In order for an NHL franchise to win 62 games like the Tampa Bay Lightning did during the 2018-19 regular season, every aspect of the team has to find success on the ice. From top-line forwards setting scoring records to fourth line players chipping in key hits and timely goals, the Lightning experienced this throughout their record-breaking run.
However, heading into the 2019-20 season Tampa Bay’s fourth line will see some serious turnover. With the announcement of Ryan Callahan no longer being able to play hockey due to health reasons, and the trade of J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks along with Adam Erne to the Detroit Red Wings, all that remains of the Lightning’s 2018-19 fourth line is Cedric Paquette.
With a number of talented AHL forwards looking to break into the NHL along with young grinders ready for a starting role, what will the Lightning’s fourth line look like at the start of the 2019-20 season?
Paquette Will Retain His Starting Role
Despite all of the potential changes on the Lightning’s opening night roster, one can guarantee that Paquette is safe in his fourth-line starting role. This is for good reason after all, as he had one of his best NHL seasons in 2018-19.
After struggling with injuries for the better part of two seasons, Paquette stayed healthy in 2018-19, allowing him to return to the form that earned him the nickname “dump truck.” He hit everything that moved on the ice, registering 269 hits, good for sixth overall in the league, while only playing 12 minutes each night.
Along with bringing a needed physical presence to the Lightning’s line-up, Paquette also scored 13 goals and 17 points, which are decent scoring totals given his playing time.
Barring an injury, Paquette should continue this success in the 2019-20 season. Even if he isn’t always the flashiest player, he still brings an important physical element that the Lightning need on their roster.
Which Wingers Will Flank Lightning’s Fourth Line?
With Paquette all but set in his role, the next question becomes, who will start on his wings? While the Lightning have a number of good options to fill in their roster, the first player to start will likely be Danick Martel.
After the Lightning carried Martel on their roster as a healthy scratch for most of the 2018-19 season, it would be a wasted opportunity if he didn’t get a chance to show that he’s worth all that time the franchise invested. While he has yet to show that he is a guaranteed NHL starter, he has the build and play style to become a thorn in the side of the league.
Along with Martel, Tampa Bay signed veteran Pat Maroon to bring a physical presence to the Lightning’s bottom six. While he could find himself starting on the third line in order to give Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph some needed size, he is likely to play on the fourth line this season.
If Martel is not able to establish himself on the Lightning’s fourth line, the team has a number of youth players who could be viable starting options. If Tampa Bay wants to add a scoring element to their fourth line, they could call upon Carter Verhaeghe or Alex Barre-Boulet, who were two of the top scorers in the AHL in 2018-19.
If the Lightning instead chose to reward a hardworking player who seems ready to take on the NHL, they could turn to either Mitchell Stephens or Alex Volkov. While neither player has the scoring acumen of Barre-Boulet or Verhaeghe, they have a heavier play style that could be right at home alongside Martel and Paquette.
Who Starts on the Lightning’s Fourth Line?
Given what we know, the Lightning’s starting fourth line will likely feature Paquette as the center, flanked by Maroon and Volkov. This would give the team a more traditional line that could use their size and strength to assert themselves over any opponent.
However, if the Lightning are concerned about losing Verhaeghe to waivers, he could be given the starting role to start off the season. This would allow the team to stash Volkov and Stephens in the AHL until they need a mid-season call-up.
While the Lightning’s fourth line may have experienced a lot of turnover in the 2019 offseason, the potential is there for it to be even better than its 2018-19 counterpart. This unit has the talent and physicality to become the bane of the NHL, which would give the team one more needed element to get over their playoff hump.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.