This season, the Syracuse Crunch only received two rookies, Ben Thomas and Dominik Masin. The rest of the roster was filled out by returning prospects and a number of veteran minor league free agent signings.
The 2014 draft class that Thomas and Masin came out of didn’t provide much for the Crunch this season. Anthony DeAngelo was an older prospect and played his rookie season in 2015-16, but was traded this past summer. Cameron Darcy was also an overage prospect that made his rookie debut last year. Jonathan MacLeod is still playing college hockey, and Brayden Point jumped straight to the NHL. Cristiano DiGiacinto, a sixth round pick in 2014, didn’t perform well enough in juniors to earn a contract.
The 2015 draft class, on the other hand, has a lot to offer the Syracuse Crunch for 2017-18. Out of nine draft picks, seven are expected to join the Crunch. For all of these players, where they slot into the Crunch lineup will depend on what veterans are brought back next season. It will also depend a lot on moves that the Lightning makes over the summer that could lead to prospects moving up to the NHL.
Here are the seven members of the rookie class.
C Mitchell Stephens
Drafted 33rd overall in the second round, Stephens is a budget version of Ryan Callahan. He played center in juniors. While he is likely destined to being a winger in the NHL, he could get time at both wing and center with the Crunch. He had 28 points in 22 games for the Saginaw Spirit, where he was captain. He also added five points in five games in the World Junior Championship for Team Canada, on their way to a Silver Medal.
At the OHL trade deadline, he was sent to the powerhouse London Knights. Since moving to London, he has 16 points in 14 games. London looks well on their way to going deep into the playoffs. Stephens played in five games for the Crunch at the end of last season. This season, though, London will likely go deep enough into the playoffs that Stephens is unlikely to play for the Crunch at the end of the season.
D Matt Spencer
Another second round pick, Spencer was selected 44th overall. He is in his fourth year with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL and has served as an alternate captain for the team. His offensive production hasn’t improved since he debuted in the OHL. Offense isn’t the name of his game — he’s a stay-at-home defenseman with a decent first pass.
The Petes have asked a lot of him this season because their defensive corps is not very deep. They sit second in the Eastern Conference at the moment, and the Eastern Conference is much weaker than the Western Conference. The Pete’s 69 points would put them at sixth place in the Western Conference.
Depending on their first round matchup, the Petes are not likely to advance very far into the playoffs. They only lasted one round last year, and it allowed Spencer to play one game for the Crunch. He may get another opportunity to play for the Crunch at the end of the season before joining the rookie class in the fall.
LW Dennis Yan
A third round pick, Yan is a goal scorer, plain and simple. The rest of his game is up for debate though. His defensive game and positioning needs a lot of polishing, but there’s no question he knows what to do with the puck when it’s on his stick and the net is in front of him. Over his three years in the QMJHL, he has scored 33, 32 and 36 goals.
If Yan can develop the rest of his game in the AHL, he can become a third line scorer in the NHL. It’s just as likely that he’ll become a top scorer in the AHL with little impact on the NHL. Either way, he’ll have time to develop and should get good minutes with the Crunch and hopefully produce some offense.
C Anthony Cirelli
Another third-round pick, Cirelli was really impressive at the World Junior Championships for Canada this year. Despite playing a fourth-line role, he picked up seven points in seven games. After the WJC, Cirelli was traded to the Erie Otters by the Oshawa Generals. Prior to his trade, he had put up 34 points in 26 games, which followed a 59-point in 62-game season in 2015-16.
Since joining the Otters, Cirelli has picked up 16 points in 14 games. It took a little while for him to settle in with his new team. However, he did have some friendly faces to join with fellow Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh on the team, as well as Team Canada WJC captain Dylan Strome. Moving from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference was a big step up in overall skill accounting for his adjustment period.
Cirelli is a well regarded prospect that will likely end up as a third or fourth line center in the NHL. Until then, he has the offense in his game to put up points in the AHL along with playing a sound defensive game. He’s also great in the faceoff dot.
W Jonne Tammela
Tammela was a fourth-round pick in 2015 for the Lightning. After being drafted, he remained in his native Finland and put up 13 points in 37 games in the top league. After his season was over in Finland, he came to Syracuse and played three games at the end of the season.
This season has been rocky for Tammela as he transitioned to North America to play with the Peterborough Petes. He dealt with an injury that kept him out of training camp and preseason, and well into the season. He returned from his initial injury to play in two games for the Petes. However, he was re-injured and hasn’t played since. The prospects don’t look good for him playing again this season.
Losing out on the development in the OHL is a major setback for Tammela. He is one player on this list that could find himself back in the OHL as an overager for another season, or could be a tweener for the Crunch seeing plenty of time in Kalamazoo in the ECHL. If he can play in the AHL next season, he’s a pest with some good speed. He’ll likely be more of a middle or bottom six winger for the Crunch and projects as a fourth liner in the NHL.
RW Mathieu Joseph
Joseph has been on a tear since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 season. In his draft year with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL, he put up 42 points in 59 games. Respectable, but not spectacular scoring. He followed that up with 1.25 points per game as he scored 33 goals and 40 assists for 73 points in 58 games.
This season, he’s continued to raise his level with 31 goals and 32 assists for 63 points in only 41 games. The Sea Dogs are one of the best teams in the QMJHL and he’ll have an opportunity to go deep into the playoffs and potentially make it to the Memorial Cup tournament.
With his offensive outburst, his projections have gone up as high as his NHL future. In the AHL, he should produce plenty of offense that will only get better with professional experience. He’s also capable defensively and is a responsible player with the puck.
LW Boko Imama
If Boko earns an entry level contract and makes the roster for the Crunch, he is liable to become one of the most popular players in Syracuse in the last few years. His skating has greatly improved since being an overage sixth-round pick by the Lightning. He’s a fighter, a hitter, and has some muscle on his bones.
He’s gotten into some trouble with bad hits, though, and has been suspended multiple times. He’s picked up his offense this season with 32 goals and 44 points in 51 games. However, that is something that should be expected of a 20-year-old playing in the QMJHL. In the AHL, he will not be a scorer. He’ll be a big body that will fight and entertain the crowd. If he makes the roster.
[Update:] Oops. I left one player out when putting the list together. So here he is!
G Connor Ingram
The last player of the 2017-18 rookie class could be 2016 draft pick Connor Ingram. Ingram was drafted as a 19 year old goalie after being passed over in his initial draft season of 2015. Ingram plays with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. He has improved his play and his stats year over year and earned a spot with Team Canada for the WJC this year. While he had up and down play in the tournament, he’s still a good goaltending prospect.
As an older prospect, Ingram only needed to play in the WHL one more year before he could move on to the professional minor leagues. He has yet to sign an entry level contract with the Lightning, but I would expect it to come soon with how well he has played.
Ingram isn’t likely to become an NHL starter, but he has back-up potential. At a minimum, he can be the fourth or fifth goaltender in the organization for the next couple years. His spot next season of either being the Crunch’s back-up or Kalamazoo’s starter will be dependent on what the Lightning do up top. There will be a clear need for a back-up to Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That back-up could be Kristers Gudlevskis or it could be someone not currently in the organization. If it’s not Gudlevskis, it’s also possible that Gudlevskis does not come back to the organization next season as he’ll have options available to him in Europe and possibly Russia. Most likely though, Ingram will serve as the Crunch’s #2 goaltender next season.