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Lightning Round: Crunch sign goaltender Jack Lafontaine

At just 24, LaFontaine could be a diamond in the AHL rough

AHL: FEB 08 Chicago Wolves at Cleveland Monsters Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Late in the afternoon on Monday, the Syracuse Crunch announced that they had signed goaltender Jack LaFontaine to an AHL contract. With the signing it looks like the Crunch will have three goaltenders battling for the two spots on the roster. Max Lagace is the incumbent starter, having re-signed a one-year contract just prior to the opening of free agency. Hugo Alnefelt will likely be his back-up, but the addition of LaFontaine adds a little wrinkle to the plan.

As we saw last year, even the best laid goaltending plans can go awry. Lagace was the de facto number one last year as well, but was hurt on opening night in Cleveland (where Syracuse opens this season as well). That led to a duo of rookies Alnefelt and Amir Miftakhov, and as both battled inconsistency and injuries, 4 starts for Corbin Kaczperski and a few eBug situations throughout the season. Not ideal.

With Miftakhov back in Russia things were a little thin in the goaltender department, so signing LaFontaine, even if he starts the season in Orlando, helps provide a little security. The 24-year-old from Mississauga had an interesting 2021-22 season. He started it at the University of Minnesota and posted a 2.69 GAA and .900 SV% for the Golden Gophers. He left in the middle of the season to sign a one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that drafted him in the third round in 2016.

A big reason that LaFontaine signed in the middle of the season is that the Carolina goaltending depth was in shambles. NHL back-up Antti Raanta was injured as were prospects Eetu Makinnimi and Beck Warm. Five days after signing his NHL contract, LaFontaine was in the Carolina net, mopping up the last 15 minutes in relief of Frederik Andersen in a 6-0 loss. He allowed two goals on three shots in that contest.

He would make one start with the ‘Canes, a 7-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils where he still managed to make 38 saves. After that he would split time between the Chicago Wolves (AHL) and Norfolk Admirals (ECHL) for the rest of the season.

After the season Carolina did not tender him an offer and he was an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team in the league and the Crunch snapped him up. While his whirlwind rookie year was a bit rocky he does have a pretty good pedigree. In 2020-21 he was the winner of the Mike Richter award as the best regular-season goaltender in the NCAA and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. In that season he posted school records for goals against average (1.79) and save percentage (.934).

Signing him to an AHL deal gives the Crunch (and Lightning) a chance to see LaFontaine in a less hectic professional season at a relatively low risk. Could he earn another NHL deal with a solid season? Definitely. Alnefelt has some pretty good stretches but was inconsistent (granted he was only 20-years-old) so the back-up spot in Syracuse is there for the taking.

Lightning / NHL News

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