The Tampa Bay Lightning today have announced that they re-assigned defenseman Cameron Gaunce to the Syracuse Crunch. The Lightning went into game one with the Columbus Blue Jackets with eight healthy defensemen on the roster, plus Anton Stralman as he nursed an injury. Additionally, the Syracuse Crunch have signed a forward Nick Bligh and defenseman Jack Stander to Professional Tryout Contracts.
The Lightning coaching staff decided to make Braydon Coburn and Gaunce healthy scratches for the start of the playoffs. It seemed to me that the team wanted to keep eight healthy defensemen around just in case something happened. To me, this seems like it’s a good sign that Stralman is ready to return to action. With his return, and after the defensive miscues of game one, we could see a fairly big shake up on the blue line for the Lightning in game two. It wouldn’t be hard to see a situation where Dan Girardi and Jan Rutta sat out in favor of Stralman and Coburn, with Mikhail Sergachev moving back to the right side on the third pairing with Coburn.
Gaunce came up late in the season to fill in while the Lightning worked through injuries to Girardi, Stralman, and Victor Hedman. Gaunce made it into two games for the Lightning and did not record a point. It was his first NHL action since playing 12 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016-17 season. The Lightning became the fourth different NHL team that Gaunce has played for.
Gaunce has scored 10 goals and 43 points in 57 games for the Syracuse Crunch. The Crunch coaching staff has given him perhaps his biggest opportunity to play an offensive role in the AHL allowing him to post career highs in goals and points. He’s two assists off of his career high mark of 35 set in 2015-16 with the Portland Pirates. Gaunce also wears an A as an Alternate Captain for the Crunch. His return will be a big boost for them as they finish up their season and head into the playoffs.
The PTO players have the feeling of what the Lightning and Crunch did at the end of last season. In an effort to rest some players, the Lightning brought up ECHL players to fill in the gaps as they finished out the last week of the season.
Nick Bligh is a 26 year old, 6’0 185 pound center. Bligh was never drafted and went the NCAA route playing with Dartmouth College where he compiled 42 points in 96 games. Bligh has spent the last three seasons bouncing around the ECHL playing for the South Carolina Stingrays, Adirondack Thunder, Indy Fuel, Wichita Thunder, Quad City Mallards, Worcester Railers, and Atlanta Gladiators. The Gladiators are his most recent team and is where he has had the most success in the ECHL putting up 22 goals and 44 points over 51 games this season.
Like Bligh, Jack Stander went the NCAA route after failing to be drafted. He spent four seasons playing for Canisius College putting up 29 points in 147 games played. He made his professional debut last season with the Atlanta Gladiators playing in six games with two assists to finish out the season. This year, he has three goals and 15 points over 72 games with the Gladiators.