What Might the Lightning’s Top Line Look Like?

(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) /
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For the first time in several years, there is a bit of uncertainty regarding how the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line may look heading into the new season. With the season not too far out, we’ll have some answers sooner than later. Even still, what we may see in the preseason and early parts of the year may not stick for the long term.

With Ondrej Palat gone and Anthony Cirelli missing the start of the season, there are spots to be had in the Lightning’s top six.

Here is what we know right now:

  • Nikita Kucherov will anchor the right wing spot. Whoever Kucherov ends up playing alongside will be considered the Lightning’s “top line”
  • Either Brayden Point or Steven Stamkos will find themselves playing in the middle.
  • Left wing is totally up for grabs.

Who Will Play Center?

For most of the past three seasons, the top line has been Palat-Point-Kucherov. When Point got hurt in the first round of last year’s playoffs, it was Stamkos who slid into his spot in the middle on the top line.

Stamkos would go on to have the most productive playoff run of his career, collecting 11 goals and 19 points in 23 playoff games. This even came after the highest point total of Stamkos’ career in the regular season, making an intriguing case for him in the top line center role even with Brayden Point expected to be at full health by the time the season comes.

It is unlikely that the Lightning will try to stack a super star line of Stamkos-Point-Kucherov as they will want to keep a more balanced lineup.

Ultimately, Point may have better playmaking ability than Stamkos, but the captain probably has the highest offensive output potential if he plays with Kucherov. This might be the time to see Stamkos and Kucherov play together regularly again.

What About Left Wing?

The biggest question of all will be who can fill the giant hole left behind by Ondrej Palat’s departure on the top line. Palat was a severely underrated component of this line that did all of the dirty work.

In recent weeks, we touched on the increased roles that Brandon Hagel and Ross Colton are expected to get this season. Nick Paul may even find himself in the conversation with his size and strength.

At this moment in time, I believe that Hagel is potentially the favorite. Hagel had an outstanding start to the season a year ago in Chicago because he was getting to play on their top line with Patrick Kane. Hagel had over 20 goals playing with Kane and it is reasonable to expect that he could do the same with Kucherov.

Prediction for the Top Line: 

Hagel-Stamkos-Kucherov

I think that this combination would be worth a shot at the start of the season. Brandon Hagel was brought in as a potential replacement for Palat in the case that he would end up leaving at the end of the season. That time is here and Hagel could fit into that role after playing lower in the lineup last season once arriving in Tampa.

Stamkos centering this line would bring the size and physicality that could compliment these two wingers. It is still kind of crazy to think of Stamkos as the guy to bring that physical component to the lineup, but that has been the player he has become in recent years, especially in the playoffs.

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