Up Front – It’s now the Steven Stamkos and Martin St.Louis show in Tampa. Stamkos has proven himself to be an elite NHL goal scorer – right up there with Alex Ovechkin as the top goal-scorer in the league. St. Louis is ageless and continues to defy the odds just when you thought he couldn’t at age 37. Don’t be surprised if GM Steve Yzerman decides to take his star forwards to Sochi for the Olympic Games. It’ll be strange seeing the Lightning without longtime face of the franchise Vincent Lecavalier, and Valtteri Filppula doesn’t appear to be an equal replacement for Lecavalier offensively.
Teddy Purcell will have plenty of ice time and counted on to continue producing in the 50-60 point range.
On D – Victor Hedman is the big guy on the blueline for the Lightning nowadays. He teams up with Matt Carle to form the top unit that can stick with the other team’s top lines and contribute to the offensive. The Lightning are thin on defense as usual and will feature two rookies on the back end in Mark Barberio and Andrew Sustr. Barberio played for AHL Norfolk the last two seasons and was a star at the AHL level, he’s not very big though and it’s not certain that his game will translate to the NHL level.
In Net – Anders Lindback came over from Nashville last season and was just average. So Yzerman went out and signed Ben Bishop from Ottawa. Lindback wasn’t the answer, but Bishop could be. He’s a big goalie at 6’6 and takes up a lot of net. Reminds some of former Lightning netminder Mike Smith.
Rookies – Barberio and Sustr will see time on defense. Sustr is another enormous prospect physically at 6’7 and the Lightning have high hopes that he can give them another hulking young defender to finally give the team an edge on defense. Alex Killorn is a forward to keep an eye on. The former Harvard standout showed glimpses of an offensive dynamo last season in his limited time with the big club. Brett Connolly had a bad season two years ago, but has progressed since and could become a top-two line NHLer and power-play option this year.
Overall – The Lightning look like the Lightning, strong on offense, weak on defense and uncertain in net. That being said, if things work out they can be a playoff team. Not many teams can say they have the league’s leading scorer and arguably best goal-scorer on their roster, but the Lightning have been a top 10 team offensively the past three years. If Bishop has an above average season in net the Lightning could finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference standings, but don’t bet the house on it.