As the Tampa Bay Lightning have already played a healthy portion of the season, it has become evident who is playing well and who has under-performed. It’s that time of year to start making moves when things aren’t clicking. With that said, it’s important to know who is doing their part for the team.
Steven Stamkos– Who would’ve guessed? Stamkos has gotten off to a flying start in the 2016 season. After struggling for much of the previous year, the Ontario native has come out to prove that he is as good as ever. He currently sits at number three in the league for points and is among the top goal scorers as well.
After signing a bargain deal to stay in Tampa for another eight years, the Bolts have to be excited to see this kind of production. Stamkos seems to click with anybody who is put on his line, but so far the most lethal combination has been the “Stamkov line” of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov.
The captain left the November 15th game against the Detroit Red Wings with an injury to his right knee. He is returning to Tampa for further evaluation. His status is still unknown.
Nikita Kucherov – We’ve always known Kucherov has a lethal shot that can score from almost anywhere on the ice. After the 2016 playoffs there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that he could potentially be a first line forward. During the playoffs Kucherov was able to record 19 points in 17 games played. His 11 goals were scored on 51 shots for an incredible 21.6 shooting percentage. It’s no wonder we saw the Tampa Bay Lightning fan base freaking out when he waited until nearly the start of the season to sign a contract.
This season that production has showed no signs of slowing down. Kucherov currently leads the team in assists and is tied for the league lead in points. He is also a team leading +9 on the season. By all signs, it appears the Russian has solidified a spot on the first line for the foreseeable future.
Andrei Vasilevskiy – The “backup” goaltender hasn’t looked like much of a backup thus far. Although he’s only played six games this season, he’s looked very much like an elite level goaltender. Vasilevskiy has saved 172 of 182 shots for an impressive .945 save pecentage. This ties him for third in the NHL. Not to mention the recent game against the Islanders where Vasilevskiy recorded a 34-save shutout.
Is it too early to ditch Ben Bishop and declare Andrei Vasilevskiy the full-time starter? Probably. However, it’s not hard to see that Vasilevskiy has the potential to be a superstar between the pipes. His time is coming.
Brayden Point – Even making the NHL roster was above and beyond the expectations for Point this season. In his first full season as a pro it was reasonable to think that the 20 year old would be lucky to see a game in the NHL. However, that all changed when Point had an exceptional training camp and preseason.
Although he’s only recorded one goal this season, Point has been one of the most reliable on the team as far as offensive production. He currently sits at fourth on the team for shots this season with 36, many of which were only kept out by a bad bounce. 35 of these shots may not have gone in, but many of them came off as rebounds or deflections that led to goals. Remember, this is Point’s first season as a pro and he already looks like he belongs in the NHL.
Tyler Johnson – Ever since Johnson suffered a broken wrist in the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, he just hasn’t been his same self. The Washington native went from being a +33 with 72 points in the 2014-15 campaign to a +4 with 38 points in the 2015-16 season. Many thought that the wrist may have still been nagging him last season, but if that were true we would be seeing an increase in production now.
Unfortunately, that increase just hasn’t come. If Johnson keeps his current pace and plays all 82 games this season, he will finish the year with 43 points and a pathetic -29 rating. If this keeps up you have to believe that Johnson will lose his spot on the second line sooner rather than later. For his own sake, let’s hope he can turn things around.
Ondrej Palat – It seems that when things aren’t clicking for Tyler Johnson, Palat is going to struggle as well. Since the two spend most of their time on a line together it makes sense that when one has trouble they both do. Although it does seem that Johnson has a slight edge statistically, Palat has had a few games this year where he created chances and just couldn’t get the finish.
The seventh round draft pick currently sports the worst +/- on the team at a -7. His line has not been horrible defensively, but with almost 18 minutes of ice time per game you would expect them to be scoring significantly more goals. Palat needs to step it up if he wants to keep getting this kind of ice time.
Jason Garrison – Ever since the Lightning acquired Garrison in 2014 he has been a reliable second pairing defenseman with a killer slapshot. This season just hasn’t looked the same so far. Error after error has led to turnovers and goals by opposing teams. Maybe the former Canuck is just in a bit of a rut, but it’s no doubt costed the Bolts at least a couple games.
Garrison is a -6 with just two assists and he has yet to score a goal. Not only that, he has been a defensive liability all season long. The defensive depth is just not there to replace a player like Garrison even with his sub-par performance. This season could very well be riding on whether or not Garrison can step it up and give the Bolts a second reliable defensive pairing.
(Feature Photo/Getty Images)