The Tampa Bay Lightning are set to see a couple of changes to their forward lines and defense pairings next season as a handful of players are no longer with the team. Day one of free agency answered most of the questions about the open roster spots on the team, but now there is the question of which lines everyone will play on.
Here is how I see next season’s forward lines, defense pairings, and goalie tandem playing out.
Brandon Hagel – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Analysis: The Lightning ended the 2023-23 season running the three superstars — Kucherov, Point, and Stamkos — together on the top line, but I would not be surprised if they revert to having Hagel paired with Kucherov and Point.
This line played together the majority of last season before Hagel was moved to Cirelli’s line before the playoffs, but I suspect we will see them brought back together as the team’s depth of proven top-six caliber forwards going down a notch following Alex Killorn’s departure. Stacking the top line with the team’s top three offensive talents likely will not be feasible, in the long run, for the Lightning.
Steven Stamkos – Anthony Cirelli – Conor Sheary
Analysis: Cirelli and Stamkos can be used interchangeably at center, but following the loss of Killorn, there is not a clear answer as to who will, or can, step up into the top-six of the lineup. However, Sheary feels like the natural choice to play with Stamkos.
If you had to compare any player in the league to Stamkos, there’s a good chance Alex Ovechkin’s name would be mentioned — both right-shot forwards highly regarded for their shooting talent. Sheary played the last three seasons in Washington with Ovechkin and was responsible in setting up multiple of his goals from the RW position. Thus, making him the natural choice to begin the season in the open second line spot.
Nick Paul could be an option after playing several games on the second line in the first half of last season, but the Lightning’s lack of center depth likely will not afford him that opportunity this time as he will be needed in the middle of the third line, as things stand.
Mikey Eyssimont – Nick Paul – Tanner Jeanot
Analysis: Paul remains center and the two left-handed wingers could be interchangeable, but I think Jeannot will be favored as the right wing. Watching his scoring highlights from the 2021-22 season, with Nashville, skating up into the offensive zone and shooting on his off-side is one of his strengths. Assuming the Lightning want to get him back to the half point per game scoring rate he had that season, I would say going with what has worked in the past would be a good bet.
Cole Koepke – Luke Glendening – Josh Archibald
Analysis:The addition of Glendening gives the team one of the best faceoff takers in the league and Archibald will bring the relentless physical forechecking that the fourth line was missing last season. Pat Maroon’s trade to the Minnesota Wild was one most were not expecting, but now the door is open for prospect Cole Koepke to step back into the lineup after playing 17 games last season. Koepke has the offensive tools to play up on the third line, but he still needs to prove himself as he only had one goal last season.