In a sign that some of the injured Tampa Bay Lightning players are starting to return to health, the team announced on Sunday that they had signed first-year forward Waltteri Merela to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. The 25-year-old had appeared in 10 of the Lightning’s 11 games and had yet to record a point.
Just because he had been held off of the scoresheet doesn’t mean he’s been playing badly. With most of his playing time coming on the third or fourth line, defense was what was keeping him in the line-up. His 15.71 scoring chances against per 60 minutes is the second-lowest on the team (Tyler Motte had a 10.59 SCA/60 in his limited time). His 2.33 xGA/60 was the lowest among forwards that had player more than a handful of games as well.
Unfortunately for him, he was the only forward on the roster that didn’t require waivers to be sent to Syracuse. Merela is still on his entry-level contract which means he’s waivers exempt. With his assignment it’s a good indication that Motte is ready to be activated off of injured reserve.
There weren’t too many options for general manager Julien BriseBois to make room for Motte. Alex Barre-Boulet has played his way out of the press box and onto the top line. Austin Watson could have been an option as well, but would require waivers. It’s likely he would clear, but there was no need to risk it with Merela as an option.
The Finnish forward should see a bump in his playing time with the Crunch. In Tampa he was averaging 10:54 of ice time. It should be pointed out that he is still adjusting to North American rinks and their smaller dimensions so more playing time should help with that adjustment. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him among the first call-ups if the Lightning need a forward due to an injury.
The official press release:
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have assigned forward Waltteri Merelä to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, vice president and general manager Julien BriseBois announced.
Merelä, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, has played in 10 games with the Lightning this season, averaging 10:54 in ice time. He made his NHL debut on October 10 against the Nashville Predators.
The 24-year-old played for Tappara of the Finnish Elite League, the top professional ice hockey league in Finland, during the 2022-23 season and posted 15 goals and 33 points in 41 regular season contests. The right-shot winger also averaged a point a game in 14 playoff contests, recording eight goals and 14 points to lead the team for goals and rank tied for second for scoring in helping Tappara to its second-straight Liiga championship. In 2021-22, Merelä notched 21 goals and 44 points in 57 regular season games for Tappara, ranking second on the team in both categories. He led Liiga in 2021-22 for plus/minus (+31) and finished tied for fifth for goals and eighth for scoring.
Prior to joining Tappara, Merelä played parts of three seasons with Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League (2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21), amassing 17 goals and 46 points in 114 regular season contests. Merelä also saw action in one game for Finland at the 2023 World Championship, scoring a goal in Finland’s group play matchup against Hungary.