TAMPA —There have been only rave reviews for how Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has looked — and felt — so far.
"He's walking around like a man on a mission," coach Jon Cooper said.
But a truer evaluation will come starting with Friday's first full team practice at Brandon's Ice Sports Forum, not to mention Tuesday's exhibition opener against the Hurricanes at Amalie Arena. Stamkos, 27, won't have any restrictions, but he hasn't played since mid-November surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. The four-time All-Star said he wouldn't mind seeing more preseason action if his knee responds well.
"I think we'll obviously play in the first one and see how it feels and reacts," Stamkos said. "There's nothing quite like a game situation. You can try to simulate, but you can't. So we'll see how camp goes.
"I'm not expecting anything to pop up. If everything is feeling great, then yeah, it'd be nice to get out in maybe one or two more (preseason games) than I normally would to see how it's going. But we'll make that decision after whatever game I play first."
Coach Jon Cooper said this is the deepest camp roster he has had as Lightning coach.
That could make for more difficult roster decisions. GM Steve Yzerman told the team at Thursday's opening meeting that "our final roster isn't set."
"There's some young players now that we think can really push for a spot on this team," Yzerman said.
There are forwards such as Adam Erne and Matt Peca, who each saw action with the Lightning last year in callups. Then there are touted forward prospects coming from juniors, such as Brett Howden, Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph and Taylor Raddysh. Howden, Cirelli and Joseph will be in the same practice group as Stamkos and F Nikita Kucherov to open camp. F Brayden Point made the jump from juniors last season to earn a spot on the roster.
"Who is going to be the next Brayden Point?" Cooper said. "Someone is going to be up there. Someone is sitting in that room (Thursday) that's going to be that guy."
Coach Jon Cooper acknowledged it's probably going to take a collective effort to fill the void left by dynamic wing Jonathan Drouin, who was dealt to the Canadiens in June for touted defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
"Jo was a big part of our team. He's a high talent, was exceptional on our power play," Cooper said. "I don't know if you can really fill that. He's got special talents that most players don't have."
But Cooper has been impressed with what he has seen from Sergachev, 19, while noting the Lightning isn't going to rush him.
"He's got all the attributes," Cooper said. "He's strong, he's big, he's got skill, he can skate. You look at the program, look at his age, and are like, 'Wow, players are developing differently than years ago. He's got the whole package.'
"He's a really mature, driven kid. He's definitely not taking anything for granted."
Nuts and bolts
• Steven Stamkos said he'd love to play with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov, like the trio did early last season. They're in the same practice group to start training camp.
• Looks like the Lightning will hold more training camp practices at Brandon's Ice Sports Forum (which has two ice sheets), including Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. All are open to the public from around 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
• Three players will begin camp on injured reserve: forwards Erik Condra (back surgery), Otto Somppi (shoulder surgery) and Jonne Tammela (knee surgery) GM Steve Yzerman said Somppi should be ready to start the season with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior League and Tammela will probably take longer. Condra continues to skate lightly, but it's uncertain when he'll be ready for contact.
Quote of the day
"Two Cups. Or is it three Cups? Four Cups? Jeez."
Wing Alex Killorn, upon finding out that new teammate Chris Kunitz has won four Stanley Cups
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.