I haven't been writing much this summer, and I guess I ought to apologize for that. This was a realy slow offseason and, well, life outside hockey has been eating up a great deal of my energy. In my defense, there were only about three stories I could have written about: the impending lockout, Anders Lindback, and the actual lockout. One out of three isn't complete failure.
But I'm back now. And while I still don't want to dwell on the lockout, one of the good things about it (bear with me, here) is that I can continue my love affair with the Syracuse Crunch (nee Norfolk Admirals) with little to no interruption. In fact, my humble solution to hockey withdrawal is the AHL. It promises to be a truly fantastic experience this season, what with all of the young NHL talent being assigned to American league teams. And there are many reasons why fans should be excited about this.
Still, while many Raw Charge readers got to know our AHLers last season, Syracuse fans are not nearly as familiar with our guys. This seems as good a time as any to get started changing that. Goalies go first.Leading the way will be
No: 40, 5' 11"/198, Catches: LEFT, 23 y.o. (as of Sunday, Sep. 16.)
In 5 games with Tampa Bay last season, "Tik" did okay for what was expected of him. He was thrown into not only the deep end of the pool, but a deep end with jagged rocks just under the surface. This was, after all, a team with one of the worst team defensive performances of the 2011-12 (NHL) season: 17th in 5v5 SA/60; 30th in 5v5 GA/60; 26th in PK%, 29th in SHGA, and 24th in Team Shot Ratio (Fenwick).* Tokarski did just about as good as any goalie getting plunked into that situation could be expected to do. And he left us with a positive impression while doing so.
His AHL performance was much better, partly because of sample size, but mostly because the Admirals as a whole were playing phenomenally well, including defensively. His comfort level was obvious there, and his familiarity with his teammates played no small role in that.
Here are his career stats via Elite Prospects:
In addition, Tokarski was 5th in the AHL last season against "NHL shooters" (loosely defined). There is no reason to think that Tokarski's performance last year was an aberration. He is more than capable of backstopping the Crunch quite ably, and I don't expect his numbers to vary all that much from his 2011-12 season.
In terms of Tokarski's style, I refer you to Justin Goldman's profile of him from earlier this summer:
As a smaller goalie, Tokarski needs to work extremely hard to read the shooter's release and challenge effectively, especially on high shots. . . . I am always impressed with his skating ability. He has great stability and control on his edges, part of which comes from a low center of gravity. This plays a major role in his smooth, fluid movements when executing butterfly slides. He's very solid down low and he seals the ice extremely well. The "book" on Tokarski will be to hold the puck for an extra second, then aim above the shoulders. He's a very compact goalie when making routine butterfly saves, and due to his wider stance, those knees have a tendency to drop early. Regardless of this tendency, Tokarski still stays very square to shooters and fills the net well for his size. As long as he is patient, and his timing is solid, he should have no problem being successful wherever he plays.
In that profile, Goldman pointed out that new acquisitions make Tokarski's future with the franchise a bit murkier than it might have been when the season closed out last May. One of those "new" guys isn't really new at all, and that's:
No: 35, 6' 3"/211, Catches: LEFT, 24 y.o.
Drafted in the first round in 2006, Helenius did fairly well his first seasons in North America. He was never able to nail down the starters' job, though, and he was sent to Europe in 2009-10 after the club essentially gave up on him. He floated around in the Swedish Elite League and then finally found his stride last year with JYP of the SM-Liiga (Finland), where his performance earned him not only the SM-Liiga's best goaltender award to go along with a championship, but the notice of Steve Yzerman and the Lightning management. He signed a new two-year contract in June, the second year of which is one-way.
Helenius's career numbers:
Scouting notes: We (that is, Lightning fans) don't know that much about Helenius, who has reportedly gotten better in his time in Europe. While hopes are high for him, projecting goalie performance is still far more art than science. Once again I turned to Justin Goldman, who got a chance last week to watch Helenius a little bit.
Like most successful Finnish prospects, Riku's quickness and athleticism are two of his finest traits. . . .Obviously he has come a long way since his run with Norfolk in 2009-10, as he has more experience, intelligence, and body control than ever before. . . . For the most part, he was smooth and in control of his slides, yet extremely quick to seal the ice, or to pop back up to both skates and square up to Jeff's shots. I also really appreciated his stick discipline, his active hand placement (in front of the body), and his ability to make minor adjustments as verbally dictated to him by coach Hall.
I highly recommend that article at TheGoalieGuild.com, if for no other reason than that there's some excellent video of Helenius in training. If you prefer, you can check out TGG's YouTube channel instead.
I am honestly excited about the prospect of watching these two goalies--along with the whole Syracuse team--this season. They were unquestionably dominant the second half of last season, and nearly all of the team is returning for the upcoming campaign. And while the AHL may have gotten a bit scarier overall with all of the guys being assigned from all over the league, the Crunch are going to benefit from that as well. In addition, as I noted earlier, Tokarski has already performed rather well against NHL shooters, and can hopefully continue to do so.
Either way, the Lightning make no bones about their intention to be patient in developing players. In developmental terms, facing some of the best young players in North America is a fantastic challenge for both Tokarski and Helenius. This is an experience these two would otherwise not get and we're all hoping for good results.
* That's Shots Against per 60 minutes of game play at 5-on-5; Goals Against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5; % of Penalties Killed; Short-Handed Goals Against (or goals given up while having a man advantage); and Shots For as a percentage of all shots both for and against per 60 minutes of game play at 5-on-5.
P.S.: Twenty-eight's a fluke, but twenty-nine's a streak.