While Tampa Bay hockey fans with an eye on this week’s development camp are currently getting a look at a crop of players who could make up a significant portion of the Lightning’s core somewhere down the road, they could very well be witnessing a player or two competing in tonight’s camp-concluding Young Guns Game that has a legitimate shot at being a part of the team in the immediate future.
As head coach Guy Boucher recently indicated to my Bolts Beat colleague, Mike Corcoran, in his Creative Loafing blog, adding two or three forwards via free agency remains a likely direction for general manager Steve Yzerman before summer’s end. That said, even if the max – say, a trio of free agent forwards – was brought in, it appears as though at least one or two spots among the forward lines will be legitimately attainable for some of Tampa Bay’s young prospects.
In Tuesday’s scrimmage, the play of 2009 1st rounder Carter Ashton and veteran of 48 NHL games James Wright, stood out from that of their peers at times and these two would be at or near the top of the list to challenge for any potentially available roster spots. Also in development camp once again is speedy winger Dana Tyrell, who was tabbed by several Norfolk insiders as most likely to crack the Lightning lineup this season, out of players who spent a significant amount of time with the Ads last year (as chronicled in the 2009-10 JJ Awards).
Tampa Bay’s top draft choice of a little less than one month ago, winger Brett Connolly, also impressed in the scrimmage but, with just 85 games of major junior experience, thanks to last season’s hip injury, logic foretells another year at that level, barring an earth-shattering performance in training camp.
All indications are that the 2010-11 Bolts will carry eight defensemen at times, leaving room for just one extra forward on the active roster. While nothing is guaranteed, restricted free agents Steve Downie and Nate Thompson are virtually assured of returning, while any of the rest of Tampa Bay’s RFA forward bunch (names like Blair Jones and Paul Szczechura, most notably) would have to have an overly impressive showing in camp themselves to crack the big club.
A pair of Swedish wingers in Johan Harju and Niklas Persson are now under contract as well and both should be high-end contenders for a roster spot out of camp, though Persson, at 31, cannot exactly be considered a prospect.
Of course, for the youngest players under consideration, what kind of role they would fill will surely be a factor. After all, you don’t want thwart a kid’s growth as a player with fourth line duties at 19 years old when they could be playing a prominent role elsewhere. But some of these kids will be in the conversation, for sure.
While the theme of any club’s development camp is just that – development – Lightning fans hoping to get a glimpse at their team’s future in tonight’s Young Guns Game may not realize that a part of that future could be far closer to the present than most think.
Any way you look at it, with Ashton, Connolly, Tyrell, Wright and others in the mix, a healthy infusion of young talent at forward gives plenty of reason for optimism down the road.
And any way you look at it, with what will surely be a steady blend of veterans and youth come actual training camp in September, the competition to round out Tampa Bay’s forward ranks will be one of the major storylines to watch.
About the Author: Jon Jordan established himself as one of the web's most reliable resources on the Tampa Bay Lightning for four-plus seasons, covering the Bolts for HockeyBuzz.com and then Kukla's Korner, as well as contributing several guest spots around the web and in print, including Yahoo! Sports, McKeen's Hockey, AOL Fanhouse, NBC/Versus and of course, a stint right here at HI. "JJ" has offered his opinion as a guest on dozens of radio shows across the US and Canada, most notably featured on SiriusXM's NHL Home Ice, and co-founded and co-hosted "The Bolts Beat" podcast (formerly known as "BoltsBuzz Radio") which ultimately became "Hockey Night in Tampa Bay" on the local airwaves at ESPN1040 in Tampa. Outside of hockey, Jon co-founded and served as contributing editor for LockedInMMA.com, focusing on the Florida fight scene and covers college basketball for Sports Direct, Inc. After stepping away from hockey coverage almost completely for the 2011-12 season, Jon will contribute intermittently here again in 2012-13.