The Tampa Bay Lightning have announced the recall of forward Gabriel Fortier from the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. Fortier was drafted by the Lightning in the second round, 59th overall, of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Fortier is in his second AHL season, having posted six goals and 10 points in 30 games last year during the shortened AHL season. This year, he’s up to four goals and 11 points in just 17 games. He’s been one of the consistant scorers for the Crunch during their recent goal drought, recording five points (two goals, three assists) in five games.
The recall of Fortier is due to the injury that Mathieu Joseph sustained during Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He had a hard collision with a Wild player during the second period and immediately went down the tunnel. Joseph came back out after the second intermission and skated before the start of the period, but could not continue in the game. Joseph’s injury left the Lightning with just 11 healthy forwards on the roster as they continue to deal with the absence of Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point up front.
Fortier has some experience playing center in his career, but is more suited to the wing in the professional game. He’s a gritty player that is hard to play against, despite his smaller stature at 5’10” and 173 pounds. Mathieu Joseph has seen an increase in his penalty killing time this season and Fortier is a player that can step into that role as well.
Another Gabe Goal pic.twitter.com/MqKkD8B1yn— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 25, 2021
For the number nerds out there, Fortier wore #82 during the pre-season with the Lightning, but no number is currently listed for him on the roster on the team web site. He’s worn #9 for the Syracuse Crunch the past two seasons, and mostly wore #9 during his juniors career, except for one season when he wore #17 when #9 wasn’t available. With Tyler Johnson’s departure, #9 is available once again. If he makes his NHL debut and wears #9, he would be the 13th player to wear the number for the Lightning. If he sticks with #82, then he would be the first player to wear it for the Lightning.
Forts taking care of business pic.twitter.com/g0tbxZjFSv— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 20, 2021
The Lightning will have a few options for how to re-adjust the line-up and replace Mathieu Joseph next to Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn. At this point, I would think that the third line of Pat Maroon, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Corey Perry will stay together. Looking at the ice time together from Sunday’s game, Maroon spent 1:04 with Cirelli, but was never on ice with Killorn. Perry, who would be the more natural replacement at right wing, spent 0:49 seconds with Cirelli, but just 0:07 with Killorn, probably during a partial line change.
That would mean one of the current fourth liners moving up. Ross Colton has been shooting the puck a lot and has been around the net for some great chances. He also moved up during the Stanley Cup Finals last year to replace Alex Killorn after he fractured his leg. Colton played around three minutes with Killorn and Cirelli, perhaps signaling the choice of the coaching staff for who is the best fit there.
The only downside to moving Colton up is it leaves the fourth line without a clear center. Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk have been strictly wingers even going back to their junior careers. Katchouk did briefly line up in the middle of the ice for the Crunch a few seasons ago, but since arriving in the NHL he’s been on the wing. If the coaching staff feels alright with Fortier or one of the other two taking some draws, then it can also be mitigated by keeping most of their shift changes as on-the-fly, instead of sending them out for face-offs. Raddysh has only taken one face-off and Katchouk has taken six. They’re a combined 2-5 in the face-off dot.
The other option is to move Taylor Raddysh up to play on the second line. He’s a natural right winger with a right handed shot. He’s also been feeling it more offensively in recent games. Putting him up with Killorn and Cirelli could also be a jump start for him to find the back of the net as he has just one assist on the year in 19 games. Katchouk, for most of the same reasons, would also be an option there, but is a natural left winger. That hasn’t stopped the Lightning from moving players around though, so it is an option. However, Raddysh has clearly been the player that the Lightning coaching staff has preferred between the two.
Raddysh took a shift or two with the second line, but didn’t spend as much time with them as Colton did. Katchouk didn’t take any shifts with them. It seems that the most likely outcome will be Colton moving up to the second line with Gabriel Fortier sliding in on the fourth line.
The other option of course is for the Lightning to go with an 11/7 configuration, bringing an extra defenseman into the line-up. Jon Cooper after Sunday’s game said that Erik Cernak would be a game-time decision for Tuesday night’s game in St. Louis against the Blues. If he is ready to come back, then leaving Foote and Bogosian in the line up and adding Cernak is certainly an option for the team. If Cernak was not ready to go though, the Lightning would have to turn to Sean Day, who has been up with the team for the past few days as an insurance defenseman. If Cernak can’t go, then it would mean we would definitely see a player make their NHL debut, either in Fortier or Day.
As for Joseph’s status going forward, we’ll have to wait to hear from Jon Cooper on his prognosis. Hopefully it’s just a short term injury and he’ll be back before we know it. The Lightning are already working through the injuries to Point and Kucherov, as well as to Cernak, and don’t need to add to the list of long term injuries.