BRANDON, Fla. — Oleg Sosunov took a bit of extra joy in being part of the winning team during the 3-on-3 tournament that ended Tampa Bay Lightning development camp in June.
After taking pictures with his teammates, the 21-year-old defenseman prospect grabbed the trophy and skated around the rink with it like it was the Stanley Cup.
“Just having a little fun with everyone,” Sosunov said.
Selected by the Lightning in the sixth round (No. 178) of the 2016 NHL Draft, Sosunov wants to be noticed for producing on the ice this season after injuries limited him to a combined 37 games with Syracuse of the American Hockey League and Orlando of the ECHL last season. He had one goal in 20 games for Syracuse and five points (one goal, four assists) in 17 games for Orlando.
“I think the best practice is the game and the more minutes I can get will help me,” Sosunov said. “Last year I had injuries, which I finally feel like I’ve fully recovered from, so I hope I can be better for this season.”
Lightning assistant general manager Stacy Roest said Sosunov’s game developed despite his limited ice time and he displayed a good work ethic.
“I think with the coaching and practice time we had this year we’ve seen a big improvement just in that aspect with the skill and the skating,” Roest said. “When he went and played in the [ECHL] he did well. He played well.”
The next step for Sosunov is to prove he can play consistently in the AHL and move on to where he can one day challenge for a roster spot with the Lightning.
“That was kind of our plan from Day One, to use [last season] as kind of a learning year,” Roest said. “Now you can see he’s skating better, he’s obviously big and strong (6-foot-9, 236 pounds). We are happy with where he is development-wise, but he’s going to have to play this year.”
Sosunov will begin the season with Syracuse and said he wants to show he’s the kind of defenseman Tampa Bay wants in its organization, a player who can be strong in the defensive zone but move the puck forward and contribute offensively.
“I think I’m more than a defensive defenseman,” he said. “I have to continue to improve and work to get on the ice. Hopefully I can stay healthy.”