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Tampa Bay Lightning recall Erik Condra and Yanni Gourde from Syracuse Crunch

With Brayden Point and Vladislav Namestnikov out of the line-up, Steve Yzerman calls up reinforcements for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs

Vladislav Namestnikov and Brayden Point both left last night’s game early. Namestnikov was shaken up after taking a hard hit from Shea Weber while Brayden Point took both a slash to the hands from Alexander Radulov and a slapshot to the arm.

In a move that surprised absolutely no one, the Tampa Bay Lightning recalled more players from the Syracuse Crunch. Erik Condra gets his umpteenth call-up, joined by another player who hopes to make his season debut in a Lightning uniform - Yanni Gourde.

At this point, it’s probably easier to count the days when the Lightning don’t make transactions with their AHL affiliate, but let’s go ahead and look at the moves made just this month.

  • 12/6/16: Re-assign F Michael Bournival
  • 12/6/16: Re-assign D Luke Witkowski
  • 12/8/16: Recall D Luke Witkowski
  • 12/9/16: Re-assign D Slater Koekkoek
  • 12/12/16: Recall D Slater Koekkoek
  • 12/12/16: Recall F Erik Condra
  • 12/14/16: Recall F Cory Conacher
  • 12/14/16: Re-assign D Luke Witkowski to AHL
  • 12/14/16: Re-assign F Erik Condra to AHL
  • 12/14/16: Recall D Luke Witkowski (He was re-assigned and recalled the same day. His last minute re-recall was a “coach’s decision.”)
  • 12/15/16: Re-assign F Cory Conacher
  • 12/16/16: Recall F Erik Condra
  • 12/16/16: Re-assign D Luke Witkowski to AHL
  • 12/16/16: Recall F Cory Conacher
  • 12/19/16: Recall F Tanner Richard
  • 12/19/16: Re-assign F Joel Vermin to AHL
  • 12/21/16: Recall G Kristers Gudlevskis
  • 12/22/16: Recall F Michael Bournival
  • 12/24/16: Re-assign F Cory Conacher
  • 12/24/16: Re-assign F Erik Condra
  • 12/24/16: Re-assign F Tanner Richard
  • 12/27/16: Recall F Matthew Peca
  • 12/29/16: Recall F Erik Condra
  • 12/29/16: Recall F Yanni Gourde

24 transactions in 23 days. 10 players transferred between Tampa and Syracuse in the last 18 days. That’s a lot of movement for any NHL roster. What truly stands out and merits further discussion is the number of unique players the Lightning have elected to bring into the NHL this year.

If we organize this list based on games played, you’ll see that Slater Koekkoek is a regular member of the lineup, several players have received extended looks, and a few just made a quick stop in the NHL.

  • D Slater Koekkoek (24 Games Played) - currently with the Lightning
  • D Luke Witkowski (8 GP) - currently with the Crunch
  • F Joel Vermin (8 GP) - currently with the Crunch (injured)
  • F Cory Conacher (7 GP) - currently with the Crunch
  • F Erik Condra (7 GP) - just recalled to the Lightning
  • F Michael Bournival (7 GP) - currently with the Lightning
  • F Tanner Richard (3 GP) - currently with the Crunch
  • F Matthew Peca (1 GP) - currently with the Lightning
  • G Kristers Gudlevskis (1 GP, as backup goalie) - currently with the Lightning
  • F Yanni Gourde (0 GP) - just recalled to the Lightning

Let’s break these players down into groups based on the numbers of games played in an effort to understand the thought process behind the call-ups.

Extended Looks (7-8 games played): Bournival, Conacher, Condra, Vermin, and Witkowski

Michael Bournival is the only member this group who has had a steady assignment since being introduced in the line-up. He is a speedy, smart, physical player who fills in well on the fourth line. He has made an impact so far with a goal in six games. He’s also had a couple games where he was buzzing and creating chances for the fourth line. He brings a ton of energy to the line up and he’ll likely stay with the Bolts for awhile.

Cory Conacher and Erik Condra are frequent fliers, making many trips to Tampa to pick up a few games here and there. They are not consistent members of the line-up, but the Lightning are comfortable calling upon them when needed. Because both of these players are NHL veterans, it is convenient to shuttle them back and forth without worrying about negatively impacting their development (which is always a concern with younger prospects). They also fit specific areas of need in the event of injuries. Condra is a reliable fourth liner and penalty killer. Conacher is a speedy winger that can provide offense in the middle six as well as power play help.

Joel Vermin is an interesting case. He’s a seventh round draft pick from 2013 who has consistently pushed to make the roster during training camp the past two seasons. He was among the last players cut from the Lightning before the season started. During his brief stint with the Bolts, he had plenty of even strength time along with being used on the power play, penalty kill, and even in critical overtime situations. It’s unfortunate that the time of his audition coincided with some of the worst overall play from the Lightning. He might be a valuable asset in a trade.

Luke Witkowski is the only Syracuse defenseman that the Lightning feel comfortable playing in the NHL. He will be the first call-up if a need arises on the blue line, especially for a right hander.

Brief Stints (0-3 games played): Gourde, Gudlevskis, Peca, and Richard

Yanni Gourde was called up earlier today. He has been playing exceptionally well for the Crunch, including an impressive performance last night that featured a short-handed goal and the overtime game-winning goal. With Vladislav Namestnikov and Brayden Point out of the line-up tonight, Gourde’s audition starts now. He is a small player and will have to play hard and fast to stick in the NHL. Last year’s injury bug forced him into two NHL games and he recorded an assist.

Kristers Gudlevskis is in town because Ben Bishop is injured and we need a goalie to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy. Unfortunately, he will probably spend most of his time on the bench. It might be in his best interest (and the Lightning’s) to trade Gudlevskis so he can have a fresh start and perhaps a little more consistency.

Matthew Peca made his NHL debut last night and looked sharp right out of the gate. His play improved as the game wore on. He is another player that is smaller, but plays with a lot of speed and has a high hockey IQ. He can play in all situations, though Cooper has been reluctant to play young players, other than Vermin, on the penalty kill. It will be interesting to see if he gets an extended look or is sent back down quickly.

Tanner Richard also made his NHL debut this season in the Lightning’s decisive victory over the Detroit Wings last week. He played relatively well throughout his brief stint here but was sent back to Syracuse after just three games, largely because the Crunch are struggling to ice a complete roster due to all of the call-ups to the NHL plus their own injury trouble.

Final Thoughts

There have been quite a few “auditions” this season, largely due to multiple injuries up front. What’s fascinating is that the Lightning are choosing to call up new guys like Gourde and Peca in place of familiar choices such as Conacher and Vermin.

It’s no secret that Yzerman would like to make some improvements to the Lightning defense, so perhaps the variety of forwards are here so that he can effectively assess their ability to perform at this level. By allowing these younger players a chance to play in the NHL, Yzerman is gaining a better understanding of what’s in the pipeline which may help guide his trade decisions. These call ups can also be auditions for next season when we could see a radically different roster after the expansion draft and the salary cap force decisions in the summer.

Is it okay to move a guy like Filppula? Are there enough NHL-ready forwards down in Syracuse to make that move feasible? When the call-ups are viewed through that lens, there is a rationale to this seemingly random pattern. If there’s anything that we know about Steve Yzerman, it’s that he is a patient man who likes to gather as much information as possible - and what better way to assess the value of your assets than to watch them perform at the highest level?