Last season I said Taylor Raddysh was hitting his plateau as someone who couldn’t quite get on top of the AHL. But after a long offseason due to COVID, his coaches and teammates said they had seen a massive change in his mentality, physicality, and voice. At the start of the 2020-21 season, Raddysh was a new man and he led the Syracuse Crunch like we’ve never seen from him before.
Heading into this season, Raddysh has made a strong case for himself to make the Tampa Bay Lightning full-time. These next couple weeks during training camp will be the make-or-break for Raddysh, who now has to pass through waivers in order to play for the Crunch. It’s not a foregone conclusion that if he is placed on waivers that he’ll be claimed — he hasn’t played an NHL game after all — but in terms of his professional timeline, he needs to win a job if he’s going to be a real player.
Before we talk about the New Raddysh, I’d like to go back to the Old Raddysh for a second and use that foundation to talk about what has changed (and also crucially what hasn’t).
What has changed?
Raddysh has done a lot of work to improve his play at even strength, and even became a leader on the penalty kill, taking on big minutes for an often-shallow squad. This is the best case he has to convince Jon Cooper he deserves a job on his team. Two years ago, Raddysh was often a passenger on his line (usually run by the center and Boris Katchouk), playing the role of offensive winger who only really cared about where the puck was in the offensive zone. That’s a bit of a harsh assessment of his play, but that’s how bad it got at times. This led to very underwhelming 5v5 offense, with most of his scoring coming from huge power play minutes.
Last season that all turned on its head. Raddysh is now the guy forcing turnovers in the defensive zone with his board play and positioning. He also became the guy surveying the ice in the neutral zone and making plays up the ice for teammates or holding the puck during changes on the fly. The reason why there were lots of instances of having to make line changes during possession was because the Crunch’s defense struggled for much of the season to play the puck out of their zone and they were hemmed in a lot. Raddysh’s line took on a lot of defensive minutes and was burdened with a lot of that hard work.
The fact that Raddysh was able to transform himself from a liability on the ice, into a leader that can take on extra burden was huge for the Crunch. Plus, all that experience in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill would come in handy while playing on the Bolts fourth line, especially with a defensive center like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
It should not be ignored how much more scoring we saw from Raddysh last season compared to his two previous years in the AHL. He scored about the same amount of points in 2021 as 2020, but did it in half as many games. Not only did we see an increase in his power play production, but more importantly, he had a big improvement at even strength scoring (helped by a good season from Boris Katchouk).
I think the biggest change in on-ice results for Raddysh came from goal differential — 43% up to 51%. And he did that with worse shooting and save percentages so it all came from increasing the number of shots for and decreasing the number of shots against. Massive credit should go to Raddysh for that.
What hasn’t changed?
This has kind of been a problem for Raddysh since junior hockey. At 6’3”, he’s not a burner and looks fairly labored when getting up and down the ice. Now for a big body, that might not be fully necessary, but Raddysh has always been a skill player who wants the puck and more recently will be the one moving it in the neutral zone. You need speed in the NHL if you’re going to do that and this just isn’t something that fits with Raddysh’s physical mold.
That said, he can get around this limitation by continuing to work on his skating and doing a lot of possession and playmaking work from the corners with his body. From my perspective, it would just take a minor tweak in playing style from what worked in the AHL into what can work in the NHL.
Raddysh has proven me wrong and made a real case for himself as a two-way power forward who has a history of scoring goals in a whole bunch of ways. He’s more responsible now, he’s trustworthy in all three zones, and he has become a leader on the Syracuse Crunch. It only seems fitting for him to now to leave that team for one with slightly warmer winters.
I went through my vault of Crunch articles from last season and picked out a handful of highlights that I think show off Raddysh’s strong ability to move the puck around the ice, as well as find quiet areas away from the defense and score.
Off to a quick start in Syracuse pic.twitter.com/8zkso6ECqM— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) April 10, 2021