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Syracuse Crunch player profile: JP Cote

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When the Lightning ran into injury trouble on the blueline last season, they signed and promoted veteran AHL'er Jean-Philippe Cote. With Radko Gudas out indefinitely due to knee surgery, will they turn to him again?

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The Crunch's blueline has mostly been a bag of inconsistencies this season, which should be a slight concern to Tampa Bay now that defenseman Radko Gudas needs knee surgery. Gudas is considered as out indefinitely with no timetable as of yet for his return. There are several options obviously available to the Lightning as far as covering for Gudas' absence: staying steady with what they have (which is what they appear to be thinking at the moment), making another call up from the Crunch, or moving for a trade.

In Syracuse, Luke Witkowski is still available, but his season has been one of uncharacteristic struggle for the defenseman, so much so that he wasn't really considered for the first recall that was connected to Gudas' knee injury. The ultimate honor of a call up for that went to Nikita Nesterov, who is still with Tampa Bay and may remain there. Matt Corrente has been pretty steady for the Crunch, but he's still new to the organization and is a penalty minute liability - he currently leads the Crunch in that area, with 84 PIM in 30 games played. Joey Mormina is on an AHL-only contract, and although Tampa has rewarded players on those before with a mid-season transfer to a two-way, Mormina's NHL days are probably over.

However, speaking of rewarding AHL players with mid-season contract upgrades, there is, of course, another defenseman in the system that Tampa Bay could call on. Jean-Philippe Cote was reportedly the other Crunch player that was most recently considered for a call up. It's very possible that Cote and Nesterov will switch places in the near future.

It was just about this time last season that Cote's hard work since 2011 with the Lightning's farm clubs was rewarded. On December 18th, 2013, Cote was signed to a two-way AHL/NHL contract by the Lightning and was immediately recalled. Cote had previously been on an AHL-only contract, but Lightning head coach Jon Cooper had worked with Cote in both Norfolk and Syracuse and was obviously very familiar with the kind of game Cote could bring to the Lightning.

Cote's career in the AHL has spanned more than a decade and included winning the Calder Cup with Norfolk in 2012. Before his signing and call up to the Lightning last season, Cote had only played in 8 NHL games in his career, all with the Montreal Canadiens in 2005-2006. However, Cooper knew that Cote's gritty style on the ice and good nature off the ice would fit in well with his dressing room, many of whom had already played with Cote in both Norfolk and Syracuse. Cote ended up netting his first NHL point in his first game with the Lightning. That point resulted in one of the most adorable things to ever be recorded: a giddy on-air hug with Lightning broadcaster Paul Kennedy.

This past off season, Cote was considered as depth for the organization, but Raw Charge writer John Fontana also mentioned that NHL time certainly wasn't out of the question for the defenseman. Cote netted 4 assists in the 19 games he played with Tampa Bay last season and totaled an even 0 in plus/minus. This season, there's no question that Cote has been Syracuse's most consistent, reliable defenseman. He has the highest plus/minus rating of all defensemen on the team, with a +12, and the second-highest rating out of everyone else. Only forward Tanner Richard's +15 rates higher. Cote has one goal and five assists in 35 games with the Crunch so far this season.

Cote has been an assistant captain in Syracuse all three years of the Tampa Bay affiliation, and is always one of the most vocal guys on the bench and on the ice. It may not be surprising to see Cote called up to Tampa Bay in the near future, especially if Cooper is looking for a match to Gudas' defensive physicality. If Cote is called up, all of the Crunch, not just the blueline, will sorely miss his presence.