Lightning fans all remember the pre-season buzz from 2016. The Bolts were the popular choice to win the Stanley Cup. After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals and the Cup Finals the previous two seasons, this was going to be it... no doubt about it.
They didn’t quite make the Finals. They didn’t even make the playoffs, missing out by one point.
So, when we read that 5 of 17 panelists from NHL.com again pick the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup, the buzz isn’t all there. We all were burned last year and reminded that pre-season predictions mean nothing. But can they win The Cup this season?
Yes, they can. If certain things happen.. just like every other team in the NHL.
If 23-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy can play like the number-1 goalie, everyone in the organization envisions he can be. So far this season, he’s been outstanding.
Can 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev play older than a teenager? He made the club out of training camp, but we all know it can take a few years for a defenseman to mature into an NHL-caliber blueliner. This kid can play, but can he play well enough now? Defense is not precisely the Lightning’s strength.. same as last year.
Will 21-year-old Brayden Point continue to improve and withstand the pounding of a full NHL season? The center is listed at 166 pounds, which doesn’t sound like enough weight to play at this level, but he’s got the talent and the speed. The point is, he's among the leagues scoring leaders already with three goals and four assists. Together with Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, the center position is stacked on this team.
And speaking of Stamkos, he has to prove he can hold up with an injury-free season. Skating on a line with 40-goal scorer Nikita Kucherov, this can be the best line in the NHL.
With 26-year-old Victor Hedman anchoring the blue line, the Lightning is loaded with young talent. Throw in a few experienced veterans like Ryan Callahan, Chris Kunitz, and Dan Girardi, and these guys can win it all. But we’ve heard it before. At the least, this should be an exciting season. At the most, they could still be playing next June.