The Jon Cooper era with the Tampa Bay Lightning now truly begins. After taking over the final 16 games last season, Cooper comes into his first full season as an NHL head coach. He has a lot to figure out as the Bolts look to become playoff contenders again.
The Young Guns
This club has an excess amount of up-and-coming talent. What’s better is that Cooper has coached many of them while he was coaching the Syracuse Crunch, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate. Many of them showcased their talents last year and are striving for a full-time starting spot. Players Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Radko Gudas all showed flashes of high-level play.
Now players like forward J.T. Brown and defenseman Mark Barberio are also fighting for a roster spot. For Cooper, the one concept he wants the young athletes to embrace is to become good teammates.
“We’re looking for good teammates,” said Cooper during his opening press conference at training camp. “Somebody gets in trouble on the ice, the other four guys on the ice are there to have his back. It’s respect for each other, respect for the organization, respect for the logo, and when you encompass all that it’s being a good teammate and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Where Does Drouin Fit?
One of those young guns is 2013 first round draft pick Jonathan Drouin. Highly touted as the most talented offensive player in the NHL Draft, Drouin is expected to secure a spot on the roster, barring poor play in the final preseason games.
So what line does he play on? While playing on Stamkos’ and St. Louis’ line would be something to drool over, the rest of the lines would be much more offensively challenged. Though Drouin has great scoring ability, he has also been described as a “wheelhouse passer”, meaning he sets up his teammates for great scoring opportunities. Placing him with Teddy Purcell and Valtteri Filppula would be more of an ideal fit. He has a bright future ahead of him and must not be rushed.
Fixing the Defense
The big glaring weakness on last year’s squad was inefficiency on defense, and that doesn’t just mean goaltending. While the position hasn’t been strong since reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 with Dwayne Roloson, the potential of Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback is still encouraging. Cooper has said the battle for the starting spot will be determined during the season, so both have a lot to prove.
The defensive play as a whole is another story. Over the past two seasons, the Bolts have allowed the most goals in the NHL (425). Turning over the puck in the defensive end has been the biggest detriment for the Lightning. Cooper knows that it can only be stopped if all five players on the ice commit.
“We got to shore that up,” Cooper said. “It takes a team to do it. You can’t sit there and rely on your goaltender to make every save. It’s all five guys that have to buy in when they’re playing defense.”
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