Anthony Cirelli, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning: Will Cirelli Find New Opportunity During Stamkos’ Absence?

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2019-20 season has been one of extremes. When things are going well, they have been the most dominating team in the NHL, ripping off multiple 10-game winning streaks while all but securing their place in the playoffs.

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When things are going poorly, however, things have bad. The Lightning have experienced some tough times this season, with losing streaks, slow starts, and injury defining the 2019-20 season.

Most recently, the Lightning found out that they would be without captain Steven Stamkos for six to eight weeks after he had surgery to fix a nagging injury. The timing of this injury is bad, as Stamkos had been playing some of the best hockey of his career and now Tampa Bay will be without their captain before making a run at the 2020 Playoffs.

Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning
A long-term injury to Steven Stamkos will likely keep him out of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s lineup through the first round of the 2020 playoffs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Stamkos out through at least Round 1 of the playoffs, this will give Anthony Cirelli an opportunity to showcase why he is one of the best young players in the game.

Cirelli Finding His NHL Role

When he made his NHL debut roughly two years ago, Cirelli immediately showed that he could become a keystone player for the Lightning. His defensive game with scoring upside slotted perfectly into head coach Jon Cooper’s style, making him appear to be a perfect depth forward.

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However, as he continued to develop his game, Cirelli has shown that he can be so much more than just depth. He was, arguably, the Lightning’s best defensive forward in his rookie season, and he has made a strong case to at least be nominated for the Selke Trophy in 2020.

Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning
As Anthony Cirelli has continued to develop his game, he has become one of the best defensive forwards in all of the NHL. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Lightning had stayed healthy, then Cirelli would have likely continued playing on their third line, while taking on heavy minutes on the penalty kill. With Stamkos’s injury, there may be a new opportunity for him on the power play.

Cirelli Could Use Power Play Ice-Time

See, despite being such a highly talented player, Cirelli has received almost no playing time on the man advantage. Throughout his young career, he has only registered a single power play goal, with most of his ice time coming in the defensive zone.

With Stamkos injured, the Lightning’s top power play will be forced to make some changes. Even before his absence, the unit was ineffective, registering just six goals in 61 attempts to start out 2020.

Depending on how things go, Cirelli could be part of those changes. He has the offensive talent to be effective with the man advantage, with his defense adding some needed responsibility to a unit that sometimes gets too fancy for their own good.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Greenand Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli
With Stamkos out of the lineup, Cirelli could become a contributor on the Lightning’s power play. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

If his game translates, Cirelli could add a different dimension that the Lightning’s top power play has been missing in recent months. One not of just skill, but defensive control as well.

Cirelli Can’t Replace Stamkos but Can Improve Lightning

Now, this isn’t saying that Cirelli can replace Stamkos’ presence on the power play. What he can do, however, is help to give the unit a new look in his absence. That way, when Stamkos gets back from injury, it will be in a better place than when he left it.

Related: Lightning’s Defensive Injuries Spell Woes Before Playoff Push

Given the fact that they were struggling with the man advantage anyway, this new look could be exactly what Tampa Bay needs to get things going again before the playoffs. If that works, then the team will be better off for it in the end.

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