On Day 1 of free agency, General Manager Steve Yzerman signed former Detroit Red Wings center Valtteri Filppula to a 5-year, 25 million dollar contract to address the hole at 2nd line center after the Vincent Lecavalier buyout.
So where does the Lightning roster stand currently as far as forwards are concerned?
Here's my best guess for how it will all shake out:
Drouin — Stamkos — St. Louis
Killorn — Filppula — Purcell
Palat — Johnson — Panik
Pyatt — Thompson — Crombeen
I've put the "sure things" in bold because these are players we assume will be in the lineup come opening night, and most likely in their typical spot. The players listed in italics are educated guesses or projections based on my expectations for the club come this fall.
You'll notice that Ryan Malone is nowhere to be found on this list — that's no mistake. Though he wasn't bought out or traded at the draft, I still believe that Yzerman is looking to offload Malone and his 4.5 million dollar cap hit.
Filppula slots right in as the 2nd line center, and Yzerman and head coach Jon Cooper are presented with something of a conundrum when it comes to deploying 2013 1st round draft pick Jonathan Drouin, currently attending Lightning Prospect Development Camp. He's suited for a top-6 role, and the Lightning seem to think he's ready for that at the NHL level — so playing him with Steven Stamkos and likely new captain Martin St. Louis seems like a sure thing. The leadership and guidance those two provide will help him transition from juniors to the big leagues, and his elite playmaking and puck possession ability seem destined to pair with Stamkos in the future.
However, playing Drouin on the top line exposes him to a high volume of NHL minutes for an 18-year-old kid who has never played against men before, so there is definitely an argument to be made that the top line left wing spot should continue to be filled by Teddy Purcell, as it has in the past.
Any line centered around Valtteri Filppula will likely be expected to handle a little more two-way responsibility, so I would expect Filppula to get Alex Killorn, who has terrific defensive instincts, as his left wing. If Drouin is on the top line that leaves Teddy Purcell to fill out the line. The Lightning also have the option of spreading out some of the skill players. If they want more point production out of the Filppula line it's not a crazy thought to put Drouin there, where he will be more protected by a guy more likely to be the first one back into the defensive zone. That pushes all the left wings down a slot and moves someone up (likely Richard Panik) to fill the hole at 2nd line right wing.
The bottom-6 is fairly straight-forward — Adam Hall has re-signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and I don't expect Dana Tyrell to be anything more than a 14th forward.
That leaves "do everything" forward Nate Thompson to center one of the bottom-6 lines, and the other likely to be centered by AHL MVP Tyler Johnson.
Before Filppula was acquired, Johnson was the front-runner to fill the 2C spot, but he is likely ill-suited for how tough those minutes will be. With Filppula in the fold, he can center a line with two other Tampacuse players — my guess is both Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik make the big team, especially with Ryan Malone gone — that can play more offensive, sheltered minutes as they all ease into permanent NHL duty. Filppula and Thompson can handle the defensive zone starts and the tough competition, leaving the Stamkos and Johnson lines to carry the team offensively.
The bottom two lines I've projected are interchangeable really, as game situation and opponent will likely help dictate how Cooper uses his players.
All of this is pure speculation and conjecture of course — Yzerman and Cooper have a plan, but I'm not privy to it, and training camp will obviously be the place that most of these decisions are made — but it's still interesting to think about what this roster is probably going to look like come opening night.
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