Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Hockey's back: Story lines to watch as Lightning opens camp

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TAMPA — Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev knows there will be plenty of eyes on him during training camp, which opens Thursday at Amalie Arena.

Sergachev, 19, the touted prospect acquired from Montreal in the Jonathan Drouin trade, will be given every chance to make the Lightning roster.

And Sergachev — who dropped 10 pounds this summer in an effort to be quicker — is determined to start the season in the NHL. Otherwise, he goes back to juniors another year.

"I think I'm at that level that I can make the team and play my game at the NHL level," Sergachev said. "For me, going back to juniors is not even an option."

GM Steve Yzerman said Sergachev will have to earn it, noting he doesn't want the rookie to play just 7-8 minutes a game. With a glut of eight NHL defensemen, Sergachev will have a lot of competition. Yzerman said Sergachev showed well at last weekend's rookie scrimmages in Nashville (goal, two assists in two games) and just has to play his game.

"We're in no rush to have to (make a decision)," Yzerman said. "It's as simple as showing you're ready to play and as a defenseman you can handle the defensive responsibilities."

Here are some other key story lines for Lightning camp:

Stamkos on track?

Captain Steven Stamkos said he hasn't looked forward to a training camp like this in a long time.

Stamkos, 27, believes his surgically repaired right knee is ready after a full summer of rehab. He won't have any restrictions as camp opens, with an eye on being ready for the Oct. 6 opener.

But Stamkos hasn't played in a game since tearing his lateral meniscus Nov. 15 in Detroit. That'll make the preseason games, starting Sept. 19, critical tests.

"I've had no full-blown contact," Stamkos said. "Towards the end of the season I was cleared, but your teammates aren't going to run you. That's going to be the next step. I've been fairly confident — I've been through significant injuries before to the lower body and know how your body is going to react."

More medicals

Veteran wing Ryan Callahan is confident his surgically repaired hip is no longer going to be an issue, saying he's 100 percent. Callahan said a follow-up procedure in February corrected the injury that nagged him most of last season. Time will tell. Center Tyler Johnson, who missed most of the last month of the season with a lower body injury, feels "10 times better" than the start of last year, citing his revamped summer workouts and a change to a keto diet.

The only player that could be limited when camp opens is forward Erik Condra (back surgery).

Douglas R. Clifford | Times

The next Brayden Point?

Center Brayden Point shocked many by making the Lightning out of camp last season after a stellar camp. And it wouldn't be surprising to see another one of the top forward prospects to follow suit this year. From Brett Howden and Anthony Cirelli to Taylor Raddysh and Mitchell Stephens, they all feel they've got a shot.

Remember, the Lightning put veteran Erik Condra along with Joel Vermin and Cory Conacher on waivers at the end of camp to make room for Point.

"If any of our young players comes in and is going to be ready to play and have an impact, can make us better, we'll find a spot for him," Yzerman said. "They've got to earn a spot. And returning players, they've got to earn their spots on the team."

Dirk Shadd | Times

Battle on blueline

Yzerman said he's comfortable carrying eight defensemen on his roster to start the season. But it doesn't seem like the most ideal situation, having as many as two defensemen sitting each game (even though coach Jon Cooper likes the 11 forward, seven defensemen format). It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, with a trade at the end of camp always possible (pending health). Not only will Sergachev's status clear things up, Tampa Bay has to decide the role, and pairing, for veteran Dan Girardi, who was signed to a two-year, $6 million deal July 1. Young defensemen Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek need to play, where do they fit?

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.

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