Austin Watson, Jonas Johansson, Tampa Bay Lightning, Walteri Merela

Lightning Stock Up, Stock Down: Johannson, Merela, and More

Welcome to this edition of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stock Up and Stock Down, a weekly column detailing the highs and lows of the team’s performance. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning head into the final week of the preseason still reeling from the news that they will be without star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for the next two months. In spite of that, the team continues to make substantial progress as they head into the regular season opener, having won both games last week to give them a three-game preseason winning streak.

Tampa Bay Lightning Stock up, Stock down
Tampa Bay Lightning Stock up, Stock down (The Hockey Writers)

Jonas Johannson made his season debut in the win on Sept. 29 against the Carolina Hurricanes and stopped 42 shots in a 4-0 shutout victory. The following night, the Lightning’s core players made their season debut, and goaltender Matt Tomkins held off the Nashville Predators, 5-4, sparked by the three-point effort of Walteri Merela. After the game, the Lightning cut their roster by 30, leaving 26 players for the preseason’s final three games, all of which are against the Florida Panthers.

Stock Down: Faceoffs

Last season, the Lightning were not efficient at winning faceoffs. The problem resurfaced in their recent win against the Predators. Even though the final stats revealed that the Preds won the faceoff battle 36-28, the Lightning lost many key faceoffs during the final few minutes of the third period. They were holding on to a two-goal lead at that point, and losing draws helped the Preds close the gap to one goal with 38 seconds left. Luke Glendening, who did not play in this pre-season game, has been excellent in the face-off circle in previous seasons with other teams and hopefully will bring that skillset to the team this season.

Stock Up: Jonas Johannson

Imagine signing a contract with a team that has such a rich playoff pedigree as the Lightning and entering training camp thinking you might play around 20 games in the 2023-24 season. Then, the head coach tells you that the starting goaltender is hurt, and now you, with just 35 NHL games under your belt, will likely be the starting goaltender for at least the next two months. This might be overwhelming for some, but it did not seem to bother the 28-year-old in his first appearance in a Lightning sweater.

Jonas Johansson Buffalo Sabres
Jonas Johansson as a member of the Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Johannson made 42 saves, facing a Hurricane squad that featured quite a few regulars. Head coach Jon Cooper was pleased with his netminder’s performance: “You want to see if he’s going to take this opportunity and seize it. It’s a small sample size, just one game tonight, but he sure made a case. For him, confidence-wise, this has got to be great for him. He’s getting his feet wet. Hasn’t played in a game yet, but that’s a heck of a night one.”

Stock Up: Walteri Merela

Merela’s three-point performance in the win against the Predators boosted his successful preseason resume even more, so it came as no surprise when the 25-year-old survived the first round of cuts to be one of the 26 players remaining on the roster. He caught the eye of the Lightning scouting staff by recording eight goals and 14 points to lead Tappara in goals and tie for second in scoring while helping his team to their second-straight Liiga championship last season. He may start the season with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, Syracuse Crunch, to become better acclimated to the North American style of play, but it will not be a big surprise if he makes the team.

Stock Up: Austin Watson

Watson was signed in the offseason with the hopes that the 31-year-old could help the Lightning with his physical style of play. The former Ottawa Senator is tough on the forecheck and willing to go to the net. He has solid experience on the penalty kill and is willing to stand up for his teammates, who praised him in the past for being a positive influence in the locker room. However, something else puts him in the stock-up category.

Austin Watson Ottawa Senators
Austin Watson, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In Jan. 2023, Watson celebrated four years of sobriety after dealing with alcoholism as well as anxiety and depression. In 2019, while with the Predators, Watson entered the NHL/NHLPA’s Stage 2 substance abuse program, and he’s been clean since. Whether or not he makes the Lightning roster, it is great to see someone who has been successful in dealing with personal issues.

Related: New Lightning Prospects Stand Out at Rookie Showcase

Latest News & Highlights

The Lightning have three preseason games this week, all against the Florida Panthers. These matches will determine the fate of players on the roster bubble and show how the goaltenders continue to perform with an increased workload due to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s injury as the team prepares for their season opener on Oct. 10 against the Predators.

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