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Lightning journal: Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov happy to be together again

BRANDON — When Steven Stamkos saw the training camp practice groups Thursday, he hoped it meant he would be reunited on a line with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov.

Stamkos got his wish Friday on the Lightning's first full day of practice at the Ice Sports Forum.

The trio felt the same chemistry that made them one of the hottest lines in hockey early last season. Stamkos (nine goals, 11 assists) and Kucherov (eight goals, 13 assists) were among the league's top scorers through 17 games until Stamkos hurt his right knee Nov. 15 in Detroit and missed the rest of the season.

Keep in mind, it's early and lines can change. But the top line will be one to watch as camp continues, especially because it involves two of the team's best players.

"I think we are just able to read off each other," Stamkos said. "We're pretty smart hockey players and have some speed, skill. And with the amount of success we had earlier in the year, it just felt like there was no guessing on the ice. We knew if one guy was in trouble, the other guy was going to be close for support and the other guy would be on the other side of the ice.

"When you have that chemistry, there's an element of it just being natural, and there was a little bit of that at first."

Stamkos said Friday's session was one of the fastest-paced first skates he has been part of in a long time. "I was joking with the guys, 'That's what we get for not making the playoffs,' " he said.

Stamkos, Kucherov and Namestnikov have the skating ability to keep up with each other. They move the puck off their sticks quickly. And though having two elite scorers on a line doesn't always guarantee success, Stamkos thinks their play without the puck helps. (For a video breakdown of why they work so well together, go to tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.)

"I think what makes it work is both players' ability to make plays when you're not the shooter as well," Stamkos said. "In my opinion, (Kucherov) is as good a passer as he is a shooter. When he needs to be the guy to take the shot, he can take a shot. If he needs to draw guys' attention to him and make a pass, he can do that. I feel like I've improved in that part of my game as well."

Kucherov has said about Stamkos: "I think sometimes we think the same way. You can see it on the ice. I always know where 'Stammer' is going to be, and I'm sure he knows where I'm going to be. It's just so much fun playing with him."

Fox Sports Sun Lightning color analyst Brian Engblom, a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman, said another key element is having a versatile forward such as Namestnikov who can complement the two All-Stars.

"There's not much Stammer and 'Kuch' can't do," Engblom said. "They're both highly skilled and highly imaginative. But when you have that third piece on a line, you need someone willing to be the safety net. And Vladdy is more inclined to be defensive than offensive.

"But at the same time, (Namestnikov) is good with the puck. He can play with them because he's fast enough, he's smart enough and is willing to be that 'other' guy."

Namestnikov has other strengths, such as zone exits and entries, helping fuel transition plays, according to analytics tracker Corey Sznajder. But Namestnikov said it's important not to just defer.

"You just have to read off (Stamkos and Kucherov)," Namestnikov said. "If a shot is there, you have to take it. If a play is there, I'm going to pass the puck. But you can't overthink it and just pass them the puck all the time. You've got to play your game."

And they play it well — together.

Lining up

Brayden Point played right wing alongside Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in the first scrimmage. Coach Jon Cooper said not to read too much into Point's position. "If he's proven one thing, he can play anywhere," Cooper said. … Cory Conacher and Yanni Gourde, a dynamic duo for AHL Syracuse last season, started camp on the same line. D Mikhail Sergachev was paired with veteran Dan Girardi.

Medical matters

D Anton Stralman (undisclosed) did not skate but could be back on the ice by the end of the weekend, GM Steve Yzerman said.

Fan Fest

Today's event at Amalie Arena begins at 9:30 a.m. and goes until around 2 p.m. It is free and open to the public, but fans need to download a mobile ticket at tampabaylightning.com/fanfest.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.