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Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018
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Key storylines to watch in Lightning training camp

Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev knows there will be plenty of eyes on him during training camp, which opens Thursday at Amalie Arena.

Sergachev, 19, the touted  prospect acquired from Montreal in the Jonathan Drouin trade, will be given every chance to make the Lightning roster.

And Sergachev - who dropped 10 pounds this summer in an efffort to be quicker - is determined to start the season in the NHL. Otherwise, he goes back to juniors another year. For what it's worth, Windsor (OHL) coach Trevor Letowski believes he's ready.

Now Sergachev just has to prove it.

"I think I'm at that level that I can make the team and play my game at the NHL level," Sergachev said. "I think I can do that. For me, going back to juniors is not even an option."

GM Steve Yzerman said Sergachev will have to earn it, noting he doesn't want the rookie to play just 7-8 minutes a game. With a glut of eight NHL defensemen, Sergachev will have a lot of competition. Yzerman said Sergachev showed well at last weekend's rookie scrimmages in Nashville (goal, two assists in two games.

"You can tell he's an unbelievable player," said fellow prospect Anthony Cirelli. "He's big, strong, he's fast, he can shoot the puck. He can kind of do it all."

Yzerman said Sergachev's status won't be decided by one or two preseason games, they'll let it all play out.

"We're in no rush to have to (make a decision)," Yzerman said. "It's as simple as showing you're ready to play and as a defenseman you can handle the defensive responsibilities."

Here are some other key storylines for Lightning camp:

Stamkos on track?

Captain Steven Stamkos said he hasn't looked forward to a training camp like this in a long time.
Stamkos, 27, believes his surgically-repaired right knee is ready after a full summer of rehab. He won't have any restrictions as camp opens, with an eye on being ready for the Oct. 6 opener.

But Stamkos hasn't played in a game since tearing his lateral meniscus Nov. 15 in Detroit. That'll make the preseason games, starting Sept. 19, critical tests with full contact.

"I've had no full blown contact," Stamkos said. "Towards the end of the season I was cleared, but your teammates aren't going to run you. That's going to be the next step. I've been fairly confident - I've been through significant injuries before to the lower body and know how your body is going to react."

More medicals

Veteran wing Ryan Callahan is confident his surgically-repaired hip is no longer going to be an issue, saying he's 100-percent. Callahan said a follow-up procedure in February corrected the injury that nagged him most of last season.

Center Tyler Johnson, who missed most of the last month of the season with a lower body injury, feels "10 times better" than the start of last year, citing his revamped summer workouts and a change to a Keto diet.

The only player that could be limited when camp opens is forward Erik Condra (back surgery).

The next Brayden Point?

Center Brayden Point shocked many by making the Lightning out of camp last season after a stellar camp. And it wouldn't be surprising to see another one of the top forward prospects to follow suit this year. From Brett Howden and Anthony Cirelli to Taylor Raddysh and Mitchell Stephens, they've all been told there are spots open.

"If any of our young players comes in and is going to be ready to play and have an impact, can make us better, we'll find a spot for him,"

Yzerman said. "They've got to earn a spot. And returning players, they've got to earn their spots on the team."

The Lightning put veteran Erik Condra, along with Cory Conacher and Joel Vermin, on waivers at the end of camp last year to make room for point. So the likes of Conacher (whose two-year deal is one-way in the first, two-way in the second), Cedric Paquette, J.T. Brown will face fierce competition.

"Obviously it's very cool seeing what Brayden Point did last year," Howden said. "For all of us to come here, we're all really excited that there's that opportunity, no matter what kind of lineup there is, there's always a chance to crack the lineup."

Battle on blueline

Yzerman said he's comfortable carrying eight defenseman on his roster to start the season. But it doesn't seem like the most ideal situation, having as many as two defensemen sitting each game (even though coach Jon Cooper likes the 11 forward, seven defensemen format).

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, with a trade at the end of camp always possible (pending health). Not only will Sergachev's status clear things up, Tampa Bay has to decide the role, and pairing, for veteran Dan Girardi, who was signed to a two-year, $6 million deal July 1. Young defensemen Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek need to play, where do they fit?

Lining up

Lines will change often during camp, and the season. But am curious who will play with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov if, in fact, they are reunited. The dynamic duo was a force at the start of last season, alongside Vladislav Namestnikov, before Stamkos got hurt. If not, the Lightning could reunite the Triplets (Johnson, Kucherov, Ondrej Palat).

Net game

This will be the first time Andrei Vasilevskiy enters camp as the unquestioned No. 1 goalie. A strong camp and preseason will be important as he heads into the season. A key question will be what will the split of starts be between Vasilevskiy and veteran backup Peter Budaj, whom I'm betting gets around 25-30 starts.

Upcoming schedule

Thursday: Training camp opens with medicals and testing, plus media day
Friday: First full practice at Amalie Arena
Saturday: Fan Fest at Amalie Arena (9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.), free and open to public. Needs online ticket at tampabaylightning.com
Tuesday: Exhibition opener against Carolina at Amalie Arena  (7:30).

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