The Tampa Bay Lightning have recalled right-handed defenseman Luke Witkowski from the Syracuse Crunch. In a corresponding move, the Syracuse Crunch have recalled Adam Comrie from the Kalamazoo Wings.
Defenseman Anton Stralman left Saturday night’s game with an apparent upper body injury. He suffered the injury in the third period of the game. In a fluke accident, Joe Thornton’s stick impacted him, and he went down to the ice favoring his torso on the right side. Stralman has been reported as day-to-day with the injury.
With Andrej Sustr being the only right-handed defenseman healthy, the Lightning needed another body on defense for the right side. While Matt Taormina had gotten the previous recalls to be the seventh defenseman on the roster, Witkowski has a leg up in this situation by being right handed.
In 11 games with the Crunch, Witkowski has three assists. He was also named the captain of the Crunch at the beginning of the season. A veteran of 210 AHL games and 20 NHL games, Witkowski is a tough defender. In the NHL, he serves as a stay at home defender that likes to hit. He’s also not afraid to drop the gloves to defend his teammates.
Most of the games Witkowski has played in the NHL, he has done so as a seventh defenseman in a 11 forward, seven defensemen configuration. He has averaged 13:35 time on ice in the NHL. It is likely that head coach Jon Cooper will go back to a seven defenseman configuration for tonight’s game against the New York Islanders. This will allow assistant coach Rick Bowness to mix and match defensive pairings.
Bowness can run Victor Hedman with Witkowski, Sustr, and Braydon Coburn throughout the game, with each of them capable of playing the right side. Bowness can also shift Hedman to the right side and have him play with Jason Garrison, Slater Koekkoek, or Nikita Nesterov. I expect that with Stralman out, Hedman could push past the 25:00 mark for ice time with 27-30 minutes not being out of the question either.
Losing Stralman for any length of time is a big blow. The defensive corps past Hedman and Stralman starts to get shaky. Sustr has been competent, but is a fringe top 4 defenseman that would be better on the third pair. Garrison is a low end top 4 guy, as he has slipped a bit over the past couple seasons. Coburn used to be a top 4 player, but now has settled in as a third pair player. Koekkoek has a future as a number 3 defenseman that could spot on a top pair, but he hasn’t reached that ceiling yet. Nesterov is a fringe defenseman that can work on the third pair, but the team is more comfortable with him being in the press box. Witkowski is a depth player that is best suited for the AHL and needs to be protected on the third pair in the NHL.