December 29, 2011; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) is congratulated by right wing Martin St Louis (26) after he scored a goal during the first period at St. Pete Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Previewing The Lightning Lineup: The Forwards (Part 2)

As we get deeper into training camp, more and more news trickles out and the roster seems to be shaping up.  We can, at this point, make a pretty good guess at what the opening night roster will look like.  It seems Cory Conacher might have won a spot, not only with the team, but perhaps on the second line (which one would assume means fellow scoring forward, Tyler Johnson, who has probably outplayed Conacher so far in this AHL season, is heading back to Syracuse).  But more on the team hopefuls later.

 

For now, we’ll focus on the second half (numerically) of the forward squad.  This installment includes the team’s two top scorers, the two new faces to the forward lines, and at least one player whose roster spot, it would appear, is in jeopardy.

 

(listed numerically…)

 

#26 Martin St. Louis (W)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)77     (G)25     (A)49     (PTS)74     (+/-)-3     (PIM)16     (TOI/GP)22:38

Now moving into his late thirties, Marty St. Louis continues to be an elite winger in the NHL.  It seems like forever ago that St. Louis was considered something of an NHL flop, putting up miserable numbers in Calgary while absolutely tearing apart the AHL during his stint with their affiliate in Saint John.  Well, after figuring out how to score at an NHL level (St. Louis was considered a late bloomer when he had his break out year at 27), he didn’t look back.  Since coming to Tampa Bay in 2000, St. Louis has scored more than 90 points an incredible four times (he topped 100 points and won a scoring title in 06/07), and over 80 points six times.  Last season’s 74 points was his lowest total since the 02/03 season, but a closer look at the numbers reveals that this is probably not a case of diminished skill:

 

Pertinent Statistics

2011/2012 Total Points:   74

2011/2012 Power Play Points:   16

2011/2012 Even Strength Points:   58

 

2010/2011 Total Points:   99

2010/2011 Power Play Points:   41

2010/2011 Even Strength Points:   58

St. Louis, perhaps more than any Lightning player, was hurt by the team’s poor power play, as evidenced by an identical number of even strength points in the last two years (and he played in 5 fewer games last year, might I add).  He was often asked to play the point on the power play last season, a task he seems unsuited to.  St. Louis is much more productive while darting in and out of traffic.  By looking at these numbers, it seems clear that St. Louis is not going through a natural decline due to age.  That will come, no doubt, but there’s no evidence to support that it has come just yet.

 

Interesting Statistics

Goals Since 05/06:   214 (15th in NHL)

Assists Since 05/06: 379 (4th in NHL)

St. Louis has been an elite player for a long time.  And as shown above, he’s probably not slowing down just yet.  He’s expected to play on a line with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone to start the year, so we can only assume that assist total will continue to rise.  If things go well this year, Marty could be in the hunt to score his 1000th career point next season, and will almost certainly get it by 2014/2015, regardless of how his skills hold up.  Currently, he has 852 career points, to go along with a number of awards and accolades, and is steadily building a first ballot Hall of Fame case for himself.

 

Statistical Anomaly

Total Goals: 25

First Period Goals: 3

Does he get better as the game goes on?

 

What to expect…

All indications point to Tampa Bay fixing their dysfunctional power play now that they have four (or five, potentially) strong point men.  Resuming duties on the low boards, St. Louis should put up solid power play numbers, and his even strength numbers are consistent year in and year out (between 55 and 58 points each of the last four years).  At his age, a decline can come at any time, but even if it does, he should still manage a point per game this season.  Best case scenario?  There’s no decline whatsoever, and he scores 55-60 over a 48 game season.

 

 

#34 J.T. Wyman (W)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)40     (G)2     (A)9     (PTS)11     (+/-)1     (PIM)8     (TOI/GP)10:32

At the time of this writing, it’s unknown if J.T. Wyman will see time in the NHL this year, and many believe he will be leapfrogged by younger, more offensively gifted players.  Last season was the first that Wyman saw regular action in the NHL, being brought up to the team in December of 2011.  The results were mixed, and it’s worth noting that Wyman had to clear waivers to remain with the club this past September.  Wyman was, however, one of few Lightning players to finish with a rating above par, and did so without being on the ice for many goals scored, and was a useful penalty killer.

 

Pertinent Statistics 

2011/2012 NHL: (GP)40

2011/2012 AHL: (GP)29

Wyman has yet to spend a full season in the NHL, and that’s unlikely to change this year.  Wyman needs to prove his worth to the team in camp with a good defensive showing, as he’s unlikely to be kept over some of the younger prospects for offensive purposes.

 

Interesting Statistics

2012/2013 AHL (Syracuse Crunch): (GP)34

Wyman has been playing this season, which could put him in position to have a strong training camp.  Many of the players who will be competing for a spot, however, have also been playing in Syracuse.

 

Statistical Anomaly

Vs. Montreal Canadiens: (GP)3     (G)1     (A)2     (PTS)3     (+/-)4

 

What to expect…

Wyman might be kept with the Lightning for his versatility.  The team has no lack of scoring, but it does need some good, hard-working players to play roles.  The acquisitions of Benoit Pouliot and B.J. Crombeen make it unlikely that Wyman will keep a regular spot in the lineup, but the team might carry him as an extra forward, inserting him where need be, and his play will determine the rest.

 

 

#44 Nate Thompson (C/LW)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)68     (G)9     (A)6     (PTS)15     (+/-)-23     (PIM)21     (TOI/GP)14:49

Expected to resume his third line grinding duties will be Nate Thompson.  While his offensive output will never be much to marvel at, Thompson provides energy and grit while on the ice, and plays a physical game despite his somewhat average size.  He’s a guy that can give you 14-15 solid minutes a night.  Though last year’s plus/minus is a little troubling, it’s hard to hold that stat against any player not in a scoring role, considering how bad the Lightning defense and goaltending was last season.

 

Pertinent Statistics

2011/2012: (GP)68    (Hits)107

Thompson’s not afraid to play a physical game, which, as more and more scorers come out of Syracuse, is something the Lightning need.  He’s not perfect for the role, being just six feet tall and not of an overly large frame, but he’s had three straight seasons now with more than 100 total hits.  He also managed to block 56 shots last season, and was a mainstay on the penalty kill.

 

Interesting Statistics 

2011/2012 Face-Off%: 49.5

2010/2011 Face-Off%: 54.2

This is an issue that, aside from Adam Hall, needs to be addressed team-wide.  49.5% is passable, but it would be a great help to the team if Thompson could get back to the type of efficiency he had in the previous year.  As a penalty killer, it’s particularly important to his game, as one good clean face off win can set the tone for a shift and burn 30-40 valuable seconds off the clock.

 

Statistical Anomaly

On Mondays: (GP)7     (PTS)4

Go figure.

 

What to expect…

Hopefully a face off percentage above 50, and a steady, gritty effort night in, night out.  Don’t expect much scoring, but that’s not why he’s here.

 

 

#91 Steven Stamkos (C)

2011/2012 Season (Tampa Bay Lightning)

(GP)82     (G)60     (A)37     (PTS)97     (+/-)7     (PIM)66     (TOI/GP)22:01

Steven Stamkos had his best season to date, ultimately adding his name to the illustrious 60 goal club, with significant thanks to a stretch ran that saw him terrorize opposing team’s goaltenders.  He seemed to develop an extra gear in the second half of the season, and was suddenly exploding by defensemen rather than using his speed primarily to dart in and out of holes to wait to be set up.  His playmaking ability remains underrated, and should he ever be paired with a goal scoring winger, opposing goalies might well have panic attacks as they recognize the double-whammy position they’re in.

Stamkos has now joined, and is recognized as one of, the elite group of players in the NHL.  Most fantasy rankings had him placed third (behind Malkin and Crosby), and TSN’s recent list of the NHL’s top 50 players had him fourth (behind also Giroux).  And he is, at this moment, the undisputed league goal-scoring, having led all scorers twice now, and last season by good margin.  At this point, the focus should be rounding out his game and using his abundance of physical tools to make himself as much a contributor as he can be in all situations.  There’s plenty of time – he’s still just 22.

 

Pertinent Statistics

2011/2012: (GP)82     (G)60

2010/2011: (GP)82     (G)45

2009/2010: (GP)82     (G)51

Perhaps more than any other player in the world, Stamkos is now able to create scoring chances out of nothing, at any time, and seemingly anywhere from the blue line in.  He could always beat you with his shot, but now he can beat you with pure speed as well, and the combination of those things provided Lightning fans with plenty of breath-taking, “did he just do that?” moments last season.  He skates like a young Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman, and has Brett Hull’s release.  That’s a terrifying recipe, and it’s getting better every year.

Pre-All Star Game: (GP)48    (G)32     (PTS)52

Post-All Star Game: (GP)34     (G)28     (PTS)45

If Stamkos’ 60 goal season wasn’t enough to make you feel good about this year, here’s some better news: He’s still getting better.  In 2010/2011, Stamkos took a lot of criticism for fading badly down the stretch (scoring just 7 goals and 24 points in his last 31 games).  This past season, Stamkos took his game to a level not previously seen from him down the stretch, and it seemed to be less the case of a hot streak than it was the case of a young player that had taken a step forward in his development.  If that’s the Steven Stamkos that returns to the Lightning this season, the “Rocket” Richard trophy won’t be the only NHL hardware within reach.

 

Interesting Statistics 

2011/2012: (G)60    (GWG)12     (OTG)5

Not only did Stamkos score a lot of goals last season, but he scored big goals.  His 5 overtime goals are an NHL record, and his 12 game-winners were tied for the league lead and 7 more than the next closest Lightning player.  Only 2 of those 60 goals were scored into empty nets.   Have I mentioned yet that this guy can score goals?

2011/2012 Face-Off%: 45.5

Yes, he can score goals.  But he can’t take face offs.  Stamkos was terrible taking face offs last year, and even worse in key situation face offs.  So now the decision is on him – does he want to just be a goal-scoring machine, or does he want to win?  So much of a hockey game is determined by its less glamorous statistics.  Stamkos has all the tools to turn himself into a player that can contribute in all situations, but it will take a lot of work.  The good news is, he’s reported to be constantly working on his game, so hopefully that includes working on his draws.

 

Statistical Anomaly

2011/2012 Post-All Star Game: (GP)34     (G)28     (PTS)45

2010/2011 Post-All Star Game: (GP)31     (G)7       (PTS)24

Seems a distant memory, doesn’t it?

 

What to expect…

Stamkos is the odds-on favorite to win another “Rocket” Richard trophy, and should challenge for the NHL (point) scoring title as well.  He scored a mind-boggling 48 of his 60 goals at even strength, so one must assume that an improved power play will benefit him.  He’s one of the few players in the NHL that have a realistic shot of scoring 40 goals this season, though the safer bet would be in the neighborhood of 35.  It’s hard to imagine him scoring under 30.

 

 

#? B.J. Crombeen (W)

2011/2012 Season (St. Louis Blues)

(GP)40     (G)1     (A)2     (PTS)3     (+/-)-2     (PIM)71     (TOI/GP)8:18

B.J. Crombeen was acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the off season to bring much needed grit and toughness to the Lightning lineup.  Many of my player evaluations have focused on such qualities, and in Crombeen, the Lightning have a no-nonsense player that is tough to play against.  While he’s a little undersized to be considered a true heavyweight NHL enforcer, Crombeen doesn’t back down from larger players when it’s time to drop the gloves.  To put it simply, the Lightning can’t afford to have Ryan Malone playing the role of enforcer.  And like it or not, if your team is loaded with undersized forwards, it’s best to have a policeman on the roster.

 

Pertinent Statistics

2011/2012 Fighting Majors:   9

2010/2011 Fighting Majors:   17

2009/2010 Fighting Majors:   18

Crombeen’s 9 majors last season came in an injury shortened year where he played just 40 games.  The Lightning’s leader in that category last season was Ryan Malone, with just 6.  Crombeen changes the look of the team, and his presence will be valued when the going gets tough.

 

Interesting Statistics

2011/2012 Major/Misconduct PIM:   55

2011/2012 Minor PIM:   16

There’s a lot of value in these numbers.  Despite spending plenty of time in the box, Crombeen rarely makes his team kill a minor penalty.  His minutes are racked up by dropping the gloves (to go along with the odd misconduct), and usually someone from the other team is going to be spending an equal amount of time off the ice.

 

Statistical Anomaly

2011/2012: (GP)40     (Hits)22

For a player that has a good physical edge to his game, Crombeen didn’t throw a lot of hits last season.  Then again, ice time could be a factor.

 

What to expect…

Goals and assists don’t matter with Crombeen.  His presence should make the more skilled players on the team better by giving them some assurance that there will be consequences if the opposing team gets out of line.

 

 

#? Benoit Pouliot (LW)

2011/2012 Season (Boston Bruins)

(GP)74     (G)16     (A)16     (PTS)32     (+/-)18     (PIM)38     (TOI/GP)12:13

Pouliot, a former fourth overall draft pick acquired over the summer from the Boston Bruins, will have an opportunity to play a larger role with the Lightning than with his former team.  At the time of this writing, it has already been floated that he might see second line duties with Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell.  He’s a lanky winger that appears to have more potential than what he’s fulfilled thus far in his NHL career.  If a job on the second line doesn’t materialize, he’ll provide plenty of energy to the third line and be a valuable role player with some bonus offense.

 

Pertinent Statistics

2011/2012: (TOI/GP)12:13

Pouliot is likely to see more ice time with the Bolts than he did with Boston.  He might find himself on the odd power play shift, might be used to kill penalties, and it will be up to him to prove he deserves more.  But the opportunities will be there for him.

 

Interesting Statistics

March/April 2012: (GP)18     (G)7     (A)7     (PTS)14

The Lightning are hoping this is a sign of what Pouliot is truly capable of.  He’s been long criticized for his inconsistent play in Boston.  Depending on where he plays, scoring will either be expected from him, or simply a bonus.  But it’s nice to have that kind of versatility in the lineup.

 

Statistical Anomaly

February 2012: (GP)13     (PTS)1     (+/-)-7

 

What to expect…

Pouliot should split time between the second and third line, either of which he might wind up a better fit on.  I would expect Coach Boucher to experiment with him on the power play, particularly if he finds good chemistry with any of his more offensive-minded teammates, which could make for a rise in production.  Whatever the case, there’s little doubt that having him on the roster is an improvement.

 

 

Next time: The Goalies

 

Thanks for reading.

 

– DFC

 

@DFrederickCook

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