Previewing the East: Tampa Bay Lightning
NOTE: Over the next several weeks, BlueJackets.com will take an extensive, in-depth look at the Jackets' new opponents in the Eastern Conference. Be on the lookout for photo galleries, analysis, video highlights and more!
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Head coach: John Cooper
LAST YEAR: 18-26-4 (40 points); 14th in the Eastern Conference
VS. CBJ in '13-14: 12/3, 1/13, 4/11
OUTLOOK: It has been a slow build for the Lightning under GM Steve Yzerman, but to say this is one of the NHL's most exciting young teams is an understatement. Led by superstar Steven Stamkos' goal-scoring and Martin St. Louis' world-class playmaking, the Lightning signed Valtteri Filppula to a five-year deal in free agency and prior to that, picked up Jonathan Drouin third overall in this summer's NHL Draft. With those two moves, Yzerman added to what was already one of the more skilled forward groups in the Atlantic Division. While goaltending has certainly been a question mark in Tampa, the hope is that the addition of Ben Bishop from Ottawa will help stabilize the tandem with Anders Lindback, who was wildly inconsistent in his first season with the Lightning. A coaching change brought new life to the Lightning down the stretch, and now, John Cooper gets the chance to run his new team from the start of the season. They will still be an uptempo, high-pressure team that scores a lot of goals, but one wild card is the defense: is it deep enough to hold up over an 82-game schedule, and can they make life a little easier for the goaltenders than it was a year ago? If the defensive group tightens up and the offense is the same old Lightning offense, Tampa stands a good chance of proving its 14th-place finish in 2013 was a mere fluke.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
No introduction needed, really. It's hard to believe the 23-year-old and former No. 1 overall pick is entering his sixth NHL season, but what Stamkos has accomplished in that short time frame is worthy of elite status. After scoring 60 goals in 2011-12, he backed it up with 29 goals and 57 points in last year's 48-game season and tallied 10 of those on the power play - where he frequently unleashes wicked one-timers like the one in the video above.
Is it a tad premature to label a player who's never appeared in an NHL game as a "player to watch?" In most cases, sure, but watch Drouin play one time and you'll find yourself coming back for more. He's got the crafty offensive ability of Patrick Kane and he can also finish plays off - and we just might see him on the same line as Stamkos at some point this season. Try to watch the above highlight without searching for more Drouin highlights on YouTube...see? You can't do it.