The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a busy couple of days. First they signed superstar Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year $9.5 million extension on Monday. Today, they have announced the signing of restricted free agent forward Adam Erne to a new contract for 2018-19. The deal is a one-year, one-way contract that will pay him $800,000.
Erne was originally a 2nd round pick, 33rd overall by the Lightning in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He was drafted out of the QMJHL playing for the Quebec Remparts after putting up two 28 goal seasons and hitting 55 and 72 points. After being drafted, he spent two more seasons with the Remparts and added a 62 point in 48 game season to improve his point production on a per game basis. He followed that with a 41 goal, 86 point season in 60 games. He also helped the Remparts to the QMJHL Finals scoring 21 goals and 30 points over 22 playoff games.
Erne made his AHL debut in 2013-14, the year after he was drafted, playing in eight games and contributing four points at the end of the season after the Remparts had been eliminated from the playoffs. 2015-16 saw him make the move to the professional ranks full time with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. He put up 14 goals and 29 points over 59 games. He followed that in 2016-17 by matching those goal and point totals in just 42 games, earning him a call-up to the NHL.
His NHL debut was a bit of a rough one and was given to him in part because the Lightning’s forward corps had been decimated by injuries and the trades of Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle at the trade deadline. He managed three goals over 26 games in his first stint with the Lightning.
For the 2017-18 season, Erne went back to Syracuse to start the season and put up 26 points in 41 games as the Crunch struggled to find consistency early in the season while adjusting to an influx of professional rookies. After rebounding from those early season struggles and getting back on track, Erne was called back up to the NHL. He posted three goals and four points over 23 games. His season was ended early just as it was looking like he was getting comfortable in Tampa in a third line role after suffering a lower body injury.
His one-way contract does not mean he can’t be sent back to the AHL. However, after serving three years as a professional, he is now eligible for waivers and would have to be passed on by the other 30 teams in the NHL to be sent back to the AHL. Erne has a really solid chance to make the NHL roster out of training camp, most likely in a fourth line role. While he has the skills to play further up the line-up, he’s likely to be blocked by the more established teammates in front of him.
With a 6’1”, 209 pound frame, Erne plays a heavy, power forward style. He would fit in well on the fourth line with Cedric Paquette and whoever ends up being the other winger. Eventually it should be Ryan Callahan (assuming he’s not traded before then, as rumors suggest) after he returns from shoulder surgery about a month into the season. Andy Andreoff and Cory Conacher are also two possible players for the wings on the fourth line that Erne will be in a competition with.
His contract is right in line with what the Lightning have been giving to young players that are just breaking in to the NHL. He is in an opportunity now to prove that he can stick in the NHL and be a producer. Even if he starts on the fourth line this season, there is always the possibility he could be moved up if an injury strikes. He could also take a second power play unit spot if someone else is struggling and provide a big, physical presence down low on the power play. He could also receive some penalty kill time as the year goes on.
Erne is a left hander, but has the advantage of having played on both wings as a pro and should be able to do so in the NHL. He also spent time at center as a junior player and has filled in at center on occasion in Syracuse when injuries warranted it. I doubt that he’ll play center in the NHL, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was asked to fill in for Cedric Paquette at center the next time he gets injured blocking a shot.