouin
JT Brown went undrafted after being an instrumental part of the resurgence of the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs of the NCHC (formerly the WCHA), but as we all know the Lightning have capitalized on this in the past with such players as Martin St. Louis and recently traded Cory Conacher. His passion for the game is shown in his play (and in his Tweet below) and this makes JT Brown a player to keep your eye on.
— JT Brown (@JTBrown23) September 8, 2013
Nikita Kucherov is creating quite the buzz this summer, and as training camp opened he may even be grabbing more attention than Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning’s first pick of this year’s draft (at #3 overall). Nikita Kucherov wow-ed the coaching staff and fans who attended the Prospects camp with his electric style of play, quick feet, and amazing shot release, all of which continued to give him success at the Prospects Tournament. He led the entire tournament in scoring with 7 points (4 goals and 3 assists) in just 3 games. If that doesn’t get you excited you need to check your pulse.
Jonathan Drouin is obviously the overall most anticipated prospect coming in to camp this week, and so far he has not disappointed anyone. Although he has been seen dabbling at Center, which isn’t his primary position, he has continued to make plays and find chemistry with Nikita Kucherov which is a great sign of things to come. Many see him playing along side Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos this year which could spell success for the Bolts if Drouin can continue to make key plays in all areas of the ice as he did along side Nathan McKinnon (this year’s #1 overall draft pick) in Halifax.
The Lightning ARE Playoff Contenders
Given their place in the newly renovated and highly upgraded Atlantic Division, mixed with a boat load of untested young talent and questionable back-end resources, many people in the hockey world have already written off the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. However if their prospects listen to the leadership provided by the veterans and the dynamic new coaching staff, this team could see success and a playoff birth this year. If they learn from their mistakes early on and stay focused for the long road ahead; the Tampa Bay Lightning could be setting themselves up for another Stanley Cup run a lot sooner than many think, and they could become a team to be reckoned with for many years to come.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.