When the Tampa Bay Lightning repeated last season as Stanley Cup champions, most of the roster was intact from the year prior in 2019-20. The talent they had lost in the 2020 offseason included Kevin Shattenkirk, Carter Verhaeghe, Zach Bogosian, Cedric Paquette, and Braydon Coburn. While they lost contributors from that first Cup victory, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois got to work and filled the voids left behind from those who departed.
One player who benefited from all of those players leaving was forward Ross Colton. Tampa drafted the 25-year-old in the fourth round (118th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. He had spent his fair share of time in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch growing his game in order to finally make a splash in the NHL. He amassed the following regular-season totals while in the AHL:
- 2018-19: 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points in 66 games
- 2019-20: 11 goals and 31 assists for 42 points in 62 games
- 2020-21: 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points in 3 games
On top of that, he scored a goal in four postseason contests in 2019 with the Crunch.
In 2020-21, Colton finally got his call to the NHL. In 30 regular-season matchups, he posted nine goals and three assists. As a solid talent who added further depth to the already-stacked forward core, he notched four goals and two assists for six points in 23 playoff games.
As a result of his work and the rest of the Lightning’s roster, the club won their second straight Cup championship. Colton, like certain other players in the league over their histories, such as Jaromir Jagr with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and Tyler Seguin with the Boston Bruins in 2011, won the Cup in his first season. Yes, he had a lot of skilled teammates that played large roles like forward Brayden Point and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, but Lightning head coach Jon Cooper trusted Colton enough to have him suit up and play a part in trying to repeat as champions. The Bolts are one of the deepest organizations in the sport, so they could have found someone else to take up his roster spot. Colton earned the opportunities he was given in the NHL as a rookie, and he was able to help the team achieve success as a result.
Heading into his second campaign, though, what is the expectation for Colton? How much of an improvement could the team and fans see out of him for 2021-22? In order to determine the progress, the lineup landscape needs to be discussed and where Colton fits within it. To do that, there are three players missing from Tampa today that play a factor with this.
There Is Room for a Bigger Role for Colton on Tampa
One of the significant losses for the Lightning during the 2021 offseason was the line that consisted of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow, and Blake Coleman. Gourde was selected by new NHL team, the Seattle Kraken, in their expansion draft. Coleman went to the Calgary Flames as a free agent, and the Lightning dealt Goodrow to the New York Rangers. BriseBois had tough decisions to make in the summer, and there were going to be skilled players who were going to find themselves elsewhere as a result. When looking at the 2020-21 regular-season stats, it is not easy to replace these kinds of players:
- Gourde: 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points in 56 games
- Coleman: 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points in 55 games
- Goodrow: 6 goals and 14 assists for 20 points in 55 games
Colton can potentially step up and produce to the same level as any of these players who left from this line. He has solid hands with puck possession and has shown he can deke out opposing talents, including a game-winning goal he scored last season versus the Chicago Blackhawks on March 18th (the Bolts won 4-2). His speed also isn’t too shabby either. Taking his production from last season in the 30-game span, Colton would have been on pace to finish with 24 goals and 32 points in a full 82-game schedule. If he can continue to grow in production, this can lighten the blow and fill the void of losing players like Gourde, Coleman, or Goodrow.
The Lightning always have had room for more talent to step up to the plate. When players like captain Steven Stamkos and top defender Victor Hedman were running the show for a few seasons, other skilled assets were brought in to shine in Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat of the Triplets Line. After them, it was other players such as Gourde and Point. Colton is the latest name to join and just fill in perfectly within the rest of the squad. He has the skill to become another player to skate in and make more of a name for himself. He already has done significant work. Scoring the lone goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the Cup Final game that clinched the championship for Tampa did that for him. Now, he can build on his successes even further in 2021-22.
Looking at Colton’s First Game in the 2021-22 Season
The Lightning opened this season for the league when they hosted the Penguins at Amalie Arena. Opening night did not go as the team planned, as Pittsburgh claimed victory over them with a final score of 6-2. Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn had the two goals for Tampa, and Vasilevskiy made 29 saves on 32 shots in the loss.
During the game, Colton was on a line with fellow forwards Mathieu Joseph and Pat Maroon. He went pointless but had two shots on goal, three hits, one blocked shot, and accumulated a little more than 11 minutes of ice time. It was smart on Cooper’s part to put this trio back together. They had their share of an impact last season, and having someone on the ice as a teammate in a veteran like Maroon will continually benefit players like both Colton and Joseph. It’ll be interesting if Cooper keeps them all together, and if so, for how long.
This season will be the next test in how much improvement the team sees from Colton. He has not hit his prime yet at age 25, and he has the chance to gain a bigger role with the club and rack up some more production based on players who have left and his continual growth.
I have been a hockey fan for most of my life, and have played the game myself for more than six years. I graduated from the State University of New York at Oswego in 2018, with a bachelor’s in Broadcasting & Mass Communication. Previous positions held include being a Sports Analyst for Oswego’s student-run TV station, WTOP-10; News/Sports Intern for WIVB-TV Channel 4; and Sports Beat Writer Intern for Pro Player Insiders.