Martini: Lightning Centers Of Attention
Could the Tampa Bay Lightning’s strength down the middle of the ice spell the end of their playoff drought and leave them primed for future success? Just like the three zones of the rink, the Bolts have bolstered their core in three specific ways.
The first is excellent scouting and drafting. The second is how they foster and grow their young talent in the minor league system. The last, is their keen decision making in choosing free agents and waiver wire pickups. (Photos/Susan Ferlita)
The lockout shortened 2012-2013, 40 point season is one the Bolts hope to not repeat anytime soon. However, there was an upside to this poor campaign. After the lottery results, the Lightning were slotted at the number three pick in the draft. Following the first two picks by the Avalanche and the Panthers taking Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov respectively, the Lightning took Jonathan Drouin. Coming off a season where the Bolts had no issue scoring, the pick left some scratching their heads, especially when Drouin was sent back to Halifax of the QMJHL. This has shown to be a wise move as the Bolt prospect went from being a dynamic winger in juniors to a top center for Canada at The World Junior Championship.
Not all NHL talent can be found in the draft. Tampa Bay continues to take advantage of free agent and waiver wire gems. The Bolts roster contains two such finds that are contributing heavily. The first is Tyler Johnson, an undrafted free agent who became an AHL MVP and Calder Cup champion. He is now holding his own against some of fiercest talent in the NHL. He is winning face offs 47.4% of the time and the increased playing time with Martin St. Louis has allowed him to show not only his creativity in the offensive zone, but his unlimited ceiling of production.
On January 21, 2010 the Lightning plucked a talented center from the waiver wire who is now a mainstay in the lineup. Nate Thompson has been rewarded for his hard work. Since coming to Tampa Bay, Thompson has been a Swiss Army Knife for the team, doing most everything. His penalty killing has become a strength for the team. He is winning faceoffs a team best 51.5% of the time while helping to keep the Bolts penalty kill at 80.12%. He has chipped in offensively with nine points while registering a +7 rating.
The decision making aspect of building the middle is easily the hardest part of GM Steve Yzerman’s job. There are tough decisions to make about who to sign and players to let test the free agent market. Yzerman’s decision to buy out Vincent Lecavalier has changed the face of the franchise. Once the smoke cleared, the Lightning GM signed free agent center Valtteri Filppula. All Filppula has done is brought over a winning attitude and shown tremendous versatility as a scorer and a solid defensive forward. He’s won 50.7% of his faceoffs and is second on the team in goals (18), points (36) and power play goals (5). He’s also added a quiet
leadership style and the experience of a Stanley Cup champion, both of which has helped the team through injuries and will help in the push into the postseason.
Of course, adding a 400+ point scoring center (Steven Stamkos) just prior to the Olympic break makes this team ridiculously strong up the middle.
Although there is still a long way to go in this season, the playoff light is beginning to shine at the end of the tunnel. With these different ways of cultivating talent, the Tampa Bay Lightning should be primed to take “center” stage for years to come.
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