The Syracuse Crunch probably has a couple more question marks in their roster going into the 2017-2018 regular season than the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning’s beliefs about which players from the Crunch are ready to make the jump will majorly affect Syracuse’s roster, but there are even a few question marks beyond those bubble guys waiting to be sorted out.
As I discuss what might happen, keep in mind that there are a lot of moving parts at this point (to borrow a favorite phrase of Crunch general manager Julien Brisebois), so it’s very possible that nothing written today will work out this way at all in a month or so.
The Crunch probably has the most unknowns at forward, mostly because the Lightning has quite a few unknowns at forward. Fair warning, this section is where I’m assuming quite a bit. One strong training camp (or one weak training camp) from any of the players I’m assuming will (or won’t) be with Syracuse will throw all of this off.
To get a better picture of all of this, Geo wrote about why this is so complicated this past August:
There are a lot of dominoes in the chain for how the forward lines can fall (with the Lightning).
If Vladislav Namestnikov ends up taking the first line left-wing spot, he would push Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and newly acquired Chris Kunitz down the line up, with one of Killorn or Kunitz potentially moving to the right wing.
If Brayden Point or Tyler Johnson move to right wing on the second line with the other guy taking the center spot, that would strengthen the right-wing depth. After Nikita Kucherov, there’s a pretty far drop off to Yanni Gourde, Ryan Callahan, and J.T. Brown.
If both of those things happen, that leaves a gaping hole at the third-line center position with some question marks about who would fill it.
So, starting out with all of this, I’m going with the assumption that Gourde will make the Lightning and won’t ever look back. I think Gourde is ready, and I’m hopeful that we’ve seen the last of him (although we’d cherish the chance to have him back).
I’m also assuming that Matthew Peca won’t make Tampa, at least not in October. My gut feeling is that he will work his way up there before long, but I’m just not sure there will be room right at the start of the regular season. In that same vein, I’m also assuming that Adam Erne will start the season with the Crunch, too, even though his skill set is probably as honed as it is going to be at this level.
So, keeping those things in mind, here we go.
Making Tampa: Gabriel Dumont, Yanni Gourde
Staying in Syracuse (with potential line combinations):
Adam Erne/Cory Conacher/Michael Bournival
Tye McGinn/Matthew Peca/Erik Condra
Mitchell Stephens/Anthony Cirelli/Mathieu Joseph
Alex Gallant/Carter Verhaeghe/Alex Volkov
Waiver eligible: Dumont, Gourde, Conacher, Bournival, McGinn, Condra
Extras: Kevin Lynch (center), Cameron Darcy (center) Jonne Tammela (center), Dennis Yan (left wing)
First, I want to admit freely that I would really rather have Dumont here instead of Conacher. I have absolutely nothing against Conacher at all, and I greatly appreciate how hard he worked in Syracuse last season. I would take either of them equally as far as effort and play goes, and I’d love for them both to achieve their dreams.
However, if we have to have one of them...I’ve just personally developed an affinity for Dumont. However, my buddy Geo is insistent that Dumont is going to make the Lightning instead of Conacher, so I am leaning on his expertise with that decision.
Moving on, it’s currently assumed (here I go, assuming again) that Condra will be back to captain Syracuse again. However, Condra is a bit of a question mark at this point for an unfortunate reason. Condra was selected as the replacement captain in Syracuse last season after Luke Witkowski didn’t rejoin the team, and his leadership and general example on and off the ice was a big part of the Crunch’s success.
Sadly, Condra ended up needing back surgery after suffering an ailment during the playoffs. Originally it was said that Condra would be ready for the start of the season, but reports since then have dimmed that hope somewhat. If Condra isn’t ready, that could open up a spot for some of the other players to be shuffled around.
Now, to the extras. My initial inclination was to put Yan on the roster over Volkov, but everything I’ve read on Volkov says that the Lightning intend to place him with Syracuse to start the season. He might not stick, but my guess is he makes the opening night roster.
Verhaeghe was acquired at the start of free agency from the New York Islanders organization. I couldn’t for the life of me remember who he was, but as he was traded to this organization in exchange for Kristers Gudlevskis, I probably just blocked it all out in an effort to keep the sadness at bay.
Anyway, Verhaeghe ended last season ranked third in goals on a rather weak Bridgeport Sound Tigers team, and is probably slated for the Crunch. His inclusion pushes some of the other more well-known centers - Lynch, Darcy - down to the ECHL. Tammela’s situation is a bit more flexible: he can go back to juniors for his over-age year, so if he doesn’t make the Crunch he has other options besides the ECHL. With all of the time he lost last season after knee surgery in January, I’d bet on seeing him return to Peterborough.
This is a pretty straight-forward area for Syracuse, although not as wam-bam-thank-you-ma’am as the goaltending situation. Still, what’s going to happen here is pretty much already known.
Making Tampa: Jake Dotchin, Slater Koekkoek
Staying in Syracuse (with potential pairings):
Mat Bodie/Jamie McBain
Dominik Masin/Ben Thomas
Daniel Walcott/Reid McNeill
Waiver eligible: Dotchin, Koekkoek, Bodie, McBain
Extras: Erik Cernak, Matthew Spencer
Koekkoek is going to make Tampa. Don’t argue with me. It’s the first week of school and I’m a teacher. I’m a woman on the edge.
(In all seriousness, just about the only question here is whether Crunch head coach Ben Groulx sees Walcott as a defenseman still.)
There’s pretty much no question here.
...Actually, I shouldn’t say that.
There is no question here.
Making Tampa: Uh...no one.
Staying in Syracuse:
Michael Leighton/Connor Ingram
Waiting in the wings: Nick Riopel
Waiver eligible: Leighton
Leighton is just as strong of a veteran as Mike McKenna was, and is a great choice to help anchor our net while mentoring to Ingram. For the first time in years I am completely confident about our goalie pairing, although that’s mostly due to a certain off season signing of a different color.