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Syracuse Crunch roster preview: Defense

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The Crunch’s blue line gets a new look for the 2018-19 season.

Syracuse Crunch Cal Foote (25) with the puck against the Rochester Americans in American Hockey League (AHL) Calder Cup Playoff action at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York on Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Syracuse won 6-3.
Scott Thomas Photography

The Syracuse Crunch doesn’t officially get started for another few weeks still, but seeing as many of the younger members will be participating in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s preseason, it’s not too early to preview their roster. With quite a few changes afoot(e), Syracuse’s blue line gets a new look for 2018-19.

Who is out

Jamie McBain - UFA

Reid McNeill - UFA

Mat Bodie - UFA

Who is returning

Erik Cernak

Crunch 18-19: Cernak

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
21 Syracuse Crunch 71 GP; 5G, 13A, 18P; +30; 70 PIM 7 GP; 1G, 1A, 2 P; +0; 4 PIM ELC with two years remaining

Erik Cernak was one of the surprises on the Crunch’s roster last season. He came into the organization as part of the Ben Bishop trade in February 2017, and was a relative unknown coming into the 2017-18 season. Making the best of the new start he got with a new organization, Cernak had one of the more memorable rookie campaigns in recent history. He became one of Syracuse’s most valuable defenders as the season went on, making a name for himself through physical play and a steady defensive hand. His 30 +/- was good enough for second on the team and seventh in the entire league.

Cernak impressed enough to clock in at #11 on Raw Charge’s Top 25 Under 25 this past summer. It’s pretty much a guarantee that head coach Ben Groulx and his staff will be looking to slot Cernak into a role with increased leadership and responsibility this upcoming season.

Dominik Masin

Crunch 18-19: Masin

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
22 Syracuse Crunch 72 GP; 9G, 15A, 24P; +25; 79 PIM 7 GP; 1G, 2A, 3P; +0; 10 PIM ELC, one year remaining

Dominik Masin is one of the players currently penciled in on the Crunch’s fall roster that could eventually earn an extended look with the Lightning. It probably won’t happen out of camp, but after his 2017-18 campaign, he’s certainly due for at least a cup of coffee.

Although rather young still, Masin was arguably one of the best defenders in Syracuse last season. In this past summer’s Top 25 Under 25, Hardev pointed out that Masin’s stats in terms of even-strength production in the AHL among under-22 players placed him fifth in terms of both 5v5 points-per-game and 5v5 estimated points per 60 minutes of play. Masin was also invaluable on the Crunch’s penalty kill, where he got plenty experience while playing for the league’s second-most penalized team.

Masin can skate, can defend, and can produce. He did everything asked of him during his sophomore year, and will be a big part of Syracuse’s defensive core this season. How long he’ll be a part of that core, though, is certainly a question worth pondering.

Matthew Spencer

Crunch 18-19: Spencer

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season AHL stats 2017-2018 playoff AHL stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season AHL stats 2017-2018 playoff AHL stats Contract status
21 ECHL Adirondack Thunder, AHL Syracuse Crunch 39 GP; 1G, 4A, 5P; +13; 2 PIM NA ELC with two years remaining

Matthew Spencer is one of the returning players to Syracuse that’s still a bit of a question mark in terms of where he’ll slot into the organization. Although he played more games in Syracuse than he did in the ECHL, playing 39 games with the Crunch and 14 with Adirondack, his time with the Crunch wasn’t exactly memorable. Often slotted into the 6th-or-7th defenseman slot, Spencer wasn’t exactly given time to shine.

Unfortunately for Spencer, his time may already be running out. With a crop of newcomers that appear to be AHL-ready breathing down his neck, this season may just make or break Spencer’s chances with the Lightning organization. He still has a chance to claim a spot in Syracuse, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Spencer loaned to ECHL Orlando this year.

Ben Thomas

18-19 Crunch: Thomas

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
22 Syracuse Crunch 72 GP; 4G, 18A, 22P; +6; 58 PIM 3 GP; 0G, 0A, 0P; -2; 2 PIM ELC, one year remaining

Ben Thomas is another player whose place in the organization is in a bit of a tenuous spot going into 2018-19. Thomas did not have the kind of year that fellow sophomore Masin did. Thomas struggled both defensively and offensively last season, and at times almost looked a bit lost out on the ice. He was easily overshadowed by Cernak as he struggled to find a consistent game.

A few weeks ago, it was revealed that Thomas battled a hip injury during the AHL playoffs, which limited him to three games played. That injury needed surgery, and it’s assumed that Thomas won’t be returning to the ice until sometime in November this upcoming season. Missing the Lightning’s preseason certainly hurts Thomas’ visibility within the organization. How he bounces back from this challenge will determine much of his future going forward.

Daniel Walcott

18-19 Crunch: Walcott

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
24 Syracuse Crunch 62 GP; 5G, 11A, 16P; +5; 70 PIM 7 GP; 0G, 1A, AP; -6; 10 PIM One-year, two-way

(Putting Walcott in this group might be presumptuous, seeing as he spent quite a bit of time at forward the past two seasons, but he’s still officially listed as a defenseman)

Rounding out the Crunch’s list of returners, Daniel Walcott rolls into 2018-19 with a well-earned “show me” contract from the Lightning. This physical Jack-of-all-trades has been essential to the Crunch’s success both on and off the ice for the past three seasons. Flipping back and forth between positions, Walcott looked at ease wherever the coaching staff needed him to slot in. He was a protective presence when needed, unafraid to use his football background when things got a little physical. Off the ice, Walcott has been the face of the Crunch in the community, and was the Crunch’s AHL Man of the Year for the 2017-18 season.

This upcoming season, Walcott will be looked to for an increased leadership position within the team. He was an alternate last season, and some fans are calling for him to wear the “C” this season, a slot that’s open due to the departure of Erik Condra. Walcott will be balancing that responsibility with the goal of (finally) earning a call up to Tampa Bay.

Who is new

Callan Foote

(This chart is stolen from this past summer’s Top 25 Under 25 entry, as Foote’s stats were too hard to squeeze into this entry’s format)

Although technically not exactly a new-comer to the Crunch’s ice - he played 13 games with the team last season - Foote is still new enough to put him in this category. However, it won’t be long before he’s just as well known as those above (if he isn’t already).

Foote arrived in Syracuse and was immediately entrusted with ice time by the coaching staff. He played in all seven of the Crunch’s playoff games, an amount of post-season games that is rather rare for a prospect fresh out of juniors. He is probably slated to be on the Crunch’s second-best pairing this upcoming season. How long he stays with Syracuse is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: his presence, even has young as he is, will make the Crunch’s blue line stronger.

Cameron Gaunce

18-19 Crunch: Gaunce

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
28 AHL Cleveland Monsters 67 GP; 3G, 21A, 24 P; 96 PIM; +0 NA One-year, two-way

Cameron Gaunce was signed by the Lightning this past summer, one of the veterans slotted in to replace Bodie and McBain. He’s a veteran of 535 career AHL games with the Cleveland Monsters, the Wilkes/Barre-Scranton Penguins, the Portland Pirates, and the Texas Stars. He won a Calder Cup with the Stars in 2014. Last season with the Monsters, he led all Cleveland defensemen for assists and points. Gaunce will help guide Syracuse’s young blue liners and will probably consistently be on one of the Crunch’s top-two pairings.

Hubert Labrie

18-19 Crunch: Labrie

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season combined stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season combined stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
27 AHL Hartford and AHL Hershey 61 GP; 2G, 7A, 9P; 64 PIM; -11 NA One-year, AHL

Hubert Labrie has 342 AHL games under his belt. He’s been with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Hershey Bears, the Chicago Wolves, the San Antonio Rampage, the Springfield Falcons, and the Texas Stars. He’s earned 53 points (12g, 41a) over the course of his career in the AHL. Labrie will also help with the holes left by the departure of Bodie, McBain, and McNeil.

Oleg Sosunov

18-19 Crunch: Susunov

Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
Age 2017-2018 team 2017-2018 regular season stats 2017-2018 playoff stats Contract status
20 WHL - Moose Jaw Warriors 71 GP; 7G, 19A, 26P; +35; 62 PIM 14 GP; 0G, 0A, 0P; -6; 4 PIM ELC (three-year)

Oleg Sosunov isn’t flashy, but he’ll get the chance to develop and learn in Syracuse this upcoming season, probably as a shutdown defenseman. Depending on how he comes along, he could play a part in whatever plans the coaching staff has for the penalty kill.