Good morning Wilderness! Today marks the first day of a feature we will be bringing you every week day right up to the Wild's home opener.
With realignment, the Wild will be playing every team in the NHL this season. What better way to get to know the teams and what they are going to bring to the table than by asking the fans themselves?
This is a great way to attempt to take a critical look at the other teams, and see which areas the Wild will excel in, and which areas they will need to work on in order to beat other teams.
For those of us who like to fill our twitter timelines with fans from other teams, we've added a section of twitter must follows for the team.
This week we start off with the Atlantic division. We will end the series with our fellow #conferenceIII teams. Slowly but surely, hockey season is getting here Wilderness!
Today, we will take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightening. John Fontana, blog overlord at Raw Charge, took some time to fill us in on some details relating to the Lightening.
The Lightning's offensive threats:
The tandem of right wing Martin St. Louis and center Steven Stamkos is one of the most potent pairings in the league. Stamkos has won the Rocket Richard trophy twice in his five year NHL career. Martin St. Louis, at 37, took home the Art Ross trophy last season and remains one of the more potent threats in the league. Teddy Purcell is also capable of dazzling, while left wing Ryan Malone is known for his hard fought scoring touch. All eyes are on up-and-comers from within the Lightning system this season, including 2013 first round draft pick Jonathan Drouin. More on the Lightning's forward depth is below.
The Lightning's defensive threats:
By "defensive threats", do you mean they're a threat to the opposition or to the Lightning itself? While Tampa Bay has a collection of both defensive veterans (Eric Brewer, Sami Salo, and the younger Matt Carle) and young, talented defensemen (Victor Hedman, Radko Gudas, Keith Aulie), the Lightning defense was a disjointed mess last season and has been since 2011-12. The lack of roster changes on the blue line may indicate that the organization feels it was the coaching from the pre vious regime and what they expected from blue liners that impended them from actually...well, you know, defending. Rick Bowness was brought in as an assistant coach this summer to transform the Bolts blue line while personnel largely stays the same between last season and the upcoming season.
Unsung heroes of the team:
Nate Thompson was claimed off waivers in the winter of 2010 and has been a standard-bearer for the Lightning's lower lines ever since. He does what he's suppose dto do and occasionally chips in on offense.
Honorable mention: Tom Pyatt, who has exceeded all expectations since he was brought in to Tampa to compete for a bottom-six role. Tom plays on the agitator line (third) with the Bolts and, while not prolific with it, has found a scoring knack that pops up more often than that of aforementioned Thompson.
Goaltending and the Lightning:
A frustration that's partly influenced by defensive issues cited above. Tampa Bay will likely have a tandem of two young, towering netminders in 2013-14 with Ben Bishop (6'8") and Anders Lindback (6'7"). Both were sought after prospects from other systems that the Lightning traded for (Lindback was obtained in the summer of 2012 while Bishop was acquired at the trade deadline 2013 from Ottawa). Both have only seen a scant number of games at the NHL level (Lindback has 62 games, while Bishop has 45). The ability is there for both netminders, but there's a bigger issue that has Lightning fans concerned, and his name is Frantz Jean.
Jean has been the goalie coach of record with the Bolts since 2010 when he was hired, and the statistics coming from Tampa Bay goalies under Jean's tutelage has left much to be desired. Clare Austin wrote an in-depth piece regarding concerns about Jean's coaching and mediocre results. As of this writing, he has not been re-signed as goalie coach, but GM Steve Yzerman has indicated he wants to bring Jean back... And that might render the talents of Lindback and Bishop moot, if both goalies follow the same template of other netminders who have worked under Jean in Tampa.
Back to personnel, the Lightning have AHL veteran Cedrick Desjardins serving as the #3 goalie in the system, with former first-round draft pick Riku Helenius behind him at #4 on the franchise depth chart.
Head Coach Jon Cooper took over the Lightning at mid-season, replacing Guy Boucher. Cooper had been the Lightning's AHL head coach since 2010-11, winning the Calder Cup with Lightning prospects in 2012. Cooper has had successes wherever he's coached, but this will still be his first full season as an NHL head coach. That makes this season much of a transition. As mentioned above, Rick Bowness will be assisting him behind the bench, giving guidance as a veteran NHL coach.
Cooper is considered a players-coach, and he inspires true-believers, as had been the case with his AHL teams (as well as USHL and NAHL clubs where he rose from). The question on some minds is how well Lightning veterans will buy into Cooper?
This is the bread and butter for Tampa Bay at this time. The Bolts system is considered stacked and it's part of why Cooper is now head coach in Tampa: Prospects who had been developing under him in the AHL are now vying for NHL jobs.
Tampa Bay's system was ranked #1 by Hockey Prospectus this summer, and that ranking didn't include 2010 first round draft pick Brett Connolly (who wasn't considered a prospect under their guidelines). While Jonathan Drouin gets the immediate attention from the media as the organization's top prospect (because of his recent performance in juniors and high draft pick status), the organization boasts a plethora of other forward prospects: AHL MVP Tyler Johnson, two-way forward Ondrej Palat, power forward Richard Panik, former Minnesota Duluth star J.T. Brown, former first-round pick Vladislav Namestnikov... Russian import Nikita Kucherov (who excelled in the QMJHL) will make his pro debut with the Bolts AHL affiliate this upcoming season too.
And that's the forwards. The Bolts have several blue liners of note: Radko Gudas will be playing with the NHL team this season, Mark Barberio will be vying for a role with the NHL club, KHL defenseman Nikita Nesterov will make his North American debut this season with AHL Syracuse. He'll be joining former collegiate defenseman Andrej Sustr and prospect and AHL vets in Syracuse this season.
In goal, the Bolts boast two prospects who are still years away from playing in either the AHL or NHL: Collegiate netminder Adam Wilcox (who plays for the University of Minnesota Gophers) and Andrey Vasilevskiy (former first round draft pick who is stuck on a KHL contract but has all intentions of coming to North America).
How do you feel about the depth of your team?
Confident, with thanks to knowing a majority of the above players are ready to step in should they be needed.
Who are your fan favorites, and why are they favorites?
Martin St. Louis has been a fan favorite for more than a decade with the fans; he's undersized and yet amazing in his abilities and work ethic. He's considered the heart-and-soul of the club. While former team captain Vincent Lecavalier used to be treated in the media as the face of the franchise in the past, it was St. Louis who fans clung to as that face - or at least who they thought was the true face of the franchise.
Another of those fan-favorites is Ryan Malone; he's got a cult following due to his gritty play and his charisma off-ice.
A player with budding popularity is hard-hitting Czech defenseman Radko Gudas. He only made his NHL debut in 2013, but he already has a following among the die-hard fans at both the AHL and NHL level. He stands out, on ice, not just because of his hits but because of his full beard he wears all the time.
Who are must follow writers on Twitter for your team?
@ErlendssonTBO and @LightningTimes are the two local beat writers covering the Lightning and the most professional sources to draw from.
@Boltprospects covers the entire breadth of the franchise (from prospects in juniors to those in Europe, collegiate and the AHL, along with the pro team).
@RawCharge - that's me. J @CAustinRC, @ClarkBrooks, @pmcdonaldTPA and @Allovimo round out staff follows.
@LightningShout, @MikeCorcoranNHL, @MikeGallimore, @KalexanderSM101, and @HB_MikeStuart are other sources of note to follow on Twitter.
Who are must-follow fans? (preferably non-crazy fans)
@NolanWhyte who occasionally contributes at Raw Charge; @Alexis_b82 who contributes at the blog Lightning Shout (aforementioned twitter account);@RTASupra, @abbysmink, @Ctheory, @acehawk74, @BoltMaiden