Tampa Bay sailing thanks to former Admirals

Tampa Bay is succeeding without Steven Stamkos thanks in part to a gang of young pros who cut their teeth with the 2012 American League champion Norfolk Admirals.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference right now and have been succeeding for months without the services of the team’s best player, Steven Stamkos. One look at last night’s box score will give you an indication of how the Bolts are doing it.

Five of the 12 Lightning players to register points in the 5-3 win over Carolina were members of the 2012 American League champion Norfolk Admirals. The coach of that squad was Jon Cooper, now behind the bench in Tampa.

Defenseman Mark Barberio notched his first two goals, while left winger Ondrej Palat had the first three-point game of his NHL career. Tyler Johnson, Radko Gudas and Alex Killorn also added to the offense. Overall, four of the Bolts’ top 10 scorers played for that Norfolk team.

When Bolts GM Steve Yzerman decided to send No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin back to junior without even a game or two in the NHL, minor shock waves went through the hockey world. But Yzerman liked what Johnson, Palat and Richard Panik brought up from the minors (in Syracuse last year – the Lightning changed affiliates after Norfolk won the Calder Cup) as a unit.

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While it’s great to have players such as Stamkos and Victor Hedman who went straight from the draft and into the Lightning lineup, those guys were part of a small fraternity of elite teenagers. For most of the league, a stint in the AHL is necessary and even if it may take longer than some would like to achieve their NHL dream, playing that pro schedule against men helps development immensely.

And going all the way to a championship title, as the Admirals did in 2011-12, can pay huge dividends for a franchise when a Steven Stamkos goes down for a long period and youngsters need to step up.