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Tampa Bay Lightning recall Alexander Volkov from Syracuse Crunch

Ondrej Palat didn’t skate at practice and is day to day.

2019 NHL Global Series - Sweden - Tampa Bay Lightning v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have recalled winger Alexander Volkov from the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. Ondrej Palat was injured in a knee-on-knee hit by Taylor Hall in Thursday night’s game and did not practice today. Pat Maroon, who left the game after being inadvertently elbowed in the face, was on ice for practice. With a back-to-back coming this weekend on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, it appears that Palat will not be able to play though Maroon might. If Maroon can’t play, then the Lightning could play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen with Luke Schenn coming back into the lineup.

Volkov made his NHL debut with the Lightning earlier this season on the road against the New Jersey Devils. He also played against the New York Islanders and stayed with the team through the trip to Sweden to play two games against the Buffalo Sabres. He was given a good opportunity playing on a line with Steven Stamkos. He was joined on that line at different times by Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. He was unable to record a point however in his four games played. Over those four games, he averaged 11:57 TOI.

In 25 games for the Crunch this season, Volkov has recorded just two goals, but 13 assists to give him 15 points. This is a departure from his previous two seasons with the Crunch where he scored 23 goals in each season and had 22 and 25 assists. His overall scoring pace is down just a touch, but he is scoring a lot less goals and a lot more assists than he did the previous two seasons.

A left handed shooter, Volkov has the ability to play either wing allowing head coach Jon Cooper to slot him on to any line. If he takes Palat’s spot without the other lines changing, then he would be playing with Anthony Cirelli and Tyler Johnson. Playing with those two could be the spark he needs to get his offense going in the NHL. Alex Killorn could also reunite with Cirelli and Volkov be put on the wing with Cedric Paquette and Pat Maroon, though that may not be the best spot for him. Alternatively, Gourde could also move back to the Paquette line and Killorn to the Cirelli line, and he could be partnered with two other recent Crunch players in Carter Verhaeghe and Mitchell Stephens.

While this recall is due to the injury to Palat, it also serves as an audition for Volkov as we get closer to the trade deadline. The Lightning are likely looking for an upgrade in the top nine forwards. That doesn’t necessarily mean a trade though as Volkov, and others, could be an internal option if they can produce. Can he gain some confidence and find the back of the net? Can he play consistently and force the organization to keep him in the NHL as Mitchell Stephens has done? Can he be a depth piece that helps the Lightning come the stretch run and the playoffs?

It’s also telling that Volkov is getting a call-up over some veterans that are playing well in the AHL, such as Gemel Smith, Cory Conacher, and Danick Martel. With Chris Mueller no longer on the Crunch roster, those three are the leading scorers on the Crunch roster behind sophomore Alex Barre-Boulet. Mathieu Joseph also didn’t get the call, despite putting up two goals and four points in five games since being sent down to the AHL.

I hadn’t mentioned Barre-Boulet yet because I don’t think he’s viewed in the organization as an option quite yet. He’s been lighting it up offensively in the AHL the past year and a half, but during the preseason, he looked a little lost and did not stand out the way he has in the AHL. Volkov is also in the last season where he will be waiver exempt. Starting next season, he will require waivers to go back to the AHL and the Lightning need to figure out if they have an NHL player in him or not.