Heading into the 2013-14 season, there was a lot of optimism surrounding a pair of rookie centers that were joining the Syracuse Crunch full-time: the 3rd (71st overall) and 4th (101st overall) round picks by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 Entry Draft were both centermen coming off productive careers in the CHL and looking to continue their development in the AHL.
Paquette, the lower pick, was considered to be the player with less offensive upside, who plays more of a crash-bang game around the net and in the corners, but still with some touch around the net that saw him score 131 points in 126 games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL.
Richard, on the other hand, was lauded for his slick stickhandling and playmaking vision. He recorded 51 assists in 52 games with the Guelph Storm of the OHL in his final year of junior hockey, and that scoring touch was part of what elevated him in our Top 25 Under 25 from a year ago, where he placed 19th, one spot ahead of Paquette.
You might have noticed Paquette hasn't appeared on this list just yet ...
Anyways, here's how the panel ranked Tanner Richard:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Clare Austin||Mike Gallimore||Clark Brooks|
Last Year's Rank: 19
The rankings from each member of the panel reflect the up-and-down (but mostly down) season that Richard had, his first with the Crunch. Two rankers felt that his 17 points in 65 games with the Crunch was bad enough to lower him out of their respective countdowns altogether.
After drawing comparisons to current Lightning pivot Valterri Filppula coming out of the draft, Richard's underwhelming year has some wondering about his long-term potential as an NHLer. Richard struggled a bit with the grind of a long season and the physicality of the older, more experienced competition in the AHL.
In Bolt Prospects' 2013-14 Final Rankings, he actually moved up from the year before, but that's more due to the nature of how Bolt Prospects classifies prospects and the guys from last year who graduated prospect status by their definition. From their rankings:
Tanner Richard struggled with adversity in his rookie pro campaign. Coming out of Guelph in the OHL where he seemingly sneezed out assists at will, Richard learned a hard lesson this year that professional hockey requires consistent effort to obtain consistent results ... Richard has a lot of work to do in order to reach that ceiling after two years of tepid development.
Richard was supposed to be the Crunch's crafty playmaker, but his 2 goals and 15 assists in 65 games isn't exactly what fans were hoping for ... It also took Richard a while to get going this season; four months went by before he scored his first goal. It came on January 25th, 2014.
It's not all bad, though. Richard struggled, yes, but this was his first professional season and he wouldn't be the first prospect in history to have a hard time making the leap from junior hockey to the AHL only to eventually cement himself as a quality pro.
Looking under the hood a bit, Richard shot a woeful 2.4% on the year, which is almost certainly affected by some bad luck. He's a better scorer than that and his goal totals next season should go up on regression alone. Furthermore, while he didn't put the puck in the net himself very much, he still managed a respectable 65.38% IPP (Individual Points Percentage), which means he recorded a point on over 65% of the goals scored by the Crunch while he was on the ice.
It's possible, then, that the fault for his poor season doesn't rest entirely on his own shoulders, though he does deserve some of the blame. The low shooting percentage coupled with fairly tough usage compared with other offensive forwards for the Crunch suggests he may have been judged too harshly for his lackluster rookie campaign.
The upside and the skillset are still there, and with another full off-season of training and a better understanding of the level of competition and the demands of the pro game, Richard will hopefully rebound in his second year with the Crunch.