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Tampa Bay Lightning: Free Under-the-Radar Targets – Hockey Writers – Tampa Bay Lightning

With key pieces moving in and out, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois has had a busy season so far. Despite the tough decisions, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the better hockey team entering the 2024-25 season. With the additions of Jake Guentzel, Cam Atkinson, and Zemgus Girgensons, the Lightning improved their five-on-five scoring and forward depth significantly. However, the Lightning could use one or two more to bolster their starting lineup. Many attractive options always work for free.

Dominik Kubalik

When Dominik Kubalik scored 30 goals in his first season with Jonathan Toews as his center, the Chicago Blackhawks thought they had found a killer six-point forward. However, the winner was not on the roster two seasons later, failing to even eclipse the 20-goal mark. Suddenly, Kubalik revived his career with the Detroit Red Wings, scoring 20 goals and 45 points in 81 games in 2023. This production made him an important part in dealing with Alex Debrincat and Detroit. After his arrival in Ottawa, Kubalik had the worst season of his NHL career, scoring only 11 goals and 15 points in 74 games.

Related: Lightning’s 2024-25 season schedule: 10 games to wrap up

Despite coming off a down season, the Lightning could find value in a player like Kubalik. The 28-year-old can play a temporary role in the second-line wing. After all, the Lightning are in dire need of an upgrade on the right wing following the departure of Anthony Duclair. Corey Sznajder from AllThreeZones rates Kubalik as a solid passer, but one time is his strength. Winner ranked in the 84th percentile of center lane passes out of 60 among the 2022-23 Red Wings. In addition, Kubalik ranked in the 99th percentile of one-timers and 94 percent of one-timers per hour that season.

As a team, the Lightning rank in the 94th percentile of single-season passers, and their mid-range pass rush could use an upgrade next season. Kubalik helps address the team’s weaknesses while the team complements his best qualities. AFP Analytics projects Kubalik to earn just $1 million in his next one-season deal. In short, the Lightning’s front office should be on top of this entire system, and Kubalik makes a lot of sense for the organization.

Alex Nylander

Before taking a break with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Alex Nylander averaged 12 minutes of ice time per game in his limited NHL experience. Then, the 26-year-old was given an opportunity in Columbus and shined in an expanded role. Averaging 17 minutes a night with the Blue Jackets, Nylander scored 11 goals and four assists for 15 points in 23 games. Before his breakout, Nylander appeared in 14 regular season games over the past three NHL seasons, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Alex Nylander, Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images)

After watching the 2016 8th-overall pick succeed as a late bloomer, everyone continued to focus on him. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets did not extend him and he remains an unrestricted free agent. While his 17.74 shooting percentage isn’t sustainable, the Lightning could add a capable offensive shooter to the middle six to bolster the scoring secondary. Perhaps under head coach Jon Cooper, Nylander can mature and develop a two-way game. Also, the price tag won’t be huge. AFPanalytics projects the winger to receive an annual contract worth around $1.3 million.

Kailer Yamamoto

Kailer Yamamoto is a little different from Kubalik and Nylander. He is not a point producer but prefers to play a fast game in transition and up front while remaining defensive. After a difficult last season with the Edmonton Oilers, Yamamoto signed with the Seattle Kraken in an attempt to replicate his 20-point season, with 41 points the past two seasons. However, Yamamoto found himself in a deep role with Seattle, scoring just eight goals and 16 points in 59 games. Now on the free agent market, the 2017 first-round draft pick offers a strong middle-of-the-six.

Former Kraken coach Dave Hakstol didn’t do well for Yamamoto last season. The winger plays the perfect defensive game but ranks last among the Seattle forwards in starting percentage in the defensive zone. In addition, his ice time per game is down five minutes compared to the previous three seasons in Edmonton. Meanwhile, Yamamoto marks as one of the league’s most efficient forwards (via AllThreeZones) and likes to distribute the puck in zone entries. AFPanalytics projects the 25-year-old at $2 million over two years on his next contract.

Lightning Desperately Needs Top-Six Winger

Interesting short-term options remain in free agency, but none of these three players should be the Lightning’s long-term solution in a top-six role. Inconsistency is a concern between the three objectives listed above. However, at an affordable price, they are good short-term, mid-six options to add a punch of youth to Tampa Bay’s aging roster. Note the potential trade for BriseBois; Frank Vatrano of the Anaheim Ducks remains in the spotlight.

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