Keller to make Lightning Debut vs. Detroit

According to tampabaylightning.com, Lightning prospect Justin Keller will dress for the Bolts tonight against the Detroit Red Wings.

The club reports a lingering eye injury to Chris Gratton, as well as injuries to Ryan Craig (back) and Jason Ward (ankle), and the desire to sit Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards opened up three forward spots, but the club will dress just 10 forwards. Keller, who had 13 goals in an injury-plagued season for Springfield last year and 51 the year before in Kelowna to lead the WHL, flew to Detroit from Norfolk this morning to join the team for the morning skate.

Tonight's lineup, per TBL.com:

Hlavac-Prospal-Ouellet
Darche-Karlsson-Wanvig
Roy-MacDonald-Tarnasky
Keller

Ranger-Kuba
O'Brien-Lukowich
Lundin-Janik
Smaby-Lampman

Holmqvist
Denis

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He Deserves It

I'm not sure how much NHL upside Justin really has, but the kid gives an honest effort and never gives up and of all the rookie forwards last season, he was the one who did the most good consistently.

That's Good To Hear

Those are the type of comments I like to hear about the players that will be in Norfolk this year. I am sure after this preseason stint with the big club he will be back in Norfolk by the end of the weekend.

Last year in Norfolk, we had an offensive machine for most of the year, but they went belly up in the playoffs, due to a lack of effort and heart. But in the prior years we had less offense, but still won on grit, hard work and heart.

Hopefully those things mentioned above that Keller brings to the game will rub off on the other players in Norfolk. We are used to winning here. But we have a real low tolerance for players and teams that don't work hard and show heart. If the work, dedication and effort are there, the wins will come.

The Flip Side

Of course the flip side of Keller is that he is small and at least last season he was not very strong on his skates. If you breathed on him you could put him on the ice.

But he always got up and kept playing hard and he's smart. He has the sniper's instinct to find the holes in the defense around the circles and get open to pot goals.

Keller not a house guest last night

I was pleased with Keller's game last night. I didn't expect to see much more than "don't make a mistake hockey."

His skating still needs work, but I'm giving kudos to him for not playing like a house guest last night -- you know what I'm talking about, like Bertuzzi with the Red Wings last year or Doug O'Brien with the Bolts a couple years ago where they're worried about knocking over a lamp or stepping on a cat and play WAY too tentatively. "Here-you-take-it-and-lets-be-friends" hockey.

Keller tried throwing a couple hits. Did a little damage on one of them. He was trying.

What I really liked was he played the shark role in the low slot and never - ever hesitated to shoot. Once off a faceoff there was a loose puck and boom - it was on net. He'd just keep finding open spaces in the slot and get cocked and ready. He got a few off - wasn't shy at all.

The other thing that was impressive to me considering all circumstances was he constantly drove the net. Like a Ryan Craig. This will give him points with the big Pennsylvanian upstairs. A guy on his back, two guys waiting to knock him over... he'd constantly go to the net to give a linemate a scoring option. Good to see. Not sure how long he could last doing that, but he also knew how to dart in and out of traffic to find the open spots.

Like I said, I was pleased.

I think he needs some more seasoning, and if he works on his skating, I think he can be a decent NHLer - or at least push for time.

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