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Syracuse Crunch roster predictions: The forwards, part one

The Crunch’s forward group is rather large, and has the most potential unknowns.

Syracuse Crunch Michael Bournival (78) goes after the puck in front of Laval Rocket goalie Zachary Fucale (30) in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Laval won 5-4 in OT.
Scott Thomas Photography

So far, Justin and Alex have covered the defense and the goalies that are mostly likely going to be with Syracuse this season. The forward group at present is rather large, with quite a few unknowns, so the two decided to split them up and cover them in a few different groups. This entry, written by Justin, covers any forwards that are potential Tampa Bay Lightning call up fodder, including the vets and the younger prospects looking to impress. On Wednesday, Alex’s post will cover everyone else.

Who’s out:

Erik Condra - UFA - signed with the Dallas Stars

Matthew Peca - UFA - signed with the Montreal Canadiens

Alex Gallant - UFA - signed with the Vegas Golden Knights

Potential Lightning Call-Ups

Someone on the Lightning is going to get hurt this season. That’s just the nature of the game. When it happens, a member of the Crunch will get called up.

There are two kinds of players that tend to get called up in the middle of the season. Veterans that have been called up before and have shown that they aren’t going to hurt an NHL team in a small role. They fill in a bottom six role for a few games and then get sent back down when the injured player recovers.

The second type of player is the young player that might have the chance to make a difference. They’ve accomplished all they are going to in the AHL and are ready for the next step. Not only will they fill in, they might contribute and stick around for the rest of the season.

These next five players have the best chance of getting that phone call.

The tested veterans:

Michael Bournival

(with Syracuse) 57 games, 15 goals, 16 assists, 34 points, +9, (with Tampa Bay) 5 games, 0 points

Bournival isn’t going to start the season with the Lightning. In fact, he isn’t even going to start the season with the Crunch. While he is back on the ice skating, the 26-year-old won’t be ready when the year starts in October as he continues his rehab from a busted ACL.

Once he is back in the line-up he should slip right into his role as a responsible defensive center that chips in more points then expected. Bournival is the prototypical Lightning forward in the Yzerman/BriseBois era. He is able to play center or wing, is defensively responsible, and posses a fairly high hockey IQ.

The Lightning have called him up in each of the past two seasons to fill in for injured forwards. It’s obvious that they trust him to come up and fill in and provide 10 minutes or so of ice time in a pinch.

Gabriel Dumont

(with Syracuse) 18 games, 5 goals, 16 assists, 21 points, +11

(with Tampa Bay and Ottawa) 30 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, +1

It was a bit of a whirlwind season for Dumont in 2017-18. He started the season in Tampa, failed to clear waivers when sent down, spent a couple of months in the vast wasteland of Ottawa, battled some injuries, and was re-claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in February. He then finally made it to Syracuse for the last two months of the season where he provided a much needed spark as the Crunch marched into the playoffs.

Not only would Dumont be first in line for a mid-season call-up, he might flat out make the roster in training camp like he did last season. He has a lot of traits similar to Matthew Peca and Anthony Cirelli in terms of playing style and that (along with his 87 games of NHL experience) could give him an edge.

A lot will depend on how fully recovered he is from the undisclosed upper body injury that limited him to just four games in the postseason last year. If he is healthy and doesn’t make the Lightning, then he will be the top center for the Crunch should he end up in Syracuse. He is a gifted playmaker that has excellent vision on the ice and makes his teammates better.

The soon-to-be 28-year-old fits perfectly into Coach Ben Groulx’s plans. He may be the Crunch’s best forechecker, and plays aggressively in his own zone, generating turnovers that lead to offensive breaks. He adds an offensive dynamic on the power play and the penalty kill (3 shorthanded goals last season). Dumont is also a potential captain candidate for Syracuse.

The youngsters:

Mathieu Joseph

(with Syracuse) 70 games, 15 goals, 38 assists, 53 points, +10

What a season for the rookie from Chambly, Quebec. Due to a backlog of veterans, he started the season on the Crunch’s fourth line, scrambling for playing time. By the end of the season, he led the team in points and was one of the Crunch’s most valuable forwards.

Just 21-years-old, the Lightning would prefer to have him spend the full season in Syracuse to continue to develop, but he might just play his way onto the big club. Originally a fourth round draft pick, he ticks off all the traits that Coach Cooper likes - fast, high hockey IQ, and versatility.

Speed his is biggest asset. Not only is he fast, but he gets to top speed very quickly, which allows him to easily gain a step on defenders. Below is his second career goal. It comes right off of a face-off. Notice he is about even with the defenders and then past them in just a couple of strides:

He will be getting top line minutes with the Crunch this season, something that will include all of the issues that encompasses. The big question will be if he can continue to score against an opponent’s top defense on a nightly basis. If he shows that early in the season, it will be just a matter of time before he is putting on a Lightning uniform.

Alexander Volkov

(with Syracuse) 75 games, 23 goals, 22 assists, 45 points, +19

Volkov literally came out of nowhere to lead the Crunch in goals last season. Drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft by the Lightning, there wasn’t much known about the 6’ winger (other than that he wasn’t this guy).

In the year that has passed, all he’s done is almost make the Lightning out of his initial training camp, lead the Crunch in goals ,and cement himself as one of the top 100 prospects in the league. (71st in Corey Pronman’s rankings).

Not a bad rookie season.

The Russian has a deceptive shot and excellent instincts for being in the right spot to score goals. Along with his size, those traits should carry over into the NHL once he makes it. For now, unless he amazes in camp again, he should get a lot of playing time in the top six and on the power play for the Crunch.

He isn’t the quickest skater on the team and his defensive coverage could use a little work, but it’s very hard to teach goal scoring, and that he can do instinctively. This goal is a bit of a mess, but it highlights what makes him dangerous. He uses his size to get to the front of the net, knows where the puck is despite all of the commotion, and then flicks it into the back of the net:

Volkov works best with a playmaker as his center. Luckily for him, the Crunch should have plenty of those this season. If Alex Barre-Boulet can translate his skill from juniors to the pros he could be an ideal linemate for the Russian and propel him to a 25-30 goal season.

Mitchell Stephens

(with Syracuse) 70 games, 19 goals, 22 assists, 41 points, +17

Versatile. Smart. Two-way player.

Getting sick of these adjectives yet?

Too bad, because Mitchell Stephens is another prospect that has those words in front of his name. Though he doesn’t play with the flash of Joseph or Volkov, Stephens gets the job done. Stephens is often compared to Ryan Callahan around the Raw Charge offices because he plays the same similar grinding style. An aggressive forecheck and relentless puck pursuit are his top qualities.

He’s not too shabby with the offense either.

He also has experience as a leader having captained Canada’s U18 team and his junior team, the Saginaw Spirit. If he isn’t whisked away to the NHL in the next season or two, he could eventually wear the “C” in Syracuse, as well.

Most likely he will spend the season with the Crunch centering one of the top two lines with a possible call-up in the second half of the season. Just 21-years-old, the Lightning have the luxury of developing him slowly, something which actually goes for most of their top prospects. There is no need to rush him into a role with the Bolts.