Exploring Lightning's options at center with injuries
It certainly didn't look good when three Lightning centers - Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette - all had to be helped off the ice during Thursday's 4-1 win over the Wild.
There's expected to be an update later today on just how serious these lower body injuries were, with coach Jon Cooper not seeming overly optimistic last night.
"It doesn't sound encouraging for any of them," Cooper said. "We'll see."
All three - Johnson, Namestnikov and Paquette- were able to leave Amalie Arena last night without the use of crutches. Paquette appeared like his might have been the worst, his left ankle/leg crumpling awkwardly after a third period fall.
Either way, it looks like the Lightning will have to do some juggling at center, which had been its deepest position entering the season. But with captain Steven Stamkos (knee surgery) still out, and veterans Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula traded last week, all of a sudden there's a shortage up the middle.
Rookie Brayden Point assumed the No. 1 center role last night, and would appear the leading candidate. It's a stunning turn even for Point, who was hoping he'd merely make the team out of training camp. But Point's high hockey IQ, his speed and dependable play at both ends have drawn praise from coaches and teammates alike.
"He's been phenomenal," Victor Hedman said. "Coming into training camp, he was the guy that really stood out. He worked so hard, so mature in his play, very responsible. He's got a bright future ahead of him. He's got a very long career as a Bolt."
The Lightning could also turn to Jonathan Drouin, who has played center both in juniors and with AHL Syracuse. He's arguably the team's top playmaker, and if given more time and space up the middle, imagine what kind of impact he could have.
Greg McKegg, claimed off waivers from the Panthers last week, was a healthy scratch last night and could plug in on the bottom six at center. As could Gabriel Dumont, who is strong at faceoffs.
There aren't many (healthy) options at AHL Syracuse, though would think Matthew Peca could earn another emergency callup. He was impressive in his earlier stint this season.