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2013 Lightning Preview: Winds of Change

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is one of the best golf courses in Florida. It's challenging and beautiful, and a fave of many PGA golfers. And that's where the Bolts will be on Monday, April 14, 2014.

Fore!

Tampa Bay is going to struggle this season - there's no other way to describe it. At times, it'll be downright ugly. And fantasy options will be few and far between. Need proof? Would Valtteri Filppula be a big gun on another team?

It's going to be a long year for the Bolts.

The team would be fine if it could play 60 minutes in the offensive zone. The forwards are talented and hungry, and there are plenty of youngsters who will excite and titillate. But their blue line is as queasy as it was last year. They bail way to fast on pucks, they struggle to get the biscuit to the forwards and they're a half-step too slow on coverage.

Ouch. Their young goalies are going to see a lot of rubber.

Things might not be so bad if they were still in the Southeast division. But realignment has put them in the Atlantic division where they'll see the Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Senators way too much. At least the Panthers and Sabres will suck right along with them.

There are only two guarantees in life - death and taxes. And there are only two real fantasy guarantees on the Bolts - Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. That's it. The aforementioned Filppula might be studly or he might stink. Teddy Purcell is a tweener whose confidence tends to waver. And as much as I love Jonathan Drouin (he's my preseason pick for the Calder), he's still a kid in a difficult environment.

After that, the proverbial cupboard is bare. And it will be for a few years.

Sorry, Bolts fans. I hope you like golf a whole lot more than I do.

The Big Guns

Valtteri Filppula (C): Vinny who? The pressure is on for Filppula who has some huge skates to fill. He's now the Bolts' second-line center, a job previously held down by fan favorite, Vinny Lecavalier. Filppula coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued 2012-13 where he tallied just 17 points in 41 games. But Bolts' general manager Steve Yzerman knows him from his Detroit days, so I'm confident the center's upside (70-75 points) is real. And if he clicks with good linemates, Filppula might better his career mark of 66 points, especially in an expanded role in Tampa. He might also net 50 his season, so weigh your options carefully. 2014-15 might be a better bet.

Martin St. Louis (RW): Mighty Mite is the poster child for NHL greybeards. He won the Art Ross trophy last season a few short months before his 38th birthday and became the oldest man in NHL history to win the title. Impressive. Will he win the Art Ross again? Not a chance. And he's no longer a lock to hit the 30-goal mark. But he'll certainly be in the NHL's top-10 scorers this season and probably in the top three in assists. That's fantasy gold. Draft him with confidence and count on at least a point-per-game production.

Steven Stamkos (C): On March 18 this past season, Stamkos became the fourth youngest NHLer to hit 200 career goals; he did it at 23 years and 41 days. Who was faster? Not Sid the Kid or Alexander the Gr8. Try Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk. That's mighty fine company. Stammer is clearly the NHL's premier sniper and he'll contend for the league goal title again this year. Sure, he'll have to adjust to increased defensive pressure now that Vinny Lecavalier has disappeared from the Florida landscape. But that won't hold him down long. Fifty goals and 95 points are money in the bank. And 60 goals are entirely possible. He needs to be off the board right after that guy from Cole Harbour.

Two To Watch

Tyler Johnson (C/LW): Is Johnson the next Marty St. Louis? The Bolts sure hope so. Johnson is vertically challenged (he's generously 5-9), but he has elite sniping ability. No, he doesn't have Jonathan Drouin-like talent, but he knows how to play in all three zones. And he ran away with the AHL goal title this past season with 37 in just 62 games. He and Alex Killorn will likely battle for the third-line left wing job in Tampa and that's a plum spot - second-line winger, Ryan Malone, will be on the IR for at least 20 or 25 games, so the door is wide open for him to steal that second-line gig.

Alex Killorn (C/LW): Killorn is the perfect boy next door - smart, athletic, hard working and talented. And oh yah - he also has top line potential. The Harvard grad majored in government and minored in French, and his hockey IQ is off the charts. The Bolts called him up from the AHL last season on what they thought was a short-term assignment and he performed so well that they couldn't send him back. He's a definite sleeper who might net you 50 points this year, depending on the chemistry between him and his centerman. He'll tussle with Tyler Johnson to fill the injured Ryan Malone's spot on the second line coming out of training camp. So watch for line assignments coming out of camp and get ready to snap him up cheap.

Don't Overrate

Ben Bishop (G): Buyer beware! Bishop may emerge as the clear-cut starter in Tampa Bay, but that won't happen this season. He's quick and technically sound for a guy built like a giraffe (6-7, 215), and has the intangibles to be an NHL starter. But he didn't exactly knock the doors off the Bolts' dressing room after he arrived in Tampa Bay last year (3-4-0, .917 and 2.99). He heads into camp with a slight edge over Anders Lindback, but my money says the two men land in a circa 2002-03, Dwayne Roloson - Manny Fernandez type of platoon. That's fine in a daily format as your third goalie, but you'll suffer miserably in any other situation.

Matthew Carle (D): Can you afford to draft a sub-40 point defender who won't deliver PIMs or power-play points? Sure, his 22 points in 48 games last season makes him look like he's a half-point-per-game defender, but seven of those points came on a late, five-game streak. His season was actually so smelly that Team USA didn't even bother inviting him to their summer Olympic camp. He'll probably be motivated to prove that was a bad decision, but that's not enough for me to take the bait. I'm staying far, far away. I suggest you do the same.

Victor Hedman (D): I'll get this over quick - I don't think Hedman will ever be the 50-plus point, number one defender everyone thought he'd be when the Bolts drafted him. Yes, he'll block shots and lay hits, but he just doesn't seem to think the game well. And that will be an impediment to growing his offensive game. Still, he will likely deliver 40 points, 120 hits and 150 blocked shots in 2013-14, so draft him accordingly.

Anders Lindback (G): Opportunity knocked last season for the 6-6 Lindback, but the former Pred just couldn't answer the call. He was anointed the starter, but he'd never played heavy minutes before and he struggled under the weight of unreasonable expectations. Then came the high ankle sprain, followed by a trade that brought in another young goalie by the name of Ben Bishop. The two men play a similar style and are almost the same size, and both will compete for the starter's gig in camp. I don't think either man will seize the moment, so that means a straight platoon. Yuck.

Ryan Malone (LW): Malone is owed $2.5 million a year through 2014-15, but that might still be too much for a guy who's perpetually hurt. He can be a fixture in front of the net and great garbage-goal guy. Nevertheless, he'll be hard-pressed to maintain a gig on the Bolts' second line. He might score 20 goals and deliver 45 points. Or he might miss half the season. Draft him only if you can stomach the risk.

Top Prospects

Brett Connolly (RW): Connolly has great hands and speed, and his shot is like a lethal weapon. But he was rushed to the NHL when he was far too young and that set him back...until now. Last year, he finished tied for third in goals (31) in his first full season in the AHL and most of those (22) came the hard way - at even strength. He's in the hunt for a third-line job at right wing behind Marty St. Louis and Teddy Purcell, and could see occasional time on the power play if he can finally crack the lineup. Worst-case scenario? He dominates the AHL for one more year. I still like his keeper value - this guy has first-line upside sooner or later.

Jonathan Drouin (LW): Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the best fantasy prospect of them all...at least as far as the 2013 Entry Draft goes? Drouin has it all - agility, vision, skill, hockey smarts, competitiveness, soft hands and more. Add in patience and he already has elite puck possession skills. He can play both wing and center, and is built in the same sub-six-foot style as offensive dynamos like Pavel Datsyuk or Patrick Kane. Yes, he's that good. He was named CHL Player of the Year ahead of his teammate Nathan McKinnon and projects as a better point producer in the NHL. He could break camp on the first line. Yup, with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. Wow. Calder is calling.

Nikita Kucherov (RW): Holy smokes, this kid is talented. Kucherov spent part of this past season on the sideline because of injuries. But he still knocked off a remarkable 63 points in just 33 games in the QMJHL. That point-per-game pace was almost the same as CHL Player of the Year and now teammate, Jonathan Drouin. Yes, you read that right. Sure, there are still questions of size, durability and the sad stereotype that comes with young Russian phenoms. But there's a chance he could some day be in the same superstar class as Nail Yakupov. All he needs is a stay-out-of-the-infirmary gold pass. Stash him away in keeper leagues. Now.

Vladislav Namestnikov (C): Namestnikov is yet another supremely-talented young Russian forward the Bolts have boldly stashed away. He's still a distance from the NHL, but he has first-line upside just like countryman, Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov is the better sniper, but the two might end up being equally valuable in three season's time. Watch him in the AHL this season to see how his game grows.